Catching the Bug

1999, November.

I stare out of the window of my third-floor apartment, my eyes surveying the unending stream of busy shoppers pushing their way through the still-falling snow in the streets below, until one man in particular catches my eye. A poor man, but young – a student perhaps – standing despondently as an island amongst the river of passers-by, uncaring if they read his sandwich board and caring only for the end of the day, a few pounds' worth of cash-in-hand, and a warm home. It's the advertising slogan that he carries that's caught my attention. It's a common enough one these days, but every time I see it I can't help but smile.

“The End of the World is Nigh.”

It began with the Jewish and Christian scholars and the half-crazed followers of Nostradamus, but it spread like wildfire amongst the people. Everyone got caught up in it. Eventually, although we held out for a while, we got the bug too. The End of the World. The Millennium Bug.

The media got hold of a tiny fragment of truth – our short-sightedness, back in the eighties, when the first computers that kept track of the date became popular – and blew it out of all proportion. People believed that it was a problem, believed that computer systems would come crashing to their knees in Y2K, believed we'd all be without money, without food, without the Internet. Eventually, we started to believe too...

We've got one advantage though – we realise something that the mundane world doesn't.

The Internet will not die. The Internet cannot die.

The Internet is more than some silicon and copper network that'll fall over when it thinks it's 1900 again. It belongs to the hearts and minds of people, not just to their computers, and it stretches far beyond mere cabling. I've seen it, I've followed the snaking crystal vine of data all the way to the Horizon. And I didn't see its end. It continued, fainter but nonetheless there, far into that which lies beyond our world.

It can't die because it's not just one thing. The Internet is tree from whose branches there hang many worlds. BBSs, Usenet and forums; Darknets, Undernets, proxies and shell servers; MUDs and MUSHes and MMORPGs. It's all out there, and it's all in here, in our minds and on our hard disks.

There's so much more, too. Extraterrestrial intelligences read our data, ever learning. Spirits haunt websites forever labelled as “under construction”, ghosts haunt the packet overheads, and monsters lurk under the hood of every chat room. Faeries don't trick us down strange paths in the forest with their illusion any more – these days, their tools are HTTP proxies and self-installing diallers.

We've created a myriad of worlds, and together they are greater than the sum of their parts. We've created the next reality.

Think of Y2K as the Internet's adolescence – an unpleasant time, full of new things both interesting and terrifying, but a period of life we can push through and discover what awaits us on the other side.

The old reality is senile and dying. The new reality's life is just beginning.

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