Only a few weeks left in the decade, there will inevitably be countdowns and lists highlighting the best and worst moments of the 2010s. But the end of the good Internet did not make it to the end of 2019. The good Internet died on December 1, 2019, when the Internet-famous cat Lil Bub died.
Since the world first registered, a number of Internet epochs have come and gone. The chatroom and AIM era of the late 90s was eventually replaced by networks like Livejournal, Myspace and finally Facebook. Then came the era of the good internet, made possible by two technologies: powerful phones with good cameras like the iPhone 4 and HTC Evo and 4G / LTE wireless.
We've signed up … everywhere
With the ability to capture, view and upload videos, photos and text from virtually anywhere in the world, Internet culture has become an everyday culture, affecting the real world beyond our tiny Screens off. Sure, Internet culture has penetrated and influenced social norms, but a relatively cheap and fast Internet access available to us meant for the first time that we were always online.
Facebook released a mobile app, Reddit really became the front page of the Internet, and thanks to the launch of Imgur in 2009, anyone could post pictures anonymously and for free without having to sign up for an account.
Tumblr allowed endless hours of mindless scrolling, people checked in on Foursquare, and Twitter seemed more accessible and less confusing.
This time the Web was fun . People were stupid and funny and embarrassing and nervous and nobody really knew how to present themselves online. Internet memes such as Advice Animals and Rage Comics became a way of communicating through text and images.
More and more people were talking about themselves online, building a social presence on newly released apps like Instagram (2010) and Snapchat (2011). And then there was Vine (2012), who sparked a new wave of young new Internet stars who eventually became the "influencers" of today, like the Vlog Squad and the Paul brothers.
The Viral Star
Online media caught up and sites like BuzzFeed were dominated by the aggregation of the viral Internet. Mashable launched Watercooler in 2012, although countless comments said we should stick to the technology. In the same year, CNN is said to have negotiated with Mashable, a deal that never came to fruition. Facebook turned on the traffic and the newsfeed was clogged with articles and lists when venture capital flowed into digital media. The viral internet became big business.
With the rise of viral media came the star of the viral media. Dozens of personalities were brought into being because sometimes they did nothing. A single video, image or screenshot can turn a normal person like Laina Morris into a meme like Overly Attached Girlfriend. Anyone can earn tens of thousands of dollars with a single viral video.
And of course there were the viral animal stars. The first big wave of viral animals was a bit crappy. Born into feline dwarfism, Grumpy Cat was catapulted into fame in September 2012 and became a multi-million dollar world star. Lil Bub and her fluffy tongue launched a YouTube channel in November 2011 and became positive on the Internet by raising money for animals in need with their star power. By 2014, Marnie the dog with his head tilted and his tongue outstretched became the most famous dog on Instagram.
Now, apparently, every pet has its own Instagram account. A recent report found that a shocking majority of young people want to be influencers. A meme can not exist without a brand selling a crappy chicken sandwich.
The End of the Good Era
It is not clear when the Internet lost its craziness and normalized. After all, things were still bad even in the fun time. The comment areas were (and are) often dotted with hideous attacks. Reddit was home to r / jailbait, a place where users posted "sexualized pictures of underage girls," and racism was widespread.
We can blame Donald Trump and the invention of the unfiltered social media president, blame the media for exploiting every click, and blame Facebook's pivot for video. Online movements such as GamerGate have torn us apart, our children have been played on YouTube, and Russian trolls have exploited the meme culture, infecting just about any platform to trigger conflict.
And although we've been losing it for a while now, the good internet finally feels over, buried with the viral animals that once gave us simple pleasure. Net neutrality has vanished, the old memes are dead, Internet stars have been canceled, and random people who are not worthy of idolizing themselves who have become viral have been killed with milkshakes. When Grumpy Cat died in May 2019, things felt different. The death of Lil Bub, which coincides with the end of the year and the end of the decade, feels like a closure.
The memes will continue and there will be other viral internet stars and animals. Teenagers will change the world with TikTok or the next app. We're probably in the middle of the next era of the Internet. We will continue to fight against the propaganda and maybe we will even be able to successfully protect our options from disinformation and foreign influence.
Maybe I'm nostalgic, maybe dramatic, but this era will be in the history books for the rest of the time. The internet is clicking, but the good era is over.