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Everything Good and Bad About the Web, Encapsulated in One Perfect Thing, on Its 25th Birthday

Photo: Chris Polk/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago today, a computer scientist at CERN named Tim Berners-Lee opened the World Wide Web up to the public. The web, to repurpose a Douglas Adams quote, “has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

That’s exaggerating a bit, but a definitive answer to the ultimate question of whether the internet is good, bad, or something else continues to elude us. This is because the internet is stateless — a network of cables and servers that allows us to do whatever we choose. The internet is what we make of it; it does not act apart from us.

It would be a fool’s errand to try and encapsulate the entirety of the World Wide Web in a single digital artifact, but fear of doing something dumb online has never stopped me before. For me, the entirety of our web experience can be summed up in a single YouTube video, titled “Green Day - Closing Time.”

Uploaded on April 26, 2008, by gflanso, this video was a vision of the future; one in which you could stream any song or film on demand, from the comfort of your own home (and later, from your cell phone). The cheesy transitions and artificial film grain hearken back to a long-lost Windows Movie Maker feel. It is now easy — maybe too easy — for anyone to produce slick, well-made content from their computers, but eight years ago, all we had were low-res photos pulled from Google Images and an insatiable love of Green Day. When I think of the days just before the social-media boom, I think of this video. Not great, but it gets the job done.

And obviously, Green Day did not write or perform the song “Closing Time.” The band Semisonic did. Yet, this video, as of now, has 454,214 views. Uploader gflanso saw a need to make Green Day’s “Closing Time” available to the masses and the World Wide Web allowed them do it.

And then, I assume, someone typed in “green day closing time,” searching for the song, erroneously believing that “Closing Time” was a song by Green Day. This happened 454,214 times.

There are many ways in which the web erases history, or overwrites reality. A simple edit to Wikipedia can set off a cascade of untruths and misconceptions. The work of the young, the excluded, the disenfranchised, is — at a faster and faster pace — appropriated and obfuscated by the old, entrenched powers.

But there are also instances like Green Day’s “Closing Time,” a collective delusion that we didn’t even know was collective, or a delusion, until the internet showed us. There are people as wrong as I am everywhere, and they’re all here together, online.

Happy 25th Birthday to the Web