from the eMusings Archive...

Volume 12 • Number 1 • March 2019

Cadillac Ranch, Texas, 1997

Disappearing Act


Disappearing Act

by Huntington Witherill

We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” — R. D. Laing

Well… it was fun while it lasted. From an article titled: How Traditional Websites Could Become Obsolete By 2020 I have recently learned that "the traditional website as we know it is gradually marching toward obsolescence, and if trends continue accelerating the way they have, we can expect them to disappear from our culture as early as 2020." (The original article can be found here.)

Needless to say, the above quoted revelation caught my attention because the bulk of my photography business is conducted through a traditional website. And yes, I know. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, here. The article from which the aforementioned prophecy has been extracted was originally posted on back in August of 2015. However, that’s one of the things about the Internet. Once posted online, our words tend to remain fixed in perpetuity. And of course, the prediction being explored in this instance continues to be subject to inquiry given the fact that (as of the date of this writing) its target date is still a year or more away.

The article’s author (Larry Alton) cites reasons for the pending cultural shift to be due, at least in part, to the way in which search engines are increasingly forcing a decline in traffic to traditional websites. Though I remain uncertain as to why any search engine would be configured to direct Internet traffic away from an individual's chosen search criteria – the seemingly Orwellian overtones of such oversight should probably not be taken lightly. And, in this case, Mr. Alton may well be on to something as I continue to run across an increasing number of articles and news reports related to politically and financially motivated censorship on the world wide web that is being facilitated through (among other things) the covert manipulation of search results – Google being a prime example of such nefarious behavior, as alleged here.

Regardless, most working photographers that I know of continue to maintain a traditional website as the predominant means by which to present and distribute their work to the public. I wonder… are we photographers (together with our shared online presence) about to be summarily remanded to some lowly outpost in deep cyberspace? And more importantly, am I always the last one to know?

Now of course, not all photographers confine their online presence to a traditional website as I do. Many also make use of social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like) in order to help get their message out. Yet, despite its immense popularity, I’ve never really warmed up to the social media phenomenon. Doubtless I’m missing opportunities by electing to avoid social media, altogether. At the same time, with so many security breaches and other types of ongoing privacy concerns being associated with social media use (as reported here, here, and/or here) I can’t say that I regret my decision to stick with a traditional website. And after all, if people really want to find me, all they have to do is type my name into a search engine. Seems pretty simple and straightforward.

Speaking of typing names into a search engine (and with apologies for wandering a bit off topic, here) I've often lamented that my own given name (Huntington Witherill) is just long enough, and sufficiently uncommon enough, to be a relatively difficult moniker to initially grasp. As a result, I have a name that is quite often misspelled and/or mispronounced. Yet, when it comes to an Internet search, having a unique name like Huntington Witherill definitely has some advantages. Seems there just aren't many other Huntington Witherill's out there.

So, in this instance I'm naturally curious to speculate about what search results might arise through a post 2020 search of the name: “Huntington Witherill.” Once my website has become obsolete, what might a subsequent search of my name actually produce? [Sorry, the search terms you have entered are no longer culturally relevant. Did you mean: “Hunting for a thrill?”]

Mind you, I’m not worried about whether or not my website will become obsolete. If push comes to shove, I can always set up a “lemonade stand” type of arrangement out at the end of my driveway. I get nearly fifty cars a day driving by my house. Surely at least a few of those who are passing by will be in need of a fine art photograph. Still and all (and kidding aside) it's difficult to imagine that so many traditional websites will be so rapidly disappearing from our culture. Does anything last for more than 15-minutes in this day and age?

Will the Internet (together with its wealth of traditional websites) somehow reinvent itself over the coming months in order to usher in an entirely new paradigm? I seriously doubt it. I could certainly imagine (though would hardly welcome) yet another shift in the way traditional websites are coded, constructed, and maintained. The development of this very website was precipitated less than 14 months ago because changes in coding standards had caused my older site to become functionally unmanageable. And of course, regular readers of this newsletter will doubtless be familiar with my surly attitude toward the incessant upgrading associated with a high-tech lifestyle.

Nevertheless, the overall cultural disappearance of traditional websites – speculated to be upon us in less than a year – that seems a stretch. According to Internet Live Stats there are currently more than 1.6 billion websites on the world wide web. Assuming all of those websites will soon be disappearing, where in the world do you suppose they will be going? Maybe we could make arrangements for them to be acquired, in bulk, by the Museum of Obsolete Media. If not… I think we’re going to need a bigger dumpster.

As I reflect upon the questionable future of my own online presence, I can’t help but wonder if a more applicable premonition might be to suggest that… rather than traditional websites marching toward cultural obsolescence, we instead consider that the Internet itself (being the very foundation to which all of these countless websites are inextricably cemented) remains – at all times and under nearly all circumstances – subject to what could best be described as: instantaneous functional termination.

Truth be told, I've never completely trusted the Internet. To me, it seems not unlike a virtual house of cards. At its core, the Internet is essentially an electronic edifice. As such, it’s really nothing more than a bunch of ones and zeros parading around an electrical grid. There's not much in the way of innate physical structure to insure its immutability. Yes, there is a lot of redundancy built into lots and lots of physical servers located all over the planet. Yet, take just a moment and walk over to your main electrical panel and flip (to the "off" position) a few of those odd-looking breaker switches. Viola! No electricity... No Internet! For all I know, there's some guy sitting in a darkened room somewhere just waiting for the opportune moment to flip that “Master Kill” switch, immediately after which the entire Internet becomes a figment of our collective imagination. OK, it's admittedly a pretty loopy scenario.

I guess we just have to take it on faith that the Internet will always be there. I certainly hope it will be there. I find it to be a remarkable tool, despite the vast array of nonsense that comprises a good portion of its content. The Internet seems to be one of those things that – by virtue of its own momentum and redundancy – is unlikely to disappear any time soon. As for the traditional website, itself, I can only hope that this particular website will retain its viability (and at least a shred of cultural relevance) in and among that elite group of 1.6 billion… for at least a few more years, anyway.

When all is said and done, I do realize that nothing lasts forever. Yet, the notion that billions of traditional websites are destined to become obsolete by this time next year – I wonder… should we be stockpiling web searches, now, so as to avoid the inevitable rush as the zero hour approaches? No matter. I should probably get this tome wrapped up and posted… as soon as possible.

Huntington Witherill