I thought that it would change people. I thought it would allow us to build a new world through which we could model new behaviors, values, and relationships. In the 90's, I thought the experience of going online for the first time would change a person's consciousness as much as if they had dropped acid in the 60's.
I thought Amazon.com was a ridiculous idea, and that the Internet would shrug off business as easily as it did its original Defense Department minders.
For now, at least, it's turned out to be different.
Virtual worlds like Second Life have been reduced to market opportunities: advertisers from banks to soft drinks purchase space and create fake characters, while kids (and Chinese digital sweatshop laborers) earn "play money" in the game only to sell it to lazier players on eBay for real cash.
The businesspeople running Facebook and MySpace are rivaled only by the members of these online "communities" in their willingness to surrender their identities and ideals for a buck, a click-through, or a better market valuation.
The open source ethos has been reinterpreted through the lens of corporatism as "crowd sourcing" — meaning just another way to get people to do work for no compensation. And even "file-sharing" has been reduced to a frenzy of acquisition that has less to do with music than it does the ever-expanding hard drives of successive iPods.
Sadly, cyberspace has become just another place to do business. The question is no longer how browsing the Internet changes the way we look at the world; it's which browser we'll be using to buy and sell stuff in the same old world.