By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 1 August 2001

Everything really is going to be just fine. Not spectacular, but not disastrous, either. The handholding I’ve been doing for the past five years can end. It’s time to free up this newspaper space for some news.

I began writing these pieces about the internet back in 1992, when most of you hadn’t yet tried email (most never thought you would) and the World Wide Web didn’t even exist. I had always been interested in new cultural phenomena, and the networked reality suggested by the linking of computers and telephone lines was too good a story to leave to journalists.

So I became an advocate and cheerleader of cyberculture, and used this space to influence, as best I could, the way in which we would all regard and apply our new tools. To me, the most significant impact of new, interactive media on all of us was the way it changed our perception of communication and media, themselves.

People who used the internet in the early 90’s felt changed by the experience. As awakened to the powerful influence of the mainstream media on society as we were to the potential for networking technologies to create an alternative media space.

The experience of interactive media changed the way we regarded the most sacred of cultural institutions, and the ideologies they were meant to protect. People got alternative healthcare information, which challenged the authority of doctors. We learned about the secret lives of our politicians, the political machinations behind the church, and the religious cult-like style of programming practiced by corporations on their employees and customers.

Interactive technology showed us the man behind the curtain, and the strings controlling him. What’s more, we were free to talk about our new perceptions. We can talk about anything we like, with some people who really know what they’re talking about - many of whose opinions were too controversial to spread any other way. Online, nothing is sacred.

That’s a powerful realization for a society that spent the past century falling prey to one awful ideology or another - from fascism to consumerism. New media promised to be the opposite of old media: where one hypnotized us into blind idealism, the other eroded the notion of ‘isms’ altogether.

Eventually, however, the internet seemed to become an ideology of its own - the ideology of market capitalism. Although the dot.com pyramid had little to do with any genuine market ideology, the promise of the free market soon outweighed the somewhat less concrete benefits of free thinking. Instead of serving to dispel the myths of mass media, the internet was now “the next big thing.”

I tried to quit my column right then. I didn’t sign up to write about the stock market implications of the AOL-TimeWarner merger, and this was all people seemed interested in hearing about. That’s what led to year or so of anti-business columns, and what seemed to many like a retrograde nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of shareware and text-only web sites. I kept writing because I knew a crash was imminent - that the bubble would burst - and someone would have to be here to console the disillusioned, and remind everyone that no matter what happens to the NASDAQ index, the interactive technologies it funded are still alive and well. I think enough of the dust has settled for people to see this, now.

In fact, our current cultural condition is, in my opinion, much healthier than the adrenaline-rush of being part of a ‘next big thing.’ Theological arguments aside, there is no next big thing. There never was. It has always been just hype. And while hype fuels temporary upswings in stock charts or army recruitment rolls, it doesn’t help people live real lives, support one another, or see things as they are.

The real world is more subtle and, ultimately, more rewarding than the ones advertised by the storytellers of top-down, mass media. It’s also a lot less dangerous. A tightly controlled mass media can be used to push a wide range next big things. Early radio associated fascism with utopia, and MTV associates a new brand of blue jean with sexual satisfaction.

The beauty of moments like these - moments where neither the market nor the media seem capable of concocting a next big thing to believe in - is that we are free to experience what it’s like to live in the real world: to love our mates without needing to project the ultimate romantic ideals onto them. To enjoy our jobs without any hope of making to the “top,” whatever that is. Or to use the internet as the terrific networking tool it is, without needing to re-invent the global economy or the human species in the process.

There are no next big things. But if you are looking for the source of fundamental shifts in the human story, they happen during lulls like this one. The internet itself was born during the economic downturn after the crash of ‘87. It is in the seeming doldrums when major course changes occur.

So this seems about as good a time as there’ll ever be to leave you all - at least as a chronicler and commentator on this formerly next big thing. Oh, I’ll still be writing and thinking. You can keep up with my work – including an ongoing interactive novel experiment and a consideration of ‘open source religion’ - over at http://www.rushkoff.com.

So, farewell, and thanks for letting me serve as your sometimes-guide to the uncharted territory we called cyberspace. See you online.