Imagine a world 25 years from now where the largest online news outlets are driven by monopolies with political agendas. The use of end-to-end encryption has been banned worldwide, and free, unrestricted access to online content has long been a thing of the past, following the passage of oppressive legislation known as the Digital Copyright Act of 2024.
While access to the Internet still exists, it is now a shell of what it once was. You log on and navigate to one of the news sites you used to visit, only to find a popup banner blocking the content.
“This business no longer exists,” reads the message that appears on the screen.
“The website you are trying to access was either no longer able to comply with, or found to be in breach of the new regulations brought in by the 2029 monopolies commission,” the message explains.
If all this sounds like a scene from the kind of dystopian future often conveyed in science fiction films, think again. According to Internet Archive, the American digital library site that is home to millions of books, films, and audio that it makes freely available online, this eerie glimpse of the world of 2046 may not be far from becoming a reality.
Among the cornerstones of the Internet Archive is its popular Wayback Machine search engine, which provides an archive of nearly 580 billion web pages. Now, coinciding with the site’s 25th anniversary, the site has added a feature called Wayforward Machine, which provides visitors with a glimpse of how a more draconian future might look where access to information online becomes greatly restricted.
“On the 25th anniversary of the Internet Archive, we’re looking forward to the year 2046,” the site explains on a page that appears after visitors access the new future search feature. “Will we have access to trustworthy information online? Will knowledge be free and open?”
Adorned in eerie Matrix-green and featuring popup messages from fictitious entities like the Ministry of Truth, Wayforward Machine provides a glimpse of how the world of tomorrow might end up looking.
“This site contains information that is currently classified as Thought Crime in your region,” reads one banner from the Ministry of Truth that appears over the main content of sites accessed through Way Forward Machine.
Accompanying its new future search engine, Internet Archive also provides an interactive timeline beginning in 2022, which highlights key events leading up to the destruction of a free internet over the course of the next quarter-century. Events it details include the establishment of the “great firewall” by the South Asian Republic in 2034, the defunding of public libraries in the United States in 2037, and the introduction of advertising implants in 2042.
By 2043, sites like Internet Archive have been “forced underground,” and the following year all known physical copies of George Orwell’s 1984 have been destroyed. However, an activist releases a digital version shortly thereafter—the likes of which can be read today within Internet Archive’s online library—only to be captured and sentenced to life in prison for the offense.
Also lending flair to Internet Archive’s grim projections about an authoritarian future is an interactive Twitter as it might appear in 2046 under similar restrictions.
Internet Archive’s new Wayforward Machine and other Orwellian-themed elements are part of its new #EmpoweringLibraries campaign, a movement launched by the site which strives to ensure that knowledge will remain accessible to all in the decades to come. The campaign was launched in response to a lawsuit that four corporate publishers have recently filed against Internet Archive, which aims to prevent libraries from lending digital versions of their books to the site or to digitize their own collections and make them available to the public.
“Borrowing digital books is a lifeline for people who cannot physically access a library,” reads a statement featured on the official webpage for the campaign. “But a new lawsuit by four corporate publishers against the Internet Archive attempts to prevent libraries from lending digital versions of their books or digitizing their collections. The impact on our most vulnerable communities, as well as on our cultural heritage, would be severe.”
The site also features resources like the following video, which explains the concept of controlled digital lending, which relies on current legal interpretation of U.S. copyright law, and the principles of fair use and copyright exhaustion:
“Most societies place importance on preserving artifacts of their culture and heritage,” reads a statement at Internet Archive’s website. “Without such artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures.”
Founded by American librarian Brewster Kahle in 1996, the Internet Archive has grown to be one of the largest online repositories for information online.
According to recent figures, the site has become home to more than 30 million books and other texts, along with close to 9 million films and videos, approximately 13,225,000 audio files, nearly 650,000 software programs, 3.8 million images, and 580 billion web pages indexed since the site was launched.
“Our culture now produces more and more artifacts in digital form,” the site’s statement adds.
“The Archive’s mission is to help preserve those artifacts and create an Internet library for researchers, historians, and scholars.”