I am young, but I do remember a time before the smartphone, when PDAs were cool as hell and when consumer laptops were starting to get affordable. I do fondly recount when my father bought an IBM ThinkPad (i-Series, had Windows ME on it - not REAL IBM though), I was stunned by the fact that he could use the computer without having it hooked to a wall socket - that was basically magic for all I care. Or when we were able to get ahold of the first WiFi (802.11 a - before all this numbering WiFi 6 nonsense) connection we'd ever seen in downtown Nazareth.
Yes, I am a "digital native" in the end and was born in the late 90s, but still, I didn't get to get on the internet until I was in 3rd or 4th grade.
At the time ICQ was still somewhat of a thing, MSN was the "Big Thing", the PlayStation2 was the hottest console around (though I did enjoy the Atari games on the unit that my uncle had much more TBH) and soon skype was going to "explode" (for us anyhow).
This might sound strange to be said by someone that is learning CS and is quite enthusiastic about IT in general, but, one of the stuff that I sorely miss from that time is the clear divide between "online" and "offline". And as an aside, I hate using "IRL" to denote the offline part, as the Internet is still real life and one can merely be AFK at most.
You see, with the "smart"phone (including other "smart" devices/IoT devices) and widespread internet connectivity, the whole equation changed.
It used to be the case that you had to be sitting in front of a Desktop or Laptop and actually have internet connection to use various IM and other services.
This argument might be expanded to the "other" part, but I want to focus mainly on IM since it exhibits these problems the most.
Before that though, I will detail what I think are positive developments in the last decade and a half.
Up until the Snowden revealations (and to a few years after that), most of the internet was unencrypted.
Now, it might be argued (and I do somewhat agree) that the internet didn't really need encryption - at least not the web.
If all you're doing is serving static pages (which, hint was the original raison d'être of the WWW), what is the point of encryption when anyone can visit the page?
This is why protocls like gopher don't really have encryption - it somewhat ends up being extra complexity that is useless.
Yet, seeing as how the Internet as a whole evolved and the WWW specifically, I do agree that HTTPS does have a place to exist and is overall a positive development.
Another point which can be viewed as a positive development is the increased coherence of the internet.
Flash, ActiveX, JavaApplets and the like have mostly given way to more standardized alternatives, HTML5+JS3+CSS3 can nowadays replace almost all usecases of those technologies.
And some might say:"Where's the problem? They weren't standards, but they were at most a small download away, and they expanded what was possible to do on the web quite considerably".
To which I'd reply:"Did you ever have to deal with that mess??".
Last but not least, one might argue that it is was easier to use all these always-on systems nowadays, it is easier than ever to connect to people.
I mean, yes, that is true, for example we had a chance to meet a family relative whose part of the family was separated (for geopolitical and historical reasons) a few generations ago - all because of this hyperconnectivity.
Yet at the same time, there are many uncountable instances of my phone buzzing with a notification or my browser spamming me with ones on the computer (really? Why should a text-renderer spam notifications? I thought RSS was dead) which are pointless and distracting.
Alternatives do exist, but they're not mainstream - mainly because the big corporations that provide these "free/gratis" services do want to grab every little chunk of our attention.
For example, I have an IRC bouncer - a primer for those that never used IRC or a bouncer:
IRC is a form of federated IM, afterall the messages are delivered instantly, it is just slightly less "smart".
In one-on-one/private chats on a server both users have to be online to recieve the messages, as the server merely relays the messages (IRC Internet Relay Chat).
A bouncer is a dedicated server that keeps your user online and allows you to interact with the messages later, that way you don't miss anything.
This way, I can still get all the messages and information (I can even setup a way to get notified about important messages) without the service and users thereof expecting me to be available 24/7.
Contrast that with the way most modern IM systems expect you to be available all the time and you can see that benifits (such as less stress, less anxiety, and certainly less spying).
Speaking of federated protocols, they allow the user much more freedom and "digital soveregnity".
I host my own XMPP, Matrix and IRC servers (the latter of which isn't federated).
With the first two, I have chosen to set up my own servers that handle my data in a way I can trust but also can still use them to communicate with anyone that is using such federated services.
Contrast that to the offerings you get from most mainstream IM systems and even some open ones where you are tied into a centralized service
What happens when the servers crash? Tough luck, service outage (and up until two years ago, Google, Facebook, Whatsapp...etc still were having some serious global service downtimes) - federated networks will keep working as a whole anyhow, except some minor local outages.
With that "digital soveregnity" comes also more control of one's usage of the service, it becomes a properly useful and controllable tool - and you cease being datamined and manipulated by big corporations.
For example, I can have my own messaging setup with the clients I like (and not just one "official" client) tailored to my needs - and you too can have your own useful setup.
Back to where I started, and to conclude:
I think that the transformation of the internet into more than just an information network and the web into more than a federated system of loosly coordinated indipendent (personal) websites led us to the current situation.
In my opinion, our attitudes towards these systems have changed to the worse (do you remember when you were told to "never use your real name online"?).
In part this has happened because the internet kept and still keeps getting swarmed with newcomers that just simply don't care a lot and want to use "the next big thing", from what I have read online, it is Eternal September going on time and time again.
And with each new round the internet is getting more and more fractured and centralized into corporate strongholds, till the point that FAGMAN control most of the internet traffic nowadays.
This does obviously sound like a bleak outlook, but we shouldn't give up, at least not yet. We have the tools to change the situation still.
If you're not so technically inclined, ask your friends that are to help you, they'll probably be more than happpy to give you you're own place on the web to voice your opinions and express yourself freely - and I bet they would happily help in providing decentralized and user-controllable IM solutions.
To those of you that are technically inclined, I encourage you to self-host as many services of those you use that you can, preferably from a server that you physically own - if not, then from some of the smaller VPS providers.
Together we can build a better internet for us all.