Gather round my digital friends, I’m going to tell you about a time , a beautiful and innocent time, when the internet made people happy.
Long, long ago, before large corporations started buying up parts of the internet, and before sites like medium.com turned all the bloggers into employees, there was a time when individuals owned the internet.
That’s right friends, ordinary people — just like you — owned the internet, or “the net” as we used to say.
If you searched something, instead of showing results from a few sites that have spent millions of dollars hoarding all the content and optimizing the SEO, you were brought to a weird website in some far off corner of the internet.
Kind of like this.
I hope you spent some quality time browsing through that website, because it’s brilliant. Honestly. I find that kind of creativity incredibly encouraging and inspiring.
Remember the internet that made you feel that way? It was strange, it was eccentric, but most importantly — it was creative. Kind of like instagram was for the first couple years. Remember that? People making art instead of selfies… man, those were the days.
Now the internet has turned into a pile of dog shit.
Unchecked corporate greed is out of control and instead of people using the internet, now the internet uses people. Our attention and mental health is being extracted by companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google for profit, and while we might throw up our hands and say “but it’s free” it’s only because we don’t understand the true cost.
We haven’t got the joke yet, and maybe collectively we never will.
It’s a lot like what Fred Rodgers was saying about television in the 1960s, he saw this new medium as an opportunity to educate children, but was sad to see how it became mostly used to entertain kids with cartoons, then sell them sugary cereal during the commercial breaks.
It’s been a struggle for me too. I’m one of those bloggers, and I’ve been blogging in some format (on an actual blog, not social media) for over 20 years. I made my first website in the 90s using HTML and for me, the internet has always been the place where I can feel like myself. It’s been a safe haven for my weirdness, for the parts of me that don’t come out at polite dinner parties.
Ironically, the internet on the whole has turned into the opposite of that for me, and so many others. It’s now the thing that encourages us to conform, to be like everyone else, and to seek validation in the form of other people’s approval.
Bill Wurtz doesn’t give a fuck about what you think.
“Likes” didn’t use to exist, and the reason they have ruined the internet isn’t because they give people an opinion, it’s because they create a dangerous metric by which we measure our value. They have us compare one post to another, judging one as better because it gets more likes. Comments have been around forever, and they are great. Comments can be nuanced, “likes” are not.
So, I miss blogs — and some people would respond to that and say “blogs haven’t gone anywhere”, but the truth is they have. Arianna Huffington rounded up all the weird blogger gypsies and send them to the click-bait gas chamber to die.
I’m ashamed of the ways I’ve played into that system. I’ve written for many of the big internet publications, and even had some articles go viral for them. Just before I published this, I deleted all the articles I had posted on Medium and replaced them with this one.
Ironically, if this article becomes popular on Medium it will fund the very organization I’m trying to criticize, but that’s the dilemma I’m facing this year.
You see, this is the year I’m phasing out all my social media accounts, and any other involvements with the internet that have me supporting organizations I don’t believe are contributing positively to society as a whole.
I’m not doing this because I hate the internet, or even technology as a whole. I love these things. In fact, I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for the internet. I’m changing the way I do business precisely because I love the internet, and it means so much to me, that I will do whatever I can to support the best version of it.
We need more self-expression in this world, not more conformity. We need less commodification and more connection, but not the kind that Facebook pedals as addition, the real kind — the kind that has you feel better after you leave a platform.
I don’t believe the internet will ever recover and be what it used to be, but I do think that if I can surround myself with enough people who share my values — I can break my own addictions, feel a lot happier and return to writing more for my weird blog, in hopes that I can do my part to support the part of the internet I miss so dearly.