Going back, paring back, going on
2022 Feb 7th (17/12)
A good friend of mine likes to paraphrase Mother Teresa - "we shouldn't simply be anti-war, we should be pro-peace". I'm starting this blog in an attempt to figure out what the equivalent of "pro-peace" is when it comes to the horrible internet garbage (the actually bad kind of internet garbage, not the life-affirming 'we're all garbage monsters together' kind of internet garbage).
One of the many shitty things that have happened to people under the conditions of the pandemic has been increased susceptibility to foolish and dangerous nonsense on the internet. It has been frustrating at every stage, but now the foolish and dangerous nonsense is ABOUT the internet.
A shorthand statement I often make (to nobody in particular) is that Web 2.0 was a mistake. It's probably not quite true - I think of Web 2.0 as platform capitalism, "content creators", and recommendation algorithms, but other folks say that Web 2.0 really began with user-generated content facilitated by open-source software such as Wordpress and protocols such as RSS. It wasn't quite that Web 2.0 centralised everything, but that despite the promise of a decentralised culture and a level playing field, centralisation nevertheless occurred, because it benefitted corporations with an obligation to deliver growth for their investors or shareholders. (This is explained in the course of a post detailing a hilarious and very revealing experiment at Moxie.org)
I don't think I saw Web 2.0 as a mistake when it first started being discussed. I took for granted that it was about "user-generated content" and thought something along the lines of, "oh yes, I am a user, and I like generating content, it will be great to have an internet that is better designed for people like me". What emerged was an internet better designed for extracting value out of people like me, and extremely well designed for facilitating horizontal violence between people like me.
Web 3.0 isn't even doing a good job of pretending to be something I want. All it promises is that, through cryptocurrencies, people like me might be able to make money selling things that have no intrinsic value except the value they've stolen from future generations by using a shit-tonne of energy. And of course, even that promise is misleading - what's really at stake is that a bunch of wealthy people own a shit-tonne of cryptocurrency, and have to contrive uses for it in order to ensure it retains its value. I can only say that I hope everything they are trying to do fails horribly, before the tech sector has fully restructured itself around the horrific schemes of these malevolent ghouls. Unfortunately, by the time the whole thing tanks, ordinary people's jobs will probably be reliant on its existence.
All of this is happening at a time when it's not really possible to do the things I'd normally do to remind myself that the internet really has connected me with other humans who I care for and admire. Despite the easing of restrictions, it's still not really possible to post a meetup event somewhere and have a bunch of likeminded people show up and do something fun and weird. As always, it's tempting to believe that the monolithic social apps will give me a sense of human connection, but it's not true - they just force all of us to participate in building a world that we hate, to one extent or another.
There are things happening that are making me smile, though. A couple of weeks ago I started trying to write - gods forgive me - a manifesto explaining what I am "pro-" when I am "anti-" all the particularly nasty shit happening with the internet at the moment. I feel like a tiny baby, even at the respectable age of 34, because I am very much aware that people started making the things that I believe in before I was even born. So I'm trying to learn about these histories of idealistic technology, which are at the same time histories of neurodiversity, which are also histories of the kinds of things people have made together when they are more motivated by the joy of making and learning than by status or personal gain. And at the same time, I'm trying to become better acquainted with the potentialities people are surfacing in the present. Emilie Reed is particularly good at this, and also the Yesterweb project is bringing me a great deal of joy, as many people a good few years younger than me discover the kind of internet that I found when I got my first computer, and start to explore what it might be like to recreate that spirit.
A theme on Yesterweb seems to be "nostalgia, but also not just nostalgia". I think perhaps we need an alternative temporality to the one sold to us by tech companies. "Forwards" is treated as synonymous with "more" - more new computers made with rare earth minerals, more new features that demand that users upgrade their computers, more network power in the hands of a small number of platforms, more growth for shareholders, more ways for people to make more money than ever before. But these paths "forward" are not synonymous with "ongoing", since they burn down the future to make "more" in the present. To reject this vision of "forwards" does not have to be reduced to going "back". Instead, it might be a "paring back", a natural part of any design process.
With that in mind, welcome to my new personal blog I guess? This is a Zonelets blog, a lo-fi space where I hope to throw the thoughts that I otherwise might have foolishly made into a Twitter thread. The naive part of me dreams of recreating the best bits of the internet as I used to experience it, writing unplanned blog posts, reading other people's, and discovering blogs through webrings and recommendations. Other changes I've made to my internet experience in the past fortnight include:
- Uninstalling most social media apps from my phone
- Removing social media profile links from my home page
- Setting my Twitter to private
- Paying more attention to personal emails, penpals, etc.
- Watching less Youtube video essays, listening to more audiobooks
I would love to learn more about what other folks are doing to rebuild an experience of the internet that is free and open, and that facilitates connection with others. If you have tactics or projects to share, get in touch (my email address is "hello" at the domain of this website).