Tag: internet

The New Internet is Forced Cannibalization

The saddest part of the internet right now, to me, is not necessarily its being smothered in algorithms that drive what we pay attention to all day everyday. That is a tragedy and something that we need to deal with or perish (mentally, anyway).

What I am most sad about when I look at the state of the internet is that its identity has fundamentally changed. When I was younger (probably even younger than a teenager) the internet was this wild frontier. Anything went, but you had to know where to find stuff. Links led to other links, and on and on down the rabbit hole.

Was it perfect back in the blogosphere days, or earlier? No. Take Alan Jacobs’s post today.

When Grandpa wrote against the blogosphere, that kind of site is what he had in mind: a constant stream of hot takes, some of which had to be walked back later because they were offered before, and instead of, reflective consideration. You’d therefore have a better sense of what I meant in that much-quoted line if you replaced “blogosphere” with “Twitter.”

blogging and the blogosphere”

Note — the blogosphere, at one point, was not great. It was the equivalent of today’s Twitter, a stream of non-reflective takes everyday. It probably brought on the constant news cycle that we all pretty much hate now.

But! There was also some beauty there, and this is what Alan gets at in the meat of this post. Blogging can be that rabbit-hole, linky version of the internet that many of us grew up with. More from the post:

I post a thought; later, I return to it with an update; someone responds and I incorporate their thoughts into a new post that links to them and to the original – basically, what I am doing right now. Note also that blogging, when done in this fashion and in this spirit, is also seriously dialogical, and I think there is a close connection between a dialogue-friendly medium and a forgiving medium. 

The incorporation, the back-and-forth, the dialogue is what makes blogging beautiful. And it’s what made the non-blog part of the internet before 2008 so fun too. We weren’t being force fed new content all the time from what essentially amounts to non-democratic, institutionalized, whitewashed, walled gardens.

Think about it. Where do you go when you get on the internet? You go to one of, I’m guessing 5-10 websites. Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Reddit, a news source……. can you even think of anymore?

It reminds me of that scene in Snowpiercer (SPOILER ALERT) where the people on the back of the train are given those gross gel bar things to eat, only to find out that those are made of their own dead. All the infighting and vitriol that happens on barely a handful of websites is essentially forced cannibalization while that handful of corporations makes billions of dollars off of our hatred.

That’s just sad to me. I miss the old internet.

Update: As a coda to this post, I’m gonna do what AJ suggests, and link to the Robin Sloan post he mentions. Here’s Robin:

One is that I want to say again: the High Blogging Era might be behind us, but there is still blogging to be done, and it is so easy and so rewarding to dip a toe in, start to follow a few of these feeds, and experience a different kind of network.

“Many Subtle Channels”

It strikes me, too, that in its purest form, blogging is just a sheer beautiful way to write and engage with the world. I accessed all of these words freely. It cost me nothing (besides a machine and an internet connection) to see these words, to think about them and what they have to say about technology and connection and culture. What a delight the internet was… perhaps what a delight it could still be.

What the Internet is Like

This lecture from Patricia Lockwood (“The Communal Mind”) is a little strange, a little terrifying, and distinctly captures what the internet felt like to me for those years I was on Twitter and Facebook. A quote, though there are several parts of this worth reading/listening to:

Each day we merged into a single eye that scanned a single piece of writing. The hot reading did not just pour from her but flowed all around her; her concreteness almost impeded it, as if she were a mote in the communal sight. Sometimes the pieces addressed the highest topics: war, poverty, epidemics. At other times they were about going to a deli with a poor friend who was intimidated by the fancy ham. And we always called it that: a piece, a piece, a piece.

Did you read the piece?
It’s there in the piece.
Did you even read the piece?
Um, I wrote the piece.

There’s something Faulkner-esque in the lecture itself, in that Lockwood attempts to capture the actual feeling of being on the internet in language. Not for the faint of heart, and admittedly a little strange. It only bolstered my desire to gain less knowledge, not more.

Sanctified by Subjectivity

From “Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction” by Maireed Small Staid (I encourage you to read the whole article. It isn’t long, and there are some beautiful thoughts here):

Loneliness is what the internet and social media claim to alleviate, though they often have the opposite effect. Communion can be hard to find, not because we aren’t occupying the same physical space but because we aren’t occupying the same mental plane: we don’t read the same news; we don’t even revel in the same memes. Our phones and computers deliver unto each of us a personalized—or rather, algorithm-realized—distillation of headlines, anecdotes, jokes, and photographs. Even the ads we scroll past are not the same as our neighbor’s: a pair of boots has followed me from site to site for weeks. We call this endless, immaterial material a feed, though there’s little sustenance to be found.

And then, I loved this line from Birkerts, quoted in the piece above:

The book—and my optimism, you may sense, is not unwavering—will be seen as a haven, as a way of going off-line and into a space sanctified by subjectivity.

Sanctified by subjectivity — perhaps, as opposed to marred by objectivity and even objectification. Maybe my growing discomfort with the online world is that it is a space that is built towards understanding the what humans are in objective terms. That is, understanding humans algorithmically and biologically, rather than as subjective creatures. The online world is built around understanding human impulses as computer-like: push the right buttons, show the right images, and you can get a human to do whatever you want them to do. That’s probably true.

Unless we enter into a space that is “sanctified by subjectivity.”

A “Now” Page (or, On Post-Social Media Digital Life)

Given that I am not really using social media anymore, I haven’t really had a place to update what I’m up to right now. After coming across the idea of a “now” page on several other blogs, I’ve made one for myself. You can see it here. Of course, as I’ve made this space my home on the web, the “now” page is less for you than it is for me. It’s a good way of reminding myself what I’m trying to focus on right now, in case anything else decides to try to creep into my daily work that doesn’t really belong. It’s also a good way to push back against the “stream” version of the internet.

Ever since 2009 (or sometime around there), the stream — that never-ending, infinite-scrolling, time-sucking version of digital consumption — has dominated how we interact with the internet. It makes us passive consumers, rather than active participants. It neuters the internet from being what it was meant to be: a space for ideas, for gaining knowledge, for finding new things. The stream allows advertisers to control our attention in ways that seem benign, but which are really meant to subtly control our consumption habits.

So, the blog and my “now” page are my own little ways of pushing back against that. I don’t know that it could ever happen again, but it would be fun to move back to an internet where the hyperlink rules how we connect with one another. Where there are blogrolls instead of “friends.” Where my attention is mine and not taken from me.

Some additional reading/listening on the subject, in case you are interested:

“The Web We Have to Save”

“Cal Newport Has an Answer for Digital Burnout” (Podcast)

“Tending the Digital Commons”

 

 

Kierkegaard on Rome, and Perhaps on the Internet

In his upbuilding discourse entitled, “Strengthening in the Inner Being,” Kierkegaard describes Rome during Paul’s time as follows,

In the world’s capital, in proud Rome, where all the splendor and glory of the world were concentrated, where everything was procured whereby human sagacity and rapaciousness tempt the moment in the anxiety of despair, everything to astonish the sensate person, where every day witnessed something extraordinary, something horrible, and the next day had forgotten it upon seeing something even more extraordinary…

In the capital city of the world, in tumultuous Rome, where nothing could withstand the unbridled power of time, which swallowed everything as quickly as it made its appearance, which consigned everything to forgetfulness without leaving a trace…

This sounds an awful lot like the internet in the present day. The internet has become the place in which we are lost in the power of the moment. It is where wealth, power, prestige, the social, the intellectual, and the political congregate. It is so easy to get lost in its grip, because it has “everything to astonish the sensate person, where every day witnessed something extraordinary, something horrible.” And further, the next day, those horrible, extraordinary are forgotten and replaced by “something even more extraordinary.”

I’d be willing to bet that Kierkegaard is not only attempting to describe Rome in Paul’s time, but modernity in his own time. What I’m guessing he didn’t understand is that his description would only gain in power as modern humans globalized and became interconnected in ways unfathomable in the mid-1800s.

He goes on to describe the difficulty with which humans remain “strengthened in the inner being” when faced with adversity or given good fortune, because humans are so likely to focus in on their current situation as being definitive of what life is really like. What I wonder is — how difficult is it to maintain a strong inner being when the internet and the ubiquity of the social is so easily distracting? How can I become a whole person, or work towards the telos of the human life, if my attention is constantly pulled this way and that?