The internet used to be more fun.
The internet used to be really dope. Instead of this hate-filled cesspool of misery. I’m aware this isn’t exactly a hot take.
It seemed like there was always something new (and likely inappropriate) to discover; some sort of community, or joke website, or meme. A random flash game here or there. You could learn about whatever you wanted and meet someone on the other side of the globe.
When I first started coding around age 15, I learned CSS from tutorials on a random BBS (forum). And learned PHP on tizag.com and got help on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) from a guy that lived in New Zealand (I think?).
There was always a new pocket to discover and explore. People were making blogs, fan sites, and communities about any and every thing. Platforms and protocols were (mostly) standardized, transparent and decentralized — think SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), RSS, etc.
Is the decline of online anonymity to blame?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when but at some point things just got more a lot more serious. As social media increasingly became intertwined with our IRL social fabric, the fun dwindled.
But none of this generated much money. I started and ran multiple sites, covering server costs with checks from my $8/hr grocery store job. It was fun though! There was an amazing sense of community. The thrill of setting up shop in your little corner of the internet was top-tier.
But then, we were all slowly herded into VC-backed, centralized platforms by our billionaire shepherds.
The idea of interacting online with our “real life” friends” was tantalizing, we signed up, imported our contacts, and added all of our friends. Now we could keep in touch with folks who would otherwise be forgotten (yay?).
Anonymity was no longer a guiding principle of internet use. All of your pictures, videos and posts were now tied to you — again, for better or worse. Advertisers spend more on platforms that have users that are not anonymous.
I joined Twitter a few years after they launched. Well before government officials, major brands, and A-list celebrities were using it. I remember when it was more mundane and felt like an aforementioned “corner”. Then it grew into a whole city block. Then…into a country itself?
It has over 238 million monthly active users. There are over 330 million Americans.
Now, we have Elon Musk, a man who is already the CEO of 2 other companies, coming in trying to govern it like a God-King. He put on his $44 Billion Dollar Cape and came to “rescue” Twitter from the libs or whatever. And it ain’t going well. As I type this, “Poor Elon” is trending.
This post isn’t to recap everything that has gone down with Twitter but this whole thing has made me long for an era that is long gone.
As I looked for alternatives to Twitter, I realized something:
This isn’t right.
We (humanity) were ever meant to communicate on this scale. As humans, we’re community-oriented and I think the shape of the internet was best as clusters of communities.
Twitter was actually moving toward implementing and rolling out “Community” features, and “Circles”, all things which gave me the feeling of the Old Times. But now that most of their engineers have been fired, my bet is that these efforts will be stalled.
So maybe I shouldn’t look for an alternative to “Twitter” itself. I need to look for those pockets. Those little communities where I can connect with like-minded folks. Some might call it an “echo chamber”. But even if dangerous ideologies are segmented into small communities (chambers), hasn’t that always been the case? It’s arguably better that those communities are limited to their cluster — limiting exposure.
In small communities, a sense of trust can be cultivated — even with anonymous accounts. Ideas can be expressed without fear of negative consequences and growth can occur. It’s okay for our online communities to be separate from our real life ones.
Alright, this is getting lengthier than I wanted it to be.
The internet just needs to go from chinos to cargo pants.