The new album from Death Cab for Cutie came out this week, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. With the sound of Ben Gibbard in my headphones once again I felt a bit nostalgic, I also spotted a Reddit discussion entitled “What do you miss about the early internet“.
A time before internet marketers, “influencers” and affiliate links. A time when it felt like the people who were regularly spending time online did it for the sheer enjoyment and excitement of exploring a new world, not because they were trying to build an online empire.
The early internet was the perfect place for an introvert. For a long time it felt like the other people on there were other introverts who had found a way to talk to people without actually having to engage in the social component of sitting face to face with someone. The kids who got picked on at school had finally created their own party. The party was mostly for nerds. The party was quiet, people were just enjoying themselves – we did this to relax without being judged (except for the people who judged us for never going out).
Then, in what seemed like a short space of time, louder people started arriving.
They took selfies, making sure that they always looked good in whatever angle the photo was taken in. It became a way for people to show off that they were sipping cocktails by the beach, or flaunting their designer possessions. It started to look like the fashion magazines that I hated – the average avatar picture getting skinnier and more contoured than before, maybe with a pair of designer sunglasses sitting on top of their head.
People moved en masse from MySpace to Facebook shortly after the former’s acquisition by News Corp. It was like graduating from your favourite class and being put in a bigger pool of people who you knew, but didn’t really want to. The people you actually went to school with started adding you. You might have thought you had escaped them, but no.
The juice was diluted. The more people who joined, the emptier it felt. Meaningful interactions were lost.
Being ‘liked’ was more important than being interesting….
Oh dear god, it was school all over again. For some reason, being surrounded by everyone made me feel more and more alone.
The goal of the fastest growing tech companies was to acquire more users. Their value was determined by how many people were downloading their app every week, how many people were creating accounts, and the number of times they checked back in to the app in a day.
“How many daily active users do you have?”
People became currency. Currency can be traded for goods and services. We later learned that one of these companies did just that – traded our information to groups who would use it to sway elections in the United States and in Great Britain.
Making things ‘sticky’ was the goal. Get people to keep checking back to see how many likes that latest Instagram or Tweet got. It didn’t matter that people were miserable.
What Do I Miss About Early Internet?
I miss having a way to share discoveries, like the new Death Cab.
I miss having a place where I can be myself. A way to show my interest in graphic novels, independent films, retro computer games or the latest releases from the Erased Tapes label.
But most of all, I miss encountering random people who I was probably never going to meet in real life, but they liked the same stuff as me. Having a meaningful exchange with a stranger can mean more to me than being ‘friended’ by former schoolmates who I have nothing in common with.
Random person of the internet; I miss our chats.
I still experience parts of that when I’m on Reddit, just because I feel no one is using Reddit to further their own agenda or show off that they were on a speedboat that one time.
What Can Be Done?
I think there’s room in the world for something new. Something to open up the silos that have been created. A way to allow people to create small communities of like-minded individuals. A way for people to meet based on shared interests. A way to create group-chats with others who like the same stuff as you.
These were my thoughts as I lay awake during my latest bout of insomnia a few nights ago. Why do I miss the early internet, and is there a way to get it back again?
I don’t enjoy Facebook. I occasionally use Instagram but I don’t get anything out of it. I have never been on Snapchat. Twitter can be too political.
If anyone has any interest in building something, you know I’m here and I would love to share ideas. I’m a designer, and I can do design-y things and a bit of front-end development… If you want, we could build something together. Set up our own town, away from the noisy city, for cool people.
I had to take my contact form down a few months ago after my site got hacked, but if you want to reach me on Twitter, we can exchange emails.
I’d love to hear from you, kind stranger.