March 16, 2023 - permalink

Cue the music: it's been a while. Don't be shy, you can sing along if you like.

Every few years, I think about doing this again. What I mean by this is hard to define.

You can read a skeleton outline of the history of this site over at the about page, and I don’t really want to belabour any of that in another post. But as I prepare to give this whole having an active website thing another spin, I can’t help but think about why I have this compulsion at all.

Why do I think about doing this again so often? What is it that I’m reaching for?

I guess you could say that I miss the Old Internet.

That statement has become so overused in the past few years, almost to the point of cliché — in certain circles, it’s already well past that point. And I can see why: the New Internet or the Now Internet is a machine that creates bad feelings and horrific thought patterns from deep within its code, covered brilliantly by the veneer of being a dopamine dispenser. How did we let it get to this point? How did we drift so far off of the path?

I can’t pretend that the Internet was ever a truly utopian project, or a utopian place. I'm far too aware nowThough I’ve long been aware of the military origins of the Internet and the related concerns that are inherent to something like that, I owe a recent debt of gratitude to Surveillance Valley by Yasha Levine, a book that really clarifies the depth of and breadth of the Internet as an all-encompassing project of empire. Highly recommended. of just how much the Internet was always intended to appear as one thing while being something completely different. How can I miss something that was never what I thought it was?

Everything exists within certain bounds of reality, and pretty much every thing hangs in a cradle of contradictions. I’ve become comfortable with that concept over the years, and I’ve learned to revel in some of the tensions that a good contradiction can create. Sometimes the tension of a contradiction is one of the most exciting aspects of a given thing; I think I feel that way about the Internet.

Sure, the entire thing was something that was borne out of government desires for total surveillance and security awareness. Sure, it was a place where anonymity reigned and where you had to be on yr toes. Sure, it was difficult, slow, and at times annoying to use. But, in spite of all of that, it felt like a place that was mine and ours, a blank slate, a huge chunk of marble that could be carved into some new and fantastic shape.

The Old Internet was exciting because it existed largely out of the view of mainstream society. For much of the 90s, most people thought the online world was a fad, and that it was the province of nerds, freaks, and shut-ins... and to be honest, I think most online denizens preferred it that way. While there’s certainly a kind of thrill that comes from getting millions of hits on a website, the presence of that number of eyeballs starts to beget other problems. I’m not someone who bemoans all of this as a Long September,Ernie Smith wrote a great blog about gatekeeping and the Internet that really put this into perspective for me. and I am a proponent of DIY in virtually every aspect of my life. But I think part of the thrill of DIY is having a degree of difficulty. What happened during the 00s is that being online went from being a little too difficult to a little too easy. To properly commercialize the Internet, companies needed to make it like driving a car: something that was relatively easy to learn how to do, even if you had absolutely zero clue about how the machine itself worked. And once you learned how to use it, you still didn’t need to know how it worked... in fact, it was probably better if you didn’t.

I, too, was wooed by these tools that improved the Internet’s ease of use. I drifted away from coding things and understanding how every bit of my own website worked to using WYSIWYG,What You See Is What You Get drag-and-drop editors that made things significantly more convenient. I did this despite my better judgement — in my day-to-day work, whenever I get asked about some new convenient Internet thing, I always remind anyone who will listen: convenience is balanced against security and autonomy, and you decide the balance.

The convenience of the commercial Internet was and remains alluring. For pretty much anything you desire, there’s an app for that. There’s a service you can rent. It’s intoxicating. But in the same way that you can wake up with a mean hangover after a night of overindulgence, I keep waking up with a pounding headache and the nagging sense that I've drifted much too far from shore. This thing that used to bring me great joy and a deep sense of satisfaction has become a dopamine machine that no longer dispenses any, and anything I build with a drag-and-drop editor feels vacant and vapid.

I suppose this is my way of saying that this is a reboot. This is a confirmation of a commitment to the old ways, to reconnecting with code and to finding joy in the task because of its holistic and DIY nature. I may not save anytime, but this is one of the only ways I've ever saved my soul.