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Life online and losing and finding my faith in it

Get ready for some rambling, stream-of-consciousness, blogging-as-thinking.

As a member of the Oregon Trail generation, I came of age alongside the Web. I had access to much of it a little earlier than my peers, because my dad’s work provided home access for him. As an adolescent, I had this sort of constant feeling of the immense potential of my life ahead of me and of the Web, and as a young adult I really leaned into that, blogging starting in 2001. It’s not a big leap from me to this rando kid on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “I Robot, You Jane” who says, “The only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive.” I feel this visceral connection to the Web that I have a hard time putting in words.

As I shared last weekend, I’ve been looking at Pierre Levy‘s writings on collective intelligence and cyberculture. I shared in the IndieWeb chat that I was reading Collective Intelligence and it was making me deeply sad. I actually had to put the book down several times and hit a bit of a wall in my plans for my comps because I just didn’t know how to recover from this sadness. The French edition of Collective Intelligence was published in 1994, and full of the kind of technoutopian rhetoric that I believed for years, that kind of still hums in my veins a bit. And reading it made me so sad about what I imagine we’ve lost, the weird internet Vicki Boykis talks about. Specifically, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that the kind of collaboration that excited me about the web, and that Web 2.0 promised to make more accessible, is so much harder to find now, perhaps nearly impossible, because of silos and the proliferation of advertising.

And maybe it’s because I’m 38 instead of 18 that I’m feeling this way, maybe it’s something else, maybe I’m wrong. I just felt immensely defeated, even in the face of examples to the contrary. I just felt sad and overwhelmed and to be honest, this feeling hasn’t gone away entirely.

But then I was poking around the Vaporwave subreddit, which of course is a brilliant place to be if you’re feeling disillusioned by the false promises of and simultaneously nostalgic for 90s-era technoutopianism, and found the thread for VA:10, a project resulting from collaboration between 88 creators, with plans to create not just an album, but also a film and an art book, documenting this digitally-born musical genre and aesthetic. With plans to donate all proceeds to the Internet Archive.

And my faith came back a little.

Other stuff from this week:

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  1. @kimberlyhirsh Thanks for writing this. I’m of a similar generation as you, so I share a lot of the nostalgia and internal conflict with current Internet life.

    I remember the “weird Internet” very well; indeed I used to make those kinds of websites, and I’m still invested in making them. I also think those Web 1.0-esque websites and communities are still around, even with linkrot they’ve never quite gone away. But with the increasing centralization and prominence of social-media giants, I think the average user of the Internet has been schooled into seeing and engaging only with the giants (and thus, to think about websites under a certain paradigm), and have been schooled out of the methods of finding and engaging with the small independent websites. We’re now used to having links served to us by the silos and just scanning a random blog post but not engaging with the entire blog (person). We have to school ourselves back into how to walk off the beaten track and discover the Internet for ourselves — by following links and engaging deeply with websites and blogs.

  2. I’m also from that generation. However, I didn’t have access to the web until around 2000. I still enjoy it like I did back then. I still click lots of links, and go to lots of random places, which I call “spinning the web.”

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