February 17, 2016

Remember how the internet used to be good?

From a recent missive by Alex Balk:

Remember how the Internet used to be good? If you’re below a certain age you do not. Sorry. It must be awful to hear old people always going on about how the Internet once brought things other than pain, despair and a self-loathing so refined that its shame is only surpassed by the way the very idea of diving into the Internet’s bottomless well of sewage sickens you even as you leap, which you do each day despite of the vomitty feeling it inspires before, during and after. Just take my word for it, young people, there was a time when the Internet was a thing you were excited to be a part of. Every hour brought new delights and discoveries and led you to things you weren’t even aware that you were interested in. You never knew what would happen next, as opposed to now, when you know that whatever happens next it’s going to suck so bad you’ll want to cut yourself the second you turn away. And this is not just nostalgia or the rose-tinted memories of someone who can’t adapt to changing times or whatever, this is the objective truth: In contrast to the Internet of now, the Internet of a decade back was better, smarter, more interesting and also it didn’t make you want to die all the time. It didn’t make you hate yourself and everyone around you. It didn’t make you realize just how sick, sorry and stupid everyone is, and always so loud about it. You’re shaking your head at me because the very idea is inconceivable, but I was there. I saw it. It wasn’t the giant trench of anger and need that you dump all your GIFs into now. It was beautiful. But that was a long time ago.

I remember dialing into the internet using my CompuServe account and using IRC to talk to people on university campuses, more than twenty-five years ago. The internet did seem rosier, back then, but nostalgia has a way of clouding our memories for the better.

I feel lucky that, for the most part, my daily experience is not awful, but acknowledge that I am privileged enough to be surrounded by online peers who are all interested in making the web, and the world, a better place. I have the privilege of not being the subject of random acts of hate and vitriol, and of choosing the conversations with which I’d like to engage. This is not the case for many; for so many others, including many of my friends, the internet can, indeed, be awful.

I remember how the internet used to be good, and have faith that, if we work together to keep the awful out, it can be good, for everyone, again.