Bring Back My Internet

Mixed Messages

Okay, so I’m slightly reneging on my earlier post by writing about computers again, but trust me when I say this one is as much personal as it is technical.

Back in t’ day

It seems so bizarre to me that people are taken aback by my not having a Facebook account. Or a Twitter account. Or anything that they have bar email.

I’ll add you on Facebook. How do you spell your name?

C-I-A-R-A-N, but I’m not on Facebook

Why not?

Too many reasons

At this point in the conversation, I’m pretty much the asshole, putting them out terribly by not being instantly available on the network of their choice in order to organise impromptu events. But I remember, as I’m sure many do, when the world was separated by the internet as opposed to joined by it. I think I preferred it this way.

Separated?

To clarify, the Internet has always been a great communication tool, and it’s certainly true that it has vastly simplified comms over distance to the point where it’s unthinkable now that we once waited days for messages to move across geography that now takes only milliseconds to traverse. But the internet used to be a world unto itself, in a way.

When I was a child, I spent long hours browsing the web, sitting in chat rooms and looking at strange and interesting sites (of which this is still the oddest). Then, when I was done on the internet, I could spend time with friends and family. There was a clear separation there: I know you online, I know you offline. You who I know online I shall never meet. You are abstract and faceless, yet just as human as anyone else. You who I know offline are formed and tangible, and I have the freedom to spend time away from you with my faceless chums should I want to.

But what do we have now? Once the barrier for entry to the web was lowered, we saw adoption grow rapidly. This is, in a way, a great thing. It meant that people who previously struggled to make use of the benefits of the web now had access to the same powerful tools as those used by web users in days past. But this also had the unintended effect of erasing the barrier between the online life and the offline life. The friends and family from whom I could escape when life became too much suddenly bled into the last fascinating, untouched world I held dear. As more and more people came online, so too did the IRC rooms empty and the strange sites give way to centralised, controlled sites that allowed interaction across all experiences.

Honestly? I hate this.

The internet now is a shell of its former self. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have so centralised, standardised, and sterilised the method and means of online interactions that it feels like all the adventure and fun has been sucked out of the platform entirely. When you do find an interesting looking place, it’s often either a ghost town or filled with ne’er-do-wells who are more interested in subjecting you to bile and vitriol than getting to know you. The online space is now no more interesting than a high school, and has many of the same problems. Is there a solution? Well, federalised services give it a fair crack and IRC is still as enduringly addictive as ever. But the network effect is real. Once a site like Facebook takes hold of the popular psyche, you are being difficult if you don’t use it.

If I’m being truthful I am happy to keep my online life and my offline life completely separate, never interacting with anybody I know AFK online and keeping them in the real world where they belong. But this has the unwanted result of making you a “voluntary” outcast, who chooses not to be involved in things because you refuse to just give in and join [insert social network here]. Well, ain’t that just shit?

Anyhow. Just a rant. As you were.