I read two or three pieces in the last 24 hours that made a really strong case for maintaining little independent bits of the internet that are focused on pet interests and subjects.
My first website when I was 14 was Jazz Nairobi, envisioned as a site focused on the then fairly non-existent Nairobi Jazz scene. It was a mess of table based web design on GeoCities that never quite got finished. The lessons learned then fuelled a lifetime of curiosity on the web and the technologies that power it. It showed me that it was possible to get a presence on the web and filled me with a desire to tell my stories here.
It appears a lot of people miss the old internet where you could go to sites that were dedicated to movie titles or East German ads. Especially as the web becomes more and more the same.
As our online presences have grown into an extension of our C.Vs, there have been some positives such as creating doors to new opportunities as well as some cons. An obvious downside has been that fewer people are willing to express their individuality online. Everyone wants to cash in on their online presence. Sameness reigns. There is little space for unpaid hobbies and sites dedicated to often unmonetisable interests. Today corporations dominate blogging and much of online publishing. Yet as writing teacher Scott Korb noted in a New York Times editorial titled The Soul-Crushing Student Essay last month, a lot of our best writing comes from explorations of
“those queer devotions and frustrations, experiences and ideas that have stirred an individual heart into peculiarity”
Russell Davies builds a great case for what he calls “an internet of unmonetisable enthusiasms” on Wired.
That’s the web I want; a place with spare corners where un-monetisable enthusiasms can be preserved, even if they’ve not been updated for seven years.
Over at Kottke.org, one of the longest running, still surviving, independent blogs on the Internet, Tim Carmody notes in an excerpt from their Noticing newsletter that it is harder to get lost on the Internet these days thanks in part to web content becoming and behaving more and more like T.V. in all the wrong ways.
the bottoming out of the ad market, and everything that caused that, has made it really hard for niche, indie web sites with an unusual point of view to survive. The commercial websites and traditional publishers who colonized that space are a lot more same-y and predictable.
Social media also transforms our experience. You used to be able to come across a blog or forum post, in your RSS feed or straight up navigating in your browser, and have a relatively fresh and unmediated reaction to it. You could then share that reaction on your blog or wherever. Even the blog style favored generous blockquotes as much as it did hot takes. Now everything feels a lot more picked-over. Something like Yanny vs. Laurel, by the time you actually listen to it for yourself, you’ve seen friends scream at each other at the top of their lungs, a half-dozen quickly-manufactured memes, a dozen or so copycat posts, and five or six scientific explainers or web spelunkers who’ve traced the auditory hallucination’s journey from the web’s bowels to its front pages. All of the moves have been mapped out. There aren’t a lot of surprises any more.
Over at The Verge, Helen Fitzgerald pens a poignant reminder of a past when the web was escape, not simply a continuation of your day. She writes:
The greatest joy of LiveJournal, and other similar proto-social networks and chat rooms, was their uselessness. There was no reason for any of us to be there, not really. Online sociality may have addressed loneliness, but in its early form, it did as much to simultaneously heighten it, isolating those of us who sought out artificial social lives in two-dimensional typefaces. That uselessness was precisely the thing that the internet offered: this was a place you visited to get nothing done, a place where nothing counted or lasted with benefits or consequences.
Perhaps more than anything else, what has sucked all of the joy out of the social internet in its current form is its exhortation to be useful. We have arrived at a version where everything seems to be just another version of LinkedIn. Every online space is supposed to get you a job or a partner or a stronger personal brand so you can accomplish the big, public-record goals of life. The public marketplace is everywhere. It’s an interactive and immersive CV, an archive. It all counts, and it all matters.
I came across these posts just as I was mulling a revamp of this blog. I explored different directions I could take. I struggled with what this blog should be. The forms it should take. The content that ought to be on it. Ways to cash in.
I am realising now that I knew the answer all along. My blog just ought to be a place where I can be. Where I can explore the qualities and interests that make me peculiar. Just like back in the day with Jazz Nairobi.