January 14, 2021
Quitting the Internet
Ten years ago, every computer science grad student of my generation all wanted the same thing: to build the next Facebook, of course!
Oh to be "the guy" who ran it. And everyone would love you for it (allegedly). The press will blow smoke up your ass about how smart they think you are. You will get rich selling securities to the morons who run pension funds. Your platform will be used to peacefully liberate a small country somewhere, probably! They might even make a Hollywood movie about you, too!
That was the dream then. Today? Hard pass.
I Hate the Term "Dumpster Fire"
How did the Internet industry stoop to this low? The answer: it was inevitable.
Now might be a good time to ask ourselves: do we really want to be a part of the altered reality that the Internet industry produces, with products that are psychologically predatory by their very design? For many the answer might still probably be "yes," and that's fine!
But caveat emptor: things are going to change substantially for users of social media as we now move forward. You might find soon that you might be permitted to be far less of a "participant" in social media than you've been used to, up to this point.
You might find that you might be thoroughly vetted to determine maybe who or what topics you will officially be permitted to discuss or follow, who you will be approved to communicate with, how many people you are authorized to influence without passing through levels of higher scrutiny, or whether you are allowed to really do anything at all, other than passively participate. Unless you pay up, of course, in either money or more data!
Is this all just unnecessary extrapolation and baseless speculation? Maybe!
But, the trend is clear: going forward now, social media will be consciously choosing to shed users, based on their perceived impact to the network's brand. Users will probably find they will be scrutinized soon in a way they have never seen before.
Will you be one of the privileged that will be permitted to participate tomorrow? How about the next day?
A Long Time Ago...
Maybe it's time that we all take a big step back. During some Christmastime cleaning I found an old home video I had from 20 years ago. You know what was really neat to see? No cellphones!
Nobody had a cellphone in their hands, could you imagine today? Good lord! You leave a person's brain without mental stimulation for six seconds and the iPhone is out and IG is open! Is that good? Is this progress? (Yeah yeah I know, I've seen The Social Dilemma already too!)
I remember a few years ago, back in grad school, when I read some really fucked up papers that popped up around that time on how to use psychological manipulation techniques to drive user behavior and increase engagement. Today there's an entire textbook on how to do it! Reading those papers was when I first started questioning the dream.
But the answer to the question at the time was a circular "Well I can fix the problems and make it better!" The fallacy of the computer programmer: we all seem to think we're Jesus, here to save us all from ourselves.
Quitting the Internet
Maybe we should all take some time to tune out a little bit. People my age are always nostalgic for the 1990s, but it's almost like they've retconned modern broadband into being present during that time. (It wasn't in any practical capacity, I don't remember having internet access until almost 1999! [and it was slow and sucked!])
This might be a rant, but I hope at least it's not coming off as preachy so far. But maybe now is a good time for all of us to re-evaluate the role that the addictive products created by the Internet industry have in our lives.
Has this role grown too large for some of us? Maybe. Even if you disagree, you might find it's still nice to quit the Internet for a little bit, just a week or a month perhaps?
Yet unfortunately when people think "quitting the Internet" they think of a hard quit where you jettison all your devices into the nearest water feature and pretend going forward that you live in the year 1955!
Nobody is asking anyone to do that. That's stupid. Obviously I still need to use the Internet for my job, or for looking up directions or buying things or banking or all of the other obvious things you need to do to function in modern society.
Nor are you being asked to permanently eschew your iPhone. But, I do find it's nice every once in awhile to go outside and take a long walk around the city without any phone.
At first it's frightening because you think, "well what if I witness a crime and need to call someone?" But you find that it doesn't take long for you to become rational again and remember that probability still applies!
So go walk around your block! Breathe in the air! And leave your phone at home, who cares what IG is doing right now.
Make the Internet a Tool Again
Quitting the Internet doesn't mean quitting technology. Quitting the Internet means quitting the people (in the loosest definition of the word) that are on the Internet!
For me at least, I'm finding it really isn't all that hard to do. I'm finding that I'm just simply tuning out more and more. The Internet for me just isn't very fun anymore when most of it has become endless robots that re-churn the same inflammatory content over and over again.
Let's not forget the Internet was great at first because it was a tool. Quitting the Internet means that you are acknowledging that the Internet in your life has become more: a nuisance! Quitting the Internet means reducing the Internet's role in your life back to only being a tool.