I miss the inter­net when it was weird

Published Categorised as Life in General No Comments on I miss the inter­net when it was weird

I haven’t updated this blog in about six months. Some­times express­ing your­self and being known is quite frankly terri­fy­ing. Since Septem­ber I’ve spent a fair amount of time outside the UK, which is as I like it. Expect some photos from Italy, Austria and Germany.

Some­thing I have been think­ing about recently is how much the inter­net itself has changed in the past few years, possibly not for the better. I like the conveni­ence of modern services like Google Maps or inter­net bank­ing, but I actu­ally think the level of inter­est­ing content on the inter­net has gone down­hill.

I was born in 1985. When I was grow­ing up, “going on the computer” was a specif­ic activ­ity that wasn’t really related to other things. You played a game, or did a school project from Encarta, or messed around on MS Paint. At school some­times we played Lemmings or Arcven­ture, an archae­ology simu­lat­or where when you found a mystery arte­fact, turned into a point and click puzzle game with a Roman or Viking theme (appar­ently coming back soon in a modern version).

We got the inter­net at school in 1997. We had a lesson where we all signed up for a Hotmail email address and got to play around a bit. A girl in my class got into trouble because she tried to go on the Boyzone website, but got the address slightly wrong and ended up on a Dutch gay porn site. The school had seem­ingly not installed a filter (and Google didn’t exist at this point).

I got the inter­net the follow­ing year at home, albeit dialup with limited time allow­ance per week. This was 1998 and social media didn’t exist. The inter­net was mostly enthu­si­ast sites made on Geocit­ies. Search was prim­it­ive, and I often found inter­est­ing things by look­ing at the Yahoo categor­ies direct­ory. It wasn’t even possible to doom-scroll. I looked up things like song lyrics or guitar tabs, which were on sites made by fans of those artists. It would prob­ably blow the minds of a lot of kids now that often photos on these sites were scans of film photos, as scan­ners were more common than digit­al camer­as at that point.


Youtube didn’t exist at this point. I once spent sever­al even­ings down­load­ing a Placebo video that was split into three parts, and was the size of a post­age stamp, and it felt like the future.

I met some penfriends (some of who I’m still in touch with 20+ years later!), and we would talk on prim­it­ive chat apps as well as send things in the post.

I had a look to see if any of the sites I remem­ber from my early days of the inter­net were still around, and these ones are, and are still enter­tain­ing.

Lileks– a massive archive of scans from vintage ads and magazines with funny comment­ary
Cates Garage Sale– weird second hand stuff the author found
Junk­store camer­as– photo­graph­er tries out char­ity shop camer­as

I spent my whole school career before social media was even a thing. Live­journ­al exis­ted, but that wasn’t quite the same. The inter­net and the world were separ­ate things. Friend­ster and then Myspace appeared in the mid 2000s when I was at univer­sity. I had an account, but it wasn’t really a big deal like it was for kids say five years or more young­er than me, espe­cially the back-combed scene kid types who seemed super into it. When Face­book arrived it seemed like the less loud obnox­ious version of Myspace, without the bands.

I am really quite relieved I never had to deal with the sort of social media scru­tiny that teen­agers today have to face. I was on the train the other day and there were two girls of around fifteen or so who were look­ing at social media photos of anoth­er girl they knew and review­ing her face and weight and everything about her appear­ance. I felt torn between telling them to stop and the social norm of not talk­ing to strangers, and then they got off the train.

Over the past ten years or so what is online has slowly slid more and more into being on the big social media plat­forms rather than people’s own sites. Everything is ephem­er­al and owned by the plat­form, and can be deleted at their discre­tion, follow­ing opaque and unclear guidelines, where for instance they will ignore you report­ing neo-nazis being openly racist but writ­ing “men are trash” gets you an auto-ban.

If you want a career in journ­al­ism or polit­ics it’s almost compuls­ory now to be very active on Twit­ter. When you think about it, it’s actu­ally really strange and unhealthy that it’s required to use a specif­ic private company, who are completely unin­ter­ested in remov­ing the trolls and sock puppet accounts who constantly harass other users. You have to put your­self up to a public gaunt­let of abuse (possibly from paid troll farms in other coun­tries) to be allowed to pursue a career.

Since most of the big social media sites intro­duced algorithmic feeds which choose what you see for you rather than just present­ing everything in chro­no­lo­gic­al order, it’s got dramat­ic­ally worse. The algorithms favour “engage­ment” and contro­versy, so you see angry confront­a­tions from strangers some­times more than the mild updates from your friends you’re actu­ally inter­ested in. It feels like strangers are constantly shout­ing around you. There’s more “content” than ever before, but it’s continu­ally harder to find things you actu­ally like and enjoy rather than find stress­ful.

The silo­ing of everything onto big social media sites with algorithmic feeds iron­ic­ally also makes it very hard to find old things you like, or seek out like-minded people. The options for a lot of specif­ic interests now are either FB groups (which are dying in them­selves) or private invite only Discord groups. Everything is monet­ised if possible, and the monet­ised things drown out the stuff that’s just for fun.

Social media now often feels like half the people there are in a race to perform to make money, gain main­stream social clout and outwit the piti­less algorithm, not to express them­selves for the fun of it. In the worst case even things like accounts dedic­ated to social justice can turn out to be for clout-chas­ing or grift­ing money.

There’s also the issue of Uncle Terry. Before you could avoid him and his loud reac­tion­ary opin­ions at family weddings, but now he’s all over Face­book and Twit­ter being even more loudly ignor­ant. All the parents and grand­par­ents and uncles and aunts are online now, it’s not the place you can go to hide from them. All the worst people you went to school with are also online now, possibly trying to get you to buy some­thing from their Multi-Level-Market­ing “busi­ness”.

I’m not really sure if I have some big over­arch­ing point to make here, just trying to identi­fy why “going on the inter­net” isn’t fun or excit­ing these days.

I’m an outlier in main­tain­ing this old-school blog. It’s not monet­ised or sponsored, and I update it when I feel like it. The big monet­ised blogs of the last decade are already gone, and the money has moved on to Instagram and Tik Tok. It’s quite nice however to have an archive of old stuff that I’m in 100% control of.

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