I’m turning back the clock on the Web. I want to experience the Web as I did some twenty years ago, and I invite you, madam, to join me.
Usually, turning the clock back on the way we live is only ever intended to be a partial operation. Think of Medievalism: those who advocate living according to the ways of Merry Olde England clearly believe in the virtues of localism and husbandry, but they don’t really mean we should forgo adequate dentistry.
Such backtracking projects, however, at least offer an ideal to hold in the mind. So while there is doubtless some dentistry-like improvement I will continue to use, my rolling back of the Web really does aim to be as close to total as possible. I want to go back to Web 1.0. I want to go home.
The most obvious first step in this time-travelling campaign is to ditch social media. I’ve salted the earth on 75% of my social media, and I invite you to do the same.
You can do it straight away.
Before even needing to get into Jaron Lanier’s advanced arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now” (each of which is uniquely insightful and illuminating), I’m simply bored by social media. Aren’t you? I’ve lost interest in “liking” and being “liked.” Moreover, the idea held by many (most?) that social media is a somehow necessary evil, that “I don’t like it but you have to be connected these days,” isn’t really true is it? Does it not ring a little hollow?
I crave proper engagement again: the lengthy blogs, chats, threads and emails we’d exchange circa 2000 were so much more interesting and creative than anything mediated by Twitter or Facebook.
The Internet of yore provided a sense of connection–genuine connection to other minds–which is what social media is supposed to do but doesn’t. Ideas and insight prevailed, and a sense of defying borders (geographical, psychological, social) was palpable.
At its best, thanks to nuanced personal essays on blogs and email groups, the old Web often felt like prophylactically journeying into another universe, like Spock entering V’Ger.
Perhaps less profoundly, I remember astonishing an American in a chatroom simply by being from Britain. He couldn’t believe it. “A Brit,” he wrote, “I. Am. Talking. To. A. Brit.” It was beautiful.
Web 2.0–that is, the Web now dominated by social media–by contrast is deeply ugly. Aesthetically as well as culturally. The old Web could be ugly too, but there was an instructive, home-made, beauty to much of that ugliness rather than the totalitarian, corporate ugliness of Facebook today.
We know who benefits from our being on social media and they’re utter bastards. They sell our data to dark and creepy clients to get rich, siphoning our power to maximise theirs. As a Web designer friend puts it, “how evil would Facebook need to be for people to stop using it?”
It’s already pretty darn evil! We already know that advertising is a euphemism for behaviour modification now. We know that it plays a part in swinging the global balance of power in favour of evil.
So let’s stop using it, eh? Let’s withdraw our support individually, switching off the lights one by one until it all goes dark and we can see the stars again.
The means by which we access the Web can be turned back too. I’d like to use that smartphone a lot less and return to the days of sitting down to “go on the Internet.” This is hopelessly old-hat, I know, but that’s the point. I’m going cyber-Amish.
I might still be wasting my eyesight be gawping into the often-moronic universe of the Web but at least it becomes a conscious act when approached this way, instead of absent-minded and automatic and, usually, while struggling to concentrate on something else. Something like a book.
David Cain’s recent experiment to “make [his] iPhone a tool instead of a toy” inspired me to follow suit. His description of phone use is uncanny. I’ve only had a phone for two years (as opposed to most people’s ten) and I can already feel the spiritual draw to damn thing and the urge to thumb away at nothing in particular.
That has got to stop! I joined David in his experiment, immediately removed all of the “fun” (Twitter and Insta) from my iPhone to made it appropriately boring. It now feels far more like the “Swiss army knife of modern life” it’s often hailed as now that I’ve put paid to the creep of social media apps.
But what will we do with the Internet once we’ve absented ourselves from social media and turned back the clock on which piece of furniture we use to access the Web? How can we rediscover the transcendence of connecting with others online and, y’know, skive off from doing any work?
The answer is to go back.
The world of Web 1.0. is still there, like your childhood toys, a little dusty perhaps, but waiting in hope for your return.
The Internet is not the problem. It’s just an infrastructure like the sewers or the pavement. It just happens to have fallen into the hands of the dickheads and the psychos and the bullies. (Imagine if those other examples of infrastructure fell into their hands: sewers would be free to use so long as you agreed via a checkbox to having your stool analysed and the results sold off to advertising agencies or political campaigns; pavements would likewise we free to use but would be lined by garish billboards in favour of White Supremacy.)
So let’s go back to the idea that the Web is a place to play and create and build and communicate–on our own platforms and draped with the standards and liveries of our own hand-crafted contexts–before the trolls took over and made billions of dollars from our clicks and our conversations and our negative behaviour.
So far as I’m concerned, websites, mailing lists, forums, and blogs are the new old thing. Web 1.0 deserves a vinyl-style comeback.
Operating on this new/old programme, I read other independent websites and blogs more now, and I dip into forums and subscribe to great mailing lists. An Australian journalist called McKinley Valentine has a lovely newsletter, the Whippet, which is a lovely example and is filled with interesting science stories and her own “unsolicited advice” agony column.
The energy I used to put into social media has been rechannelled into my independently-designed and hosted blog. I focus at the moment on shorter, more frequent posts while I overcome the need to tweet.
Stop by if you want to, have a read, leave a note for me.
Nobody, so far as I know, will gobble up your data or monitor your eye movements at sites like mine. I’ve even started building a new “skin” for my site in the true fashion of HTML sites of yesteryear. It may or may not sing.
And no, of course, life isn’t all online. Ideally, very little of it would be online. We can still read actual books. We can read them outdoors even. We can “connect” with people face-to-face and in the pink.
But if we’re going to use the Web as it was originally intended, we can “go on the Internet” like we used to instead of idly thumbing through social media on our pocket infinity machines at great, great cost.
Madam, I am going back to Web 1.0: rejoining the world of blogs, fora, and newsletters: longer-form, nuanced, hand-crafted writing instead of memes and likes and lols. You can too.
The picture at the top of this post is cropped from the poster of Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, a 2016 documentary by Werner Herzog with a brilliant opening chapter about the earliest days of the Internet.