The old internet

The old internet — the internet we first fell in love with — was a weird and wild and unregulated country. It was experimental, free for all, exhilarating, creative. The browsers in those days did not yet need to worry about mobile formats, so people were able to make the coolest, most interesting websites. The sky was the limit and Macromedia Flash would bring us there.

There were no algorithms, no big tech companies trying to gobble up and then sell our data, no surveillance. The oddest friendships happened, because the internet allowed people from opposite ends of the world to find each other based on their common interests (and often via their wonderfully kooky little websites).

The internet still allows for great innovation and connection today, but it’s just not the same. Social networks like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter constitute “the internet” for many people, but they are not. They are only a pale version of what was and what could have been. The social-network-internet of today is best understood when you hold in your mind the image of a faceless person scrolling down a screen endlessly for all of eternity, but yet for whom satisfaction never comes.

But the internet is still here and there might come a day when things get decentralised again. I don’t know if that might ever come to pass but for now we can take back the internet by going back to creating our own websites and blogs and even newsletters and relying less, far less, on the cursed social networks.

Quit social media

Key quotes:

“Social media is not a fundamental technology… it’s an entertainment product. These companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bites of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.”

“If you look a little closer at these technologies, it’s not just that they are a source of entertainment, but they’re a somewhat unsavoury source of entertainment. We now know that many of the major social media companies hire individuals called attention engineers, who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling, to try to make these products as addictive as possible… [so] that you use it in an addictive fashion because that maximizes the profit that can be extracted from your attention and data.”

“In a competitive 21st century economy, what the market values is the ability to produce things that are rare and valuable. What the market dismisses, for the most part, are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value. Social media use is the epitome of an easy to replicate activity that doesn’t produce a lot of value. The market is instead going to reward the deep, concentrated work required to build real skills and to apply those skills to produce things — like a craftsman — that are rare and valuable.”

“Social media brings with it multiple, well-documented, and significant harms. We actually have to confront these harms head-on when trying to make decisions about whether or not we embrace this technology and let it into our lives. One of these harms has to do with your professional success. We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention, that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. In other words, you could permanently reduce your capacity to do exactly the type of deep effort that we’re finding to be more and more necessary in an increasingly competitive economy.”

“There’s a fundamental mismatch between the way our brains are wired and this behavior of exposing yourself to stimuli with intermittent rewards throughout all of your waking hours. It’s one thing to spend a couple of hours at a slot machine in Las Vegas, but if you bring one with you, and you pull that handle all day long, from when you wake up to when you go to bed, it short-circuits the brain, and we’re starting to find it has actual cognitive consequences, one of them being this sort of pervasive hum of anxiety.”

“If you treat your attention with respect — you allow it to stay whole, you preserve your ability to concentrate — when it comes time to work, you can actually do one thing after another, and do it with intensity, and intensity can be traded for time. It’s surprising how much you can get done in a eight-hour day if you can give each thing intense concentration.”