There was a class of thinkers, a class of writers who came up in that web 2.0 that does feel like, yeah, we lost something there.
There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.
Having said that, I am very resistant to nostalgia as a thing because usually what we are nostalgic for is a time that just was not that great for a lot of people. And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table. So when I talk to friends, and especially younger people coming up behind us either in the internet or in writing spaces, we’re like, that time was horrible for young queer people.
They talk about looking for little safe pockets of space in web 2.0 world where it was still very OK to be homophobic, for example, in those spaces and our casual language and how we structured that kind of thing. And they love being able to leave that part behind in this new world of whatever the web is now, both a consolidated and a disaggregated new web.
This is very different from, say, 1990s ideations of IRL counterculture, where there was a premium on unmediated authenticity and “being real” (think MTV Unplugged). Now “selling out” is tying your online identity to your IRL life and real name.
In 2020 Jason Parham wrote about related issues in Everything Is Becoming Paywalled Content—Even You
and described the changes as a move to an internet “built around more purposeful connections"—only to the things, people, and experiences we want. In this sense some of our subscription fees are there merely to bypass algorithmic choices.
: It would be remiss of me not to mention that I have activated the paid component of this newsletter service. Please note that I am not Geldofing you here, I do not currently intend to paywall this weekly newsletter, and I won’t be plugging membership on anything like a regular basis—my views most closely align with Tim Carmody’s ideas of giving people the opportunity to unlock the commons
for others. If I started a site or newsletter based around, I don’t know, advice and how-tos for digital publishing—a sort of written version of some of the consultancy I do—then I would consider that to be a ‘product’ that I might charge for. Until then, I’ll content (lol) myself with this as a general interest newsletter with optional membership
and will merely hope for more of those delicious attention metrics.