The age of the blog is over. Has been for a long time. It’s kind of depressing, actually. But there’s not really much you can do about it. Everyone’s on their smart phones, reading 140 characters at a time through an app that sucks up 20% of your battery life after being on screen for 25 minutes.
We all spend our time “measuring engagement” now, even though we don’t really recognize it. We count how many likes and retweets and faves we get on each little piece of garbage we throw into the waters of the internet.
I mean, let’s be clear. This isn’t some “man with VR googles and introvenous Facebook drip political cartoon” commentary. We’re not addicted to this stuff. A good percentage of us have actually fulfilling lives outside of the web. We go rock climbing. We travel. We learn new languages, and learn to knit, and go to hacking spaces. The world is an enormous place, and a lot of us live our lives to the fullest.
Which is why the whole social media thing is even more depressing. It’s produced some amazing things, hilarious Twitter humor, social commentary, it’s inspired and changed the lives of countless people. So it’s frustrating to see all those channels of inspiration and originality get transformed into polluted wastebins for the sake of “buzz” for whatever piss-poor company runs them and gets to hoard all our creative output.
I think it sucks. I think it sucks that the internet is filled with garbage. I think it sucks that private companies own what amounts to modern public squares. I think it sucks that we keep trying to apply old rules to new forms of communication. I think the amount of anger and hatred and vitriol in social media sucks. I think the dumb, predictable, banal comments in every linkbait or unoriginal thread on the internet suck. I think we can do so, so much better.
And, to be honest, it makes me a little nihlistic. Someone, out there, will respond to a tweet or something we wrote, if we’re lucky. And that’s on a service with a reasonable amount of discoverability. So what happens to blogs? What happens to things that sit far outside that discoverability? Well, it’s as if they don’t exist. You have to go looking for them. And who has time for that? And who wants to deal with the mobile web? And it’s like you’re shouting into the void. No one will hear you. No matter what you have to say. Isn’t that a depressing thought? It’s as if you don’t exist. So why write those words at all? Why would you devote your time to a medium that doesn’t appear to give a shit about you? How is it that we have all these social media sites and all we do is aggregate content from other social media sites? How did that happen?
We sit in our little boxes and stare at our little screens and consume endless streams of garbage. So the internet has become a new form of television. A screen we interact with passively. And we’re bogged down in ancient things. Software was meant to be pliable, flexible. And we still wrap our lines of code at 80 characters. And we still type into terminal emulators that support hardware which no one makes anymore.
So all the traffic flows into social media. Or, god forbid, inane hot-take generators like Medium. Everything is divorced from context. Content is posted over and over again, in slight variations, or none at all, in the one place humans have created which has the ability to remember everything.
I’m getting older. I’m getting tired. I don’t feel like learning Snapchat or WhatsApp or whatever is the temporary exit strategy for a bunch of bored billionaires, another silo filled with our ideas, our prose, our photos, our thoughts, our dreams. You’re never getting any of it back.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we all want this ephemerality. God knows I’ve thought about wiping all of my hard drives, for good, and starting over from scratch. A digital tabula rasa. But here, again, is our desire to apply old ways of thought to new ways of being: in an era where we try desperately to preserve and understand the ancient past, what little fragments we have, languages we cannot decipher anymore… we take the closest thing to permanence we have and make it all impermanent. We are terrified that someone will be listening, and so we make sure everything we create gets disposed of. Or reshared into illegibility.
The internet could have been something amazing. Now it’s just another advertising vehicle. A global pissing match.
I might be too cynical for all of this anymore.
Things like Vine are important. Whether you like it or not, giving people six seconds or whatever to make you laugh, cry, or reflect, is art, is advancing the conversation, is giving people a voice. This cynical, Warhol “famous for fifteen minutes” world view is insipid and passive-aggressive, a mewling attempt trying to ignore a world that is sick of monomyths and unrealistic heroes. What’s wrong with being famous? What’s wrong with being famous for only a little while? If it’s better to burn out than fade away, why not let people do that in a six second video?
So fuck blogs. Blogs may be dead, but writing isn’t dead. And I need to continue writing. It’s a restorative process for me. It’s a necessary one.
I’m far from the first person to think about this. Initiatives like IndieWebCamp, and the re-de-centralization of the web, are striking back against the hegemony of the corporate bullshit web. I’m not really a part of any of those movements. But I do get what they’re after. And I hope one day we’ll have a place we can call our own, again.