The Summer of Internet Good Feeling
An old friend of mine and I made our first Website in 1999. It was called Ironminds.com, and if I were trying to sound forward-thinking and like a Serious Thought Leader I’d call it “an early experiment in online journalism,” but it would be much more truthful to say we were just goofing around, basically just tossing occasional fishing lines into the deep recesses of the new Internet just to see if somebody, anybody, was out there to bite. We started it for no other reason than that we could. No one was reading it — we assumed, anyway; it’s not like we had any way of finding out — but we did not care. We weren’t worried about audience, or engagement, or “platform synergy.” We just, after years of the limitations and word counts of print, saw a big open space where we could do whatever we could fathom. I honestly remember my first thought, upon discovering the Internet in college, being, “Wow: I can write on that as long as I want.” We just wanted to meet people we didn’t know already. It felt like a magical portal to a land of infinite possibility, constrained only by the limits of our own imagination.
It is fair to say, 23 years later, that the Internet doesn’t exactly feel like a magical portal to a land of infinite possibility anymore. When’s the last time you heard anyone say, “boy, I was staring at my phone all day, and let me tell you, now I feel great.” The Internet is a hot stove we cannot stop putting our hand on, sour milk we keep drinking past the expiration date, telling ourselves, no, the next sip will be better as we then pour the whole jug over our heads. And for the past 14 months, that milk has, uh, been our entire lives. It’s no wonder we’re all losing our collective minds.
But: Maybe it’s the gradual, halting-but-still-undeniable transition into a potential exit ramp from the pandemic, or maybe it’s just that we’re running out of democracies for the Internet to undermine, but I’ve been finding myself oddly optimistic about the Internet lately. I wonder if the temperature is, truly, starting to turn down a little bit. Sure, there are obvious fever swamps out there, and you do not have to swim long to find them. But in the same way that political news organizations have discovered that a Biden presidency is tuning out all sorts of casual…