The internet is different

Cleaning up my digital footprint allowed me to revisit a lot of services I have used in the past and basically just forgot about in the last 7-8 years. In the process, I realised how fragmented the internet is. How much content is there, outdated, sitting on a bleak corner of the web on a service that once thrived and has been superseded by "the next cool thing"? On my travels to delete accounts (where possible, actually.. sadly not a given :( ) I haven't used for the past few years, I ended up on a number of sites where contacts, like me, just disappeared. Last.fm for example. I once practically lived on this site. Nowadays it's a paid service as far as I can tell and most of the people once using it have moved on, years ago. I ended up not deleting my account because I spent so much time on there. Scrobbled each track I listened to for years. Brought a tear to my eye.

I also deleted my yahoo account with all Flickr content, all my tweets since 2008 (I can't give up the handle, not yet ;) ), instapaper and so on. All of this information was sitting there, a lifespan of a few hours, maybe days, and then it's obsolete. It lost all relevance of the present and is too trivial to revisit. It's aspect of digital transience and impermanence is the only thing that makes me think Snapchat has a reason to exist ;-)

Every time I got that "Your account has been deleted" message, I felt a bit lighter. This is probably very subjective but all these unused accounts and galleries, and accumulations of data are somehow present in your subconscious at some point. Especially if you practically lived and worked on the internet for the past 15 years. It's a weird, nagging reminder of the things you actually wanted to do but simply never got around to. There's just too much.

I wanted to read more books. Goodread.com seemed nice to help achieve that. Joined early to check it out and to be closer to my love back then who was on a different continent. But I didn't read more. I was just feeling bad about the fact that I didn't read what I wanted to. Doesn't help. Wrong medicine for the symptoms.

One can extend this line of thoughts to assume that compared to 10-15 years ago, every human with a more or less active online life spends hours each week, just consuming social media. Or talking about it. Here a minute. There a minute. The latest Trump tweet. The latest craze on Facebook. A looming thought of whether what just happened is worth writing a fragment of text in an app or sharing an image. Or thinking about a witty comment. Reading spam on LinkedIn and browsing over pages of information that does, in the end, barely provide any significant value. I would go as far as to say that by logging users movements and aggregating everything, the only noticeable value is the ad revenue and behavioral data for the platform itself.

Honestly. What did we do before that? I can't quite figure that out anymore. Was there more "downtime"? Alas, 24 hours is still not upgradeable in terms of day and night cycles, so.. people were interacting just as much, probably, but the main difference is that there were clear, physical constraints. With the world and everyone you ever knew in your pocket (and then some!), 24/7, things are quite different and I'm not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing.

I certainly don't want to whine about the "good old times", god forbid. All of this has a use for something. The tech is super interesting. The possibilities amazing. And I just love the net. But think about this: if you want to actually read, think and digest all that information that is being thrown at you, just right after you log in to twitter or FB, so you can actually properly process it.. impossible. It has no other option than being superficial. Or polarizing. Because of the format, because of the way it's consumed. Hors d'oeuvres of meaningful information are being served, a quick snack that is easily digestible and off we browse to the next picture of a cat doing something funny. Putting as much as possible into a small space that moves down the timeline as fast as it appeared.

I don't know if we collectively grasped this yet. But in just a few years, the world turned into this fancy data highway everybody was talking about 20 years ago with sparking eyes. Huge leaps in technological terms and certainly also in bringing people together. But as with everything, the dosage makes the poison. Well that sounds a wee bit dramatic but you get the point. ;-)

n one hand I love how the web changes quickly and grows, becomes more interactive and accessible. On the other hand, how much of what we do online is sustainable? In the sense that it creates real, deep value for our lives, and not just for the data mining industry? How much of what we do online should be permanent, even? Essentially, do we need to be connected 24/7?

Now let that sink in: someone known for trying to be online as much as possible for the past 20 years questions this very ambition.

I remember quite clearly why I joined networks like Xing and LinkedIn. I had this idea that just by exposing myself, someone would find me and I would be able to connect in the professional environment to grow my then newly started freelance business. So I joined, added all the people I know that I could think of and joined groups and read what other people wrote. This caused me to realise that the only way to get that exposure I was looking for would mean to invest a significant effort to even get noticed. If you aren't someone who naturally gets into a position to receive attention even in real life, it certainly will not happen in a social network online either. You have to offer something, be captivating, be a magnet. Well, I am sorry, but that is not who I am. But as it goes, you think you need to do something that is not part of your nature and that causes actually a lot more energy to get burned than what you get back. I haven't got a single lead from networks like that but I still could live well and projects came in. Because of the quality of my work, my work ethics and my skills. Not a profile.

I may have a bit of social anxiety. I am just more comfortable and happy, the less I have to think about social stuff. Not a people person. It takes a while to come to terms with that. And while every superficial handbook on "success" might tell you otherwise, it's completely OK to be like that. I only feel free when I have the opportunity to express myself without PR filters or masquerading as something that I am not. As soon as I tried to go against my nature ("but you need to go out there etc"), I usually ended up in a spot where I don't actually felt comfortable. I can't force myself to go into a single bar or join a dating website without feeling that this is the bane of me - same applies for networking events or other "social" events. Forcing something that just isn't is brutally inefficient. the best things in my life happened by accident and where completely unforeseeable. And they didn't happen because I was striving for them. I just did what I felt was right and that hardly included any kind of social networking.

To be fair, you are always exposed a little bit unless you become a hermit living off the wood's resources. So you are bound to bump into things. Exposure is still happening, even if you don't force it.

I think what I am trying to say is this: part of the reason why it feels right for me personally to get rid of all the social media consumption and exposure and getting rid of all the stale information is that I didn't join this up for the right reasons to start with. It was against my nature then and it was against my nature now. So there is no point.

Blogging on the other hand (not to mix this up with serious journalism) is like walking down the street and meeting someone you haven't seen in a while. I walk down the street not to get noticed or wait for someone to bump into me or jump at random people advertising my services or themselves.

It is part therapy, part curiosity. I can reminiscence about life and those who feel similar will feel maybe connected, others turn around. But I am not forcing myself into this position.

I guess I drifted off-topic again a bit - but one "perk" of being forced down to doing nothing lies in the ability to take a step back and look at everything with a certain distance. I can only recommend that.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Published: 02/11/2017

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