Two young people sitting on the ground with their backs to a car, sharing an earbud each

I spend a lot of time online, but do I ‘hang out’ there? I certainly hang out with people playing video games, but that’s online rather than on the internet. Drew Austin argues that because of the amount of money and algorithms on the internet, it’s impossible to hang out there.

I’m not sure. It depends on your definition of ‘hanging out’ and it also depends whether you’re just focusing on mainstream services, or whether you’re including the Fediverse and niche things such as School of the Possible. The latter, held every Friday by Dave Grey, absolutely is ‘hanging out’, but whether Zoom calls with breakout rooms count as the internet depends on semantics, I guess.

Is “hanging out” on the internet truly possible? I will argue: no it’s not. We’re bombarded with constant thinkpieces about various social crises—young people are sad and lonely; culture is empty or flat or simply too fragmented to incubate any shared meaning; algorithms determine too much of what we see. Some of these essays even note our failure to hang out. The internet is almost always an implicit or explicit villain in such writing but it’s increasingly tedious to keep blaming it for our cultural woes.

Perhaps we could frame the problem differently: The internet doesn’t have to demand our presence the way it currently does. It shouldn’t be something we have to look at all time. If it wasn’t, maybe we’d finally be free to hang out.


How many hours have been stolen from us? With TV, we at least understood ourselves to be passive observers of the screen, but the interactive nature of the internet fostered the illusion that message boards, Discord servers, and Twitter feeds are digital “places” where we can in fact hang out. If nothing else, this is a trick that gets us to stick around longer. A better analogy for online interaction, however, is sitting down to write a letter to a friend—something no one ever mistook for face-to-face interaction—with the letters going back and forth so rapidly that they start to resemble a real-time conversation, like a pixelated image. Despite all the spatial metaphors in which its interfaces have been dressed up, the internet is not a place.

Source: Kneeling Bus

Image: Wesley Tingey