Remember distinct music scenes and culinary traditions? Yeah, they're coming back.

    Anything that Anil Dash writes is worth reading and this, his first article for Rolling Stone, is no different. I haven’t quoted it here, but I love the first paragraph. What goes around, comes around, eh?

    This is a vibrant and highly detailed image depicting a fantastical scene reminiscent of a stage set for an imaginary play. The artwork is rich with various elements and layers, featuring multiple colorful structures that resemble different themed areas or sets. On the left, there's a golden-yellow structure with green accents, platforms, and staircases that evoke a bustling market or social hub, with tiny figures that appear to be people engaging in various activities. Centered in the image is a towering cityscape with blue and black skyscrapers rising among white, fluffy clouds against a clear sky. To the right, the scene turns darker with red and black twisted trees and buildings that have a more ominous vibe, including some structures that are on fire and surrounded by dark birds. The entire image is a blend of whimsy and chaos, with numerous birds in flight throughout, some carrying symbols like hearts and crosses. There are also splashes of paint and abstract elements scattered across the image, contributing to the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. The overall color scheme includes bright red, yellow, blue, and varying shades of dark gray, all set against a light blue background that suggests a waterside setting at the bottom edge of the image.
    [T]his new year offers many echoes of a moment we haven’t seen in a quarter-century. Some of the most dominant companies on the internet are at risk of losing their relevance, and the rest of us are rethinking our daily habits in ways that will shift the digital landscape as we know it. Though the specifics are hard to predict, we can look to historical precedents to understand the changes that are about to come, and even to predict how regular internet users — not just the world’s tech tycoons — may be the ones who decide how it goes.

    […]

    We are about to see the biggest reshuffling of power on the internet in 25 years, in a way that most of the internet’s current users have never seen before. And while some of the drivers of this change have been hyped up, or even over-hyped, a few of the most important changes haven’t gotten any discussion at all.

    […]

    Consider the dramatic power shift happening right now in social media. Twitter’s slide into irrelevance and extremism as it decays into X has hastened the explosive growth of a whole host of newer social networks. There’s the nerdy vibes of the noncommercial Mastodon communities (each one with its own set of Dungeons and Dragons rules to play by), the raucous hedonism of Bluesky (like your old Tumblr timeline at its most scandalous), and the at-least-it’s-not-LinkedIn noisiness of Threads, brought to you by Instagram, meaning Facebook, meaning Meta. There are lots more, of course, and probably another new one popping up tomorrow, but that’s what’s great about it. A generation ago, we saw early social networks like LiveJournal and Xanga and Black Planet and Friendster and many others come and go, each finding their own specific audience and focus. For those who remember a time in the last century when things were less homogenous, and different geographic regions might have their own distinct music scenes or culinary traditions, it’s easy to understand the appeal of an online equivalent to different, connected neighborhoods that each have their own vibe. While this new, more diffuse set of social networks sometimes requires a little more tinkering to get started, they epitomize the complexity and multiplicity of the weirder and more open web that’s flourishing today.

    [...]

    I’m not a pollyanna about the fact that there are still going to be lots of horrible things on the internet, and that too many of the tycoons who rule the tech industry are trying to make the bad things worse. (After all, look what the last wild era online lead to.) There’s not going to be some new killer app that displaces Google or Facebook or Twitter with a love-powered alternative. But that’s because there shouldn’t be. There should be lots of different, human-scale alternative experiences on the internet that offer up home-cooked, locally-grown, ethically-sourced, code-to-table alternatives to the factory-farmed junk food of the internet. And they should be weird.

    Source:  The Internet Is About to Get Weird Again | Rolling Stone

    Image: DALL-E 3

    A lonely and surveilled landscape

    Kyle Chayka, writing in The New Yorker, points to what many of us have felt over the decade or so: the internet just isn’t fun any more. This makes me sad, as my kids will never experience what it was like.

    Instead of discovery and peer-to-peer relationships, we’ve got algorithms and influencer broadcasts. It’s an increasingly lonely and surveilled landscape. Thankfully, places of joy still exist, but they feel like pockets of resistance rather than mainstream hangouts.

    The social-media Web as we knew it, a place where we consumed the posts of our fellow-humans and posted in return, appears to be over. The precipitous decline of X is the bellwether for a new era of the Internet that simply feels less fun than it used to be. Remember having fun online? It meant stumbling onto a Web site you’d never imagined existed, receiving a meme you hadn’t already seen regurgitated a dozen times, and maybe even playing a little video game in your browser. These experiences don’t seem as readily available now as they were a decade ago. In large part, this is because a handful of giant social networks have taken over the open space of the Internet, centralizing and homogenizing our experiences through their own opaque and shifting content-sorting systems. When those platforms decay, as Twitter has under Elon Musk, there is no other comparable platform in the ecosystem to replace them. A few alternative sites, including Bluesky and Discord, have sought to absorb disaffected Twitter users. But like sproutlings on the rain-forest floor, blocked by the canopy, online spaces that offer fresh experiences lack much room to grow.

    […]

    The Internet today feels emptier, like an echoing hallway, even as it is filled with more content than ever. It also feels less casually informative. Twitter in its heyday was a source of real-time information, the first place to catch wind of developments that only later were reported in the press. Blog posts and TV news channels aggregated tweets to demonstrate prevailing cultural trends or debates. Today, they do the same with TikTok posts—see the many local-news reports of dangerous and possibly fake “TikTok trends”—but the TikTok feed actively dampens news and political content, in part because its parent company is beholden to the Chinese government’s censorship policies. Instead, the app pushes us to scroll through another dozen videos of cooking demonstrations or funny animals. In the guise of fostering social community and user-generated creativity, it impedes direct interaction and discovery.

    According to Eleanor Stern, a TikTok video essayist with nearly a hundred thousand followers, part of the problem is that social media is more hierarchical than it used to be. “There’s this divide that wasn’t there before, between audiences and creators,” Stern said. The platforms that have the most traction with young users today—YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch—function like broadcast stations, with one creator posting a video for her millions of followers; what the followers have to say to one another doesn’t matter the way it did on the old Facebook or Twitter. Social media “used to be more of a place for conversation and reciprocity,” Stern said. Now conversation isn’t strictly necessary, only watching and listening.

    Source: Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore | The New Yorker

    Offline for 3 days

    David Cain took three days offline. It sounds like something that wouldn’t have been amazing 15 years ago, but these days goes straight to the front page of Hacker News.

    I can understand why it’s weird to live in the hybrid world of being middle-aged and being alive before everything and everyone was online. But the big thing we need to do is to help the next generations understand that there is an offline world which is rich and worthwhile.

    This simplicity was disorienting in a way. Many times a day I would finish whatever activity I was doing, and realize there was nothing to do but consciously choose another activity and then do that. This is how I made my first bombshell discovery: I take out my phone every time I finish doing basically anything, knowing there will be new emails or mentions or some other dopaminergic prize to collect. I have been inserting an open-ended period of pointless dithering after every intentional task.
    Source: Raptitude.com – Getting Better at Being Human

    Otters vs. Possums

    It’s an odd metaphor, but the behaviours described in terms of internet communities are definitely something I’ve witnessed in 25 years of being online.

    (This post is from 2017 but popped up on Hacker News recently.)

    Otters

    There’s a pattern that inevitably emerges, something like this:
    1. Community forms based off of a common interest, personality, value set, etc. We’ll describe “people who strongly share the interest/personality/value” as Possums: people who like a specific culture. These people have nothing against anybody, they just only feel a strong sense of community from really particular sorts of people, and tend to actively seek out and form niche or cultivated communities. To them, “friendly and welcoming” community is insufficient to give them a sense of belonging, so they have to actively work to create it. Possums tend to (but not always) be the originators of communities.

    2. This community becomes successful and fun

    3. Community starts attracting Otters: People who like most cultures. They can find a way to get along with anybody, they don’t have specific standards, they are widely tolerant. They’re mostly ok with whatever sort of community comes their way, as long as it’s friendly and welcoming. These Otters see the Possum community and happily enter, delighted to find all these fine lovely folk and their interesting subculture.(e.g., in a christian chatroom, otters would be atheists who want to discuss religion; in a rationality chatroom, it would be members who don’t practice rationality but like talking with rationalists)

    4. Community grows to have more and more Otters, as they invite their friends. Communities tend to acquire Otters faster than Possums, because the selectivity of Possums means that only a few of them will gravitate towards the culture, while nearly any Otter will like it. Gradually the community grows diluted until some Otters start entering who don’t share the Possum goals even a little bit – or even start inviting Possum friends with rival goals. (e.g., members who actively dislike rationality practices in the rationality server).

    5. Possums realize the community culture is not what it used to be and not what they wanted, so they try to moderate. The mods might just kick and ban those farthest from community culture, but more frequently they’ll try to dampen the blow and subsequent outrage by using a constitution, laws, and removal process, usually involving voting and way too much discussion.

    6. The Otters like each other, and kicking an Otter makes all of the other Otters members really unhappy. There are long debates about whether or not what the Possum moderator did was the Right Thing and whether the laws or constitution are working correctly or whether they should split off and form their own chat room

    7. The new chat room is formed, usually by Otters. Some of the members join both chats, but the majority are split, as the aforementioned debates generated a lot of hostility

    8. Rinse and repeat—

    Source: Internet communities: Otters vs. Possums | knowingless

    Like the flight of a sparrow through a lighted hall, from darkness into darkness

    Fascinating Friday Facts

    Here's some links I thought I'd share which struck me as interesting:


    Header image: Keep out! The 100m² countries – in pictures (The Guardian)

    The security guide as literary genre

    I stumbled across this conference presentation from back in January by Jeffrey Monro, “a doctoral student in English at the University of Maryland, College Park, where [he studies] the textual and material histories of media technologies”.

    It’s a short, but very interesting one, taking a step back from the current state of play to ask what we’re actually doing as a society.

    Over the past year, in an unsurprising response to a host of new geopolitical realities, we’ve seen a cottage industry of security recommendations pop up in venues as varied as The New York TimesVice, and even Teen Vogue. Together, these recommendations form a standard suite of answers to some of the most messy questions of our digital lives. “How do I stop advertisers from surveilling me?” “How do I protect my internet history from the highest bidder?” And “how do I protect my privacy in the face of an invasive or authoritarian government?”
    It's all very well having a plethora of guides to secure ourselves against digital adversaries, but this isn't something that we need to really think about in a physical setting within the developed world. When I pop down to the shops, I don't think about the route I take in case someone robs me at gunpoint.

    So Monro is thinking about these security guides as a kind of ‘literary genre’:

    I’m less interested in whether or not these tools are effective as such. Rather, I want to ask how these tools in particular orient us toward digital space, engage imaginaries of privacy and security, and structure relationships between users, hackers, governments, infrastructures, or machines themselves? In short: what are we asking for when we construe security as a browser plugin?
    There's a wider issue here about the pace of digital interactions, security theatre, and most of us getting news from an industry hyper-focused on online advertising. A recent article in the New York Times was thought-provoking in that sense, comparing what it's like going back to (or in some cases, getting for the first time) all of your news from print media.

    We live in a digital world where everyone’s seemingly agitated and angry, all of the time:

    The increasing popularity of these guides evinces a watchful anxiety permeating even the most benign of online interactions, a paranoia that emerges from an epistemological collapse of the categories of “private” and “public.” These guides offer a way through the wilderness, techniques by which users can harden that private/public boundary.
    The problem with this 'genre' of security guide, says Monro, is that even the good ones from groups like EFF (of which I'm a member) make you feel like locking down everything. The problem with that, of course, is that it's very limiting.
    Communication, by its very nature, demands some dimension of insecurity, some material vector for possible attack. Communication is always already a vulnerable act. The perfectly secure machine, as Chun notes, would be unusable: it would cease to be a computer at all. We can then only ever approach security asymptotically, always leaving avenues for attack, for it is precisely through those avenues that communication occurs.
    I'm a great believer in serendipity, but the problem with that from a technical point of view is that it increases my attack surface. It's a source of tension that I actually feel most days.
    There is no room, or at least less room, in a world of locked-down browsers, encrypted messaging apps, and verified communication for qualities like serendipity or chance encounters. Certainly in a world chock-full with bad actors, I am not arguing for less security, particularly for those of us most vulnerable to attack online... But I have to wonder how our intensive speculative energies, so far directed toward all possibility for attack, might be put to use in imagining a digital world that sees vulnerability as a value.
    At the end of the day, this kind of article serves to show just how different our online, digital environment is from our physical reality. It's a fascinating sideways look, looking at the security guide as a 'genre'. A recommended read in its entirety — and I really like the look of his blog!

    Source: Jeffrey Moro