some good internet-on-internet lately
It’s always the end of an era somewhere online, but there’s been a surge of particularly great examination on our digital condition in the past few weeks—spurred Twitter’s ongoing decline, the shuttering of BuzzFeed News, the looming specter of an unrecognizable AI-ified internet, TikTok’s international reckoning, plus the usual depressive effect of like, being caged inside all winter.
Working in digital media and writing about digital media boils down to a game of darts, where we fling our best attempts to pinpoint what’s going on—what shifts are roiling underfoot, where new ends begin. This is definitely one of them, right? Below, a reading list of links I’ve been chewing over:
You Have a New Memory (Slate) — Every inch of this Merritt Tierce essay about the state of our smartphone condition, and the paranoial-loneliness of it all, is great; here’s a rather meta excerpt…
And I used to think it was ironic when someone posted some hand-wringy article about internet addiction on their Facebook, but now I don’t see it like that. Now I just think about how you’re telling the internet what you care about, and all it knows to do with that is to try to convert your concern into currency. Once it understands that you find something ironic, if you are that sort of person, it will then find a way to push that at you too, trailing ads like seaweed.
What Was Twitter, Anyway? (NYT) — We’re not out of the woods yet for the definitive Twitter eulogy so long as the site is still alive, but this one’s a good contender:
Many people conceive of tweets as analogous to TV or newspaper or radio — that “there are people who tweet, there are people who read the tweets,” as Munger puts it. “And the tweet is just text, right, and it’s static.” … But there is no such separation between creator and consumer, and that’s not what a tweet is. “If you look at a tweet, it’s always already encoding audience feedback,” Munger points out. Right beneath the text of the tweet is information about what the network thinks of it: the numbers of replies, retweets and likes. “You can’t actually conceive of a tweet except as a synthetic object, which contains both the original message and the audience feedback,” he explains…
Munger is highly pessimistic about our ability to use Twitter to debate or deliberate anything of importance. Instead, he suggests, we use the site as a “vibes-detection machine” — a means of discovering subtle shifts in sentiment within our local orbits; a way to suss out, in an almost postrational way, which ideas, symbols and beliefs pair with one another.
They Did It for the Clicks (TNR) — A very pointy review of Ben Smith’s upcoming book, Traffic, but gives a good tl;dr about the BuzzFeed/Gawker philosophy of the 2010s internet:
… both Peretti and Denton were randomly pressing buttons and waiting to see what would happen, but only Denton had some notion of online attention’s ultimate purpose. Denton felt that it was “the internet’s most radical ideology” that “information wants to be free, and that the truth shall set us free.” He was partially right about the first claim—most of what’s ghoulishly known as “user-generated content” remains free online today, though media companies eventually recognized the power of the paywall—but dead wrong about the second: Ubiquitous information led not to truth but truths, a profusion of conflicting accounts of reality in which the very notion of “the facts” was delegitimized and converted into a cultural battleground. Informational overload has not freed society but taken it hostage—a dystopia far from either Peretti’s or Denton’s early imaginings, though tonally much closer to peak Gawker than BuzzFeed.
(^^Also related, VF ran an excerpt from Ben’s book about the Disney acquisition that never was, and I enjoyed it mostly because it has given me the clearest idea thus far of what Bob Iger is like)
The age of ambient information (The New Statesman) — I loved Josiah Gogarty’s analysis of the “Claphamization” of cool, which is definitely worth the paywall; while you’re there, this little piece is good at assembling the sensation of never-not-scrolling:
There is no "us" (Bijan Stephen’s newsletter) — Short, but a good reminder that actually, there can be no truly definitive internet analysis when each of our experience of it is so insular and wildly different
Gut of the Quantifier (Drew Austin’s newsletter) — Recently discovered this Substack and am very into both this analysis of the internet “as a set of protocols for distributing people in physical space.” (i.e. Yelpification, Google Maps, etc.)
Who Is Still Inside the Metaverse? (NYmag) — from March, but poignantly reveals the depths of emptiness of the metaverse dream is exactly as you’d expect
Emma Chamberlain Is in an ‘Existential Crisis 24/7’ (Rolling Stone) — Emma’s been doing a ton of random press as part of her podcast girl / post-YouTube era, but I actually really liked this cover story for way it characterizes just how strange and arbitrary her initial ascent has felt as the poster girl for internet relatability.
Why Is Everything So Ugly? (N+1) — Technically about the flattened “greige” aesthetic of our built world, but really about the digital world’s dictates superseding the meatspace