The internet is boring. Perhaps it is just because I am getting older, perhaps it is because I have depended too much for sucking on the electronic teat for entertainment and meaning, but at the current time, I have found use of the internet as more pointless and less rewarding than any other time since I became a regular internet user in the fall of 1998. Not that the internet is lacking in amusement. I am sure that given the right mindset, I could find plenty of things to amuse myself, such as a video of Super Mario Brothers 2 being played backwards on youtube. But although the internet continues to divert, it does not excite me or challenge me, as it has in days of yore.
Although too much navel-gazing is one of the things that has made this site less successful in the past, I want to make a few comments about the genesis of the internet, and this site. Back in 1997 or 1998, when the internet first came into widespread use, there was very little outlet or information about many interests people might have. This was true even for relatively major geek interests. If you were a Star Trek fan in 1995, you could not just go down to your local library and be able to find endless information on Star Trek. Larger libraries may have a book or two, there might be a convention, but in general, if you had such an interest, you would not be able to live with it on a day-to-day level. In the year 2010, there is no possible niche interest that is not fully explored and expressed on the internet, but it is sometimes easy to forget that a decade or so ago, this was not the case.
So when people first had access to this tool, where large expanses of their mental world were first allowed to be unfurled, they went crazy with it. Just being able to write "I like Star Trek" was a treat. And to finally be able to read and write even minimal pieces of information was like bringing a hidden world into view. And when the precursor of this site, the original everything appeared, it was quickly filled up with one sentence explanations of every imaginable subject. That was because in 1999, if you wanted to know what Bubble Bobble was, or who Wedge Antilles was, you didn't have any other recourse.
To continue with the history of this site, which parallels the history of the internet, over the next few years, people started to look for more. Once information had finished being a scarce resource, other priorities developed. How is information relevant? How is information connected to other information? How does this information fit into concepts and theories? And of course: is the information correct? Out of a million fan pages about toy trains and antique kites, a central clearininghouse of information was formed, which was not this site. It was wikipedia. Although wikipedia did have some problems, the foremost of being its "objectivity" can mean an uncritical, non-contextual presentation of information, it did raise the bar for information seekers on the web. In general, the years between 2002 and 2005 were when the internet first begin to present a more rigorous intellectual order.
And then, the great tool that had begin to present a perhaps revolutionary way that information is spread took a turn for the worse. Although, of course, there are many aspects of the internet, one of the largest recent trends has been to make information less sophisticated.
I am not against social networking, nor am I against Facebook. I use Facebook and other social networking sites very frequently: actually, perhaps too frequently. Facebook gets most of the blame for the downsides of social networking, simply because its good design has made it by far the most popular site. And while social networking has many great advantages, its contribution to political and social discourse have been sadly lacking. In fact, social networking has managed to bring online conversation back to the level of sloganeering. Facebook's largest contribution to this is probably "1,000,000 strong in favor of... X", with X being any conceivable cause or subject. While I understand these as a means of solidarity, they do little to advance understanding of a subject. I quickly scroll by people advocating, for example, gay marriage. There is an endless assortment of sociological research and legal information available on the internet, as well as well-thought out arguments for and against this issue. But as a Facebook status update, all I am presented with is a slogan, and perhaps some implied peer pressure. A very large step down from what the internet is capable of. Along with this, there is also a conveyor belt of outrage stories. Since my friends lean heavily towards the liberal end of the spectrum, I seem to have a steady supply of news featuring the latest antics of Glenn Beck and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Both of whom are entertainers who depend on media attention to keep their ratings and publicity up. There is a host of news out there, all detailing the many complexities of the changing world in which we live in. And all of that news is usually left by the wayside for the blows and counterblows of an outrage story. I seem to end up with the liberal end of the spectrum, but I can only guess (and shudder at the thought) that the other side of the spectrum has its share of outrage stories that they use to keep themselves entertained.
I guessed in 2008, before the presidential election, that whatever the result of the election, the next few years would see a sea change in the political and social dialog in the United States. The backdrop of this was that during a period of generally raising expectations and social transformation, there was a large financial crisis that greatly and unnecessarily curtailed these dreams. I thought that out of this time, the question "why is there want in a land of plenty" would become a bit more pressing. However, for various reasons that I can not totally understand, the discourse in 2010 is at a total stalemate. The larger questions of the transformative situation we are presented with are ignored, and although it may seem far-fetched, I think the weakening of discourse from social networking has a lot to do with that.
One of the greatest strengths on everything2 is the ability to tie concepts together in various and novel ways. This is a strength of the internet, as well, but the different techniques for explicitly and implicitly tying concepts together is something that I think e2 does better than any other website. And to do any productive discussion of our situation, we need to tie together a great number of concepts. For example, my own opinion is that the current economic downturn and the attitudes expressed towards it are more the result of psychology and sociology than by any type of economic logic. The reasons I believe this are multiple, and also not easy to explain (and perhaps not accurate). But such a non-linear, in-depth presentation of related issues is not something that is being explored in the conventional internet news outlets. It is not being explored in the endless sloganeering that fills up Facebook, twitter, and various other internet sites. For some reason, the internet has returned to a slightly more sophisticated form of spreading information through e-Mail forwards. And that is not good for anybody.
There are many reasons for this, and some of them are probably part of the normal ebb and flow of internet trends. Facebook has absorbed in many people who were previously mere viewers of the internet, and thus are not accustomed to creating and transferring information. It could be that once the novelty wears off, and the irritation grows, people will get tired of back-and-forth sloganeering. There is also a possibility that the format of Facebook, which is transitory, and doesn't allow good cataloging and rating of information, is intrinsically something that erodes discourse. While I don't know the cause, and I don't know the cure, I do know that the bar of writing on the internet has been lowered, and that it is detrimental to everyone that this is the case.