I know people lament how much time people waste on the internet. But as a person who has been here since the beginning, I disagree. I remember being able to really get lost in the internet, and it seems like the quick-twitch, low-effort content currently populating the social media-driven internet doesn’t do much for me. I think there’s value in getting lost on the internet. You just have to get the right kind of lost.
I remember in the late Nineties and early Zeroes, wasting serious time swimming through long-form internet sites. When blogs were journals and weren’t commercialized or commoditized, a small group of people were doing interesting things, endless experiments with actual writing. I know I’ve bitched about this before, in my endless “blogging is dead”/”is blogging dead” diatribes. But I really miss reading things like these, that would compulsively suck me in for hours. There was nothing like finding someone’s crazy travel site, or a project blog about restoring an old car or building a weird house, then spending hours plowing through the entries from start to finish.
Maybe this is still going on, but the problem is I can’t find it. And maybe that’s part of the problem. This article describes this struggle well: Searching the creative internet.
I’ve noticed that searching is pretty much dead these days. I mean, I use google constantly, but something is fundamentally broken in its algorithm. And I’m not just complaining about the fact that I have a million words of text on this site that draws zero heat from search engines these days. (That could also be for a lot of other reasons, like it stretches back twenty years, or that I’m boring and inconsistent in what I write about, and not cool.) But there’s also the issue that most searches bring up nothing but corporate crap, and anything interesting, independent, or worthwhile is buried.
The linked article mentions Disney, but here’s another example. I had a Camaro as a kid. I wish I could rebuild one now, but the boomers have driven up prices, I don’t own a garage, and I’m lazy. But, I could see burning an evening reading a long-form blog about someone else restoring a Camaro. So, enter “Camaro” in google search, and what do you get? Page after page of official GM spam landing pages, car dealerships, third-party “Used Camaro Near Me” sites that just redirect you to car dealership pages (after opening a thousand pop-ups), and Chevy press releases dumped on big car magazines. Searching on “camaro project” gets less of the corporate media, but mostly just sale sites and eBay listings. (Not even real listings – just links that go to ebay and search on “camaro project.”)
And sure, the first problem is I don’t know how to use google, and I’m supposed to be searching on some gigantic regular expression that excludes corporate sites and blah blah blah. That’s not the point. I want to find cool stuff about my search term, and 80% of the web has become robot zombie garbage that automated scripts and SEO wonks have spun up to sell affiliate ads.
I guess the solution to this is to read blogs that point to this stuff, but that gets into the “blogs are dead” thing. I think Facebook and Twitter are supposed to have replaced blogs, but they aren’t aggregating the kind of content I want to see. I think the commercialization of things drives what we see, and this is what we now get: divisive news stories and click-bait advertisement disguised as stories.
I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m trying to dig deeper to find things of interest, and investing more time going off the beaten path. And I’d like to blog more about it, and encourage others to do the same. But something’s missing here, and I’m not sure what, or how to fix it.