The Internet as Echo Chamber

… and social media even more so. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one I’ve been realizing first hand over the last few weeks. While the Internet makes it possible to contact and communicate on an unprecendented scale, it’s easy to simply walk in the same circles. It’s easy to hear and say the same things over and over again. It’s easy to follow the same sorts of people on Twitter, to be involved in a single, mostly homogenous community. And while this can certainly be interesting and enjoyable for a while, in the long run it is at least boring and (I suspect) even actively harmful.

Perhaps the truth is that I’m just bored. I’m bored of shiny Apple stuff, I’m tired of the newest Nexus hardware. I’m tired of startups whose products and services mostly just make me go ‘meh’. I’m tired of Twitter and Facebook dumping endless streams of I don’t even know what into my brain 24/7. I’m tired of endless discussions of best vs worst. I’m tired of vapid claims proclaimed as gospel truth without any proof or logical chain of reasoning. I’m tired of blandly homogenous groups of mostly mediocre individuals claiming to be “the best of the web” without a shred of evidence or a hint of irony. I’m tired of people expecting for-profit corporations to behave like public utilities and then being outraged and surprised when they act in favor of profit rather than social good. I’m tired of the Internet as an echo chamber.

No, I’m not quitting the Internet. Or going on an “information diet” as seems to be all the rage nowadays. No, I still love the Internet. Without it I would have known far less about computers than I do today. Without it I wouldn’t be where I am today. Without it I wouldn’t be talking to my parents and my friends on a daily basis basically free of charge.

I love the Internet, but not all of it. I love Wikipedia (please donate today), I love Google Search, I mostly like Lambda the Ultimate. I love the wealth of technical information and good books online, mostly for free. The Onion is killer. Reddit has its moments. But I could do without Hacker News. The Internet may be an information superhighway, but I really don’t want to go to all the places it leads. In fact, it’s best used when I have a clear(ish) idea of where I do want to go.

In some ways, the Internet is two things: it’s an information resource and it’s a communication tool. The two can be quite separate. Lately I’ve been finding myself using the former aspect more and more. As I throw myself into research and hacking and building, the Internet seems more like a library than it does a meeting place for all and sundry. This Internet is quieter, less chatty, slower, calmer. There are still voices, but they’re time-shifted, they’re softer, there’s a certain distance between me and them. In this Internet, the ideas come first, the voices later. This is the Internet in which people are building hobby operating systems for new hardware platforms. This is the Internet where people write programming languages and complex systems for fun. This is the Internet where I discovered Lisp and Linux and functional programming. This is the Internet as I first remember it.

Things change. To hold on to the old (or expect a return to it) is a fool’s errand. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of computer technology and the Internet. But perhaps part of the magic of the Internet is that the old can coexist with the new and you can choose one, or the other, or both. I’ve been choosing the new for a while and it’s been good. But I think it’s time to look back at the old again. For a while, at least, I need to leave the echo chamber and find a nice quiet corner of the library.

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