[TI-01] our internet
tiny internets dispatch 01 - "I want a new internet, one that feels like ours."
Every day, we break a new record for how many people own personal computing devices and rely on software to enrich and empower their lives, yet those systems are increasingly outside our control and break in ways we can’t understand.
Despite all the ways we’ve seen computing used to democratize power and resist legacy institutional control, from coordinating distributed protests to holding institutions accountable to the public, we have to confront the parallel reality of our diminishing insight and control over these very platforms we we depend on. Our reliance on these invisible hands and unanimous systems grows stronger by the day, and we’ve already seen the flip side of how those platforms can be leveraged for bad actors, from coordinated manipulation (election manipulation) to deceit (COVID misinformation).
Every day, we break a new record for how many people “browse” the internet, but we increasingly feel more lonely on the “social” web and overwhelmed by the lack of solitude.
And despite how much time we spend and how many people inhabit digital worlds, our experience of them is overwhelmingly solo. Even when we are scrolling Twitter or TikTok, filled with billions of hours of content, most of the experience is only known to us (and some substantial amount to the advertisers that our data is sold to). Our feeds. Our notifications. How long we pause on a video, how many times we rewatch it, how deep of a rabbit hole we dig following a chain of interrelated accounts, where our fingers held the phone as we zoomed in for a better look. Even though we might be seeing the same content and watching millions of others engage in a conversation open for us to join at any point, so much detail is left out. We know the internet is limitless, but it feels somehow flat and underwhelming. We are not seen on the internet as we are in real life, at least, it doesn’t make it easy.
Why does so much of the internet feel so unapproachable, overwhelming, and uncomfortable despite its promises of infinity?
I believe it’s because it’s impossible to make it feel like home, in the way that a city or neighborhood might feel like our hometown. In order for a place to feel like home to us, we need to be able to shape it like a place we want to inhabit, control our belongings (like our digital identities), and have communal say in public, shared places (our social parks and local cafe blogs). Partially because of the limitless nature and partially because making homes is not profitable, the internet is hard to cultivate into a flourishing, thriving community. In most internet spaces, we’re told to stay in our boxes, made to inhabit spaces we can’t change.
I want a new internet, one that feels like ours.
An internet where we can make homes. A neighborhoods internet. A community garden internet. A “kitchen-table internet.” A cozy internet. An interconnected roots internet. A flock of birds and a sea of punctuation marks internet. An indigenized internet. A public park and ancient forest internet. A pigeon net, DIY net, soft internet. An internet cared for by librarians, gardeners, shepherds, parents, shopkeepers, concerned neighbors.
I want to insist on an amateur internet; a garage internet; a public library internet; a kitchen table internet — Robin Sloan in A year of new avenues.
These diverse visions for future internets make clear that we, the collective internet people, won’t settle for the current state of things, that we dare to dream of alternatives.
And now I add my voice to this budding chorus in hopes of convincing everyone that they deserve to dream about and call for the kind of internet they want to inhabit, rather than accepting things for the way they are. I want us to imagine an alternative internet together. To gather in cozy rooms and open fields to chart maps and make bridges for bringing us to those futures.
I want a world of tiny internets.
This summer, I started working on this research inquiry, prototyping exploration, and budding internet collective that seeks to answer the question:
How can we make the web more natural and human-first rather than computers or institutions? How do we wish to interact with the internet beyond "browsing?” How would we shape the internet and our container for inhabiting it (currently browsers) if they were our neighborhoods and homes?
The name is a starting banner in advocating for my core values for this amorphous blob of a new internet.
Tiny things have the capacity to preserve meaning and carry context (as opposed to collapsing it) and natural protections against mass-produced scale, so that we can not only understand the environment but also shape it. Internets, plural, are necessary to give space for a plurality of values and forms to flourish and be interconnected rather than enforcing an all-encompassing, uniform one.
This is the first dispatch in my exploration, a lab notes x dream journal around what kind of internets I want to see and my experiments towards making them real. If you care about making new internet spaces, those that give us the power to shape and relate to each other, I would love you to join me on this journey. Subscribe below for updates and to get involved with the community.
I want to turn the question over to you now. What kind of internets do you dream of? This dream doesn’t need (and probably shouldn’t!) be “big” or comprehensive. Whatever you feel is worthy because we are live here. Even if it’s just a fleeting feeling, it’s meaningful because you want the space to feel that way.
If anything comes to mind, I’d love to see your response on this form or feel free to email/DM me to jam on ideas if it still feels too raw to share.
Here are some pieces that might give some inspiration:
see more on the full are.na channel
How could we change our digital experiences to be more inherently communal, to increase the default of shared experience as the basis for connection? How might we reclaim the internet for ourselves, to make it a space for creating beauty, experiencing wonder, and relating to each other?
Let’s question and then seek to answer, together. The new internets are ours to dream and to make.
granular subscription settings
If you’re here from my regularly scheduled personal essay programming, you’ve noticed this is a bit different from my normal content. I’ve started a new section for my future of computing explorations to give people some granularity in what they want to subscribe to. For this first issue, I’ve subscribed everyone automatically, so if you’re interested in both of these kinds of content, you don’t have to take any action. Otherwise, you can tune your subscription settings following these instructions to choose which one to receive emails for!