Will you please just write something positive before this year is out?
— My editor
The promise of the internet was that it was going to give voice to the voiceless, visibility to the invisible, and power to the powerless. That’s what originally excited me about it. And I’m guessing that’s what originally excited a ton of people about it. It was supposed to be an engine of equality and democracy. Suddenly, everyone could tell their story. Suddenly, everyone could sing their song. Suddenly, that one weird kid in Trondheim, Norway, could find another weird kid just like them in Bakersfield, California, and they could talk and know they weren’t alone. Suddenly, we didn’t need anybody’s permission to publish. We put our stories and songs and messages and artwork where the world could find them. For a while it was beautiful, it was messy, and it was punk as fuck. We all rolled up our sleeves and helped to build it.
And then suddenly, we broke it.
Consider this my contribution to the 2009/2019 meme. This was the web in 2009: Social was taking off, Shaq was tweeting free game tickets, we were sharing jokes, finding old friends we hadn’t talked to since grade school, and making new ones. There was optimism in the air. Money was free-flowing. (Tech) jobs were free-flowing. We were excited that collecting all this data on people would lead to amazing insights about something. (We just weren’t sure what.) And we thought we’d just helped elect the United States’ first internet president.
This is the web in 2019: toxic anger, hate, actual motherfucking Nazis(!), stolen data, gender reveal parties, monstrously large corporations behaving monstrously badly, and the United States’ first actual internet president — willfully allowed to rise to power because the web is ruled by engagement and run by idiots who wrapped themselves in free speech, while not understanding what it meant. Fascists may have rolled into town, but they rolled in on roads built by libertarians.
And meanwhile, we also broke the planet.