The Declining Utility of the Internet

I am currently on a business trip and now that companies in the tech industry have discovered that frugality is a virtue, I spend my evenings in a modest hotel room instead of lavishly dining. I am not kidding — last year I semi-regularly ate in restaurants in which B-list celebrities and politicians hung out. While business travel sucks a lot more than it used to, those evenings also invite some reflections. Thus, I realized that when I flip open my laptop, I am not really inclined to use the Internet all that much anymore. In fact, I think that it is only getting less and less interesting to do so.

The first time I went online was in the mid-1990s, which was comparatively early for European standards. What I found most remarkable was that people online seemed a lot smarter than people you ran into in the real world. No matter what you were interested in, you could find an online newsgroups and have interesting conversations. If you were more interested in running your mouth, you could hop onto IRC, and shit-talk for a bit. I found this quite enjoyable. Back then, you had to pay for Internet access by the minute, which also meant that you would not be tempted to spend hours on it, in particular if you were a teenager who only got a bit of pocket money. Yet, I was looking forward to going online and engage in intellectual battles.

In those days, bandwidth was quite low, which meant that pictures, let alone videos, were less relevant. Text was the primary means of representing thoughts. However, as the Internet got faster, and more and more visual, the appeal to normies increased. I recall that even as early as 1998 I thought that the Internet was slowly going to shit. Instead of talking on newsgroups, people began curating their own little homepages, with basic and oftentimes very garish layouts. It also quickly became obvious that there were now a lot more people online. No longer did you end up exchanging contact details with some dude you liked talking to on IRC. Instead, there were just a bunch of user IDs and increasingly dumber opinions.

In the early 2000s, there was a big push towards Internet advertising. Flash made many websites pretty unusable. This was when the “world wide web” stared to really suck. It was also a time when I barely even went online anymore. I think I checked my email every few days in those years. Downloading music in the form of mp3s was really popular at that time, though, and that is something I also did, but more as a novelty. I only began using the Internet more actively again, and this may sound a bit strange, in the mid-to-late 2000s when I got interested in the topics discussed on some now-dead seduction forum called mASF. At that time, video compression algorithms also improved, which led to another evolution of the consumer-Internet, going from text to images to videos. By 2008, YouTube was already pretty big.

Obviously, I have spent quite some time writing online, and this is something I quite like. Yet, personal blogs, just like personal homepages, are definitely on the way out. Today, it seems that the main use cases for the Internet are Youtube, porn, and streaming Hollywood movies. Thus, it is all about video. There is not a single blog I read. I have no interest in online news either. My most frequented sites are KiwiFarms and YouTube, but the latter primarily for music. Even the Daily Stormer seems to be declining or perhaps the world has gotten so crazy that Andrew Anglin can no longer effectively satirize it.

With the exception of my blog, there is little I do online that would necessitate using a browser. Virtually all my consumption nowadays happens via Telegram. I also have a few people who send me links or memes via Telegram or WhatsApp. I do not know how effective ad-blocking on the Youtube app is. If it works well, then I could move this also to my phone. This would not make much sense, though, as I normally only listen to music when I work, write, or game.

It is also the case that governments are heavily involved in online censorship. There is virtually no free speech online anymore. I am sure that if my blog was bigger, it would also long have been suppressed. For now, Google and Amazon are happy with not letting me run ads or use affiliate links. This is probably also a a reason why there are much fewer privately-run blogs anymore. Everything has been sanitized. Sure, there is Substack, but if you spoke your mind, they would quickly tell you that your “hate speech” was not welcome here, even though your position would have been perfectly within the Overton window prior to 2016.

The way things are going, we will have a completely sanitized Internet in a few years, with perhaps a few renegade apps that you need to install on your Android phone via “sideloading”. The “darknet” may become more important. I already use Tor whenever a particular site gets suppressed again on the “clearnet”. This is probably not a bad solution if it was permanent because it meant that you would once again converse with an open-minded, highly-intelligent, and technically savvy crowd, just like in the early days of the Internet.

17 thoughts on “The Declining Utility of the Internet

  1. It just struck me that online discussions were not only of a higher quality back in the days due to the higher bar of entry. There is also the aspect that purely or predominantly text-based conversation is a lot more focused. You also avoid the problem of people posting shock images to derail a thread. Just today I saw some disgusting crap on KiwiFarms, and the same happens not that rarely at the few other larger places on the clearnet that are worth visiting.

    1. You may want to check out the works on Neil Postman on media ecology. The medium we use to communicate does not determine the topics we discuss, but it heavily shapes the ways our reasoning unfolds. He mostly talks about TV vs print media, he did not live to see the internet fully unfold, but a lot of what he says is useful and can be adapted for the internet age.

      TL;Dr: print media forces us to be smart, audiovisual makes us stupid.

      Check out the book “Amusing ourselves to Death”, read the first half (the second half is more focused on TV and things contemporary to the time he was writing).

    2. I read some of Neil Postman’s books twenty to twenty-five years ago already. There was little in them I disagreed with.

    3. Thanks for recommending the book, Yarara, I just finished reading it and I’m impressed by how well it holds up.

      I started to read even more now. Does anyone here have the problem that reading 100 pages a day makes them tired? Especially non-fiction. I’m wondering if those are growing pains of my attention span which will subside eventually, or will it always be my limit?

      The books says about time where everyone read all the time, since it was their only entertainment; but at the same time, people were busy with other things, couldn’t read after the sunset because they didn’t have electric light etc. It may be that I am already reading more than them, in the absolute values.

    4. Could you at some point read books for hours on end? If so, then this ability should come back relatively quickly, perhaps within a few weeks. I also had a time where I found it surprisingly difficult to sit down with a book, but this is no longer an issue. On the other hand, if you have never read a lot, then you may need to get used to it first.

    5. “I’m wondering if those are growing pains of my attention span which will subside eventually, or will it always be my limit?”

      – I am similar,albeit its been awhile since I dedicated myself to a pure novel. I don’t have this issue when reading an interesting comic/manga/manhwa,but I chalk that up to your brain having to use considerably less effort in interpreting the presented information as compared to having to visualize the whole scenario and characters when reading a pure novel.

      With non-fiction,I have definitely had issues with retainment. There are even guides out there as to how you can learn most efficiently with reading. (I should put this into action soon,just have to get myself to stop procrastinating)

      It may be that I am already reading more than them, in the absolute values.

      Most likely. I mean,we have far more widespread access to information than our ancestors could ever dream of. Probably anybody who has finished high school (unless they really managed to somehow cheat their way through the system) is more well-read than the average citizen (I’m talking about average citizens and not closeted geniuses of course.) of the bygone eras.

    6. I think it is no longer an achievement to make it through high school in many Western countries. A while ago I came across the statement that we used to teach Latin and Greek in high school, and today, we put high school graduates into remedial English and Mathematics before they can embark on a university degree. There is a lot of truth to this.

  2. I don’t wuite think the internet is becoming useless. Censoring, yes, but overall, I think it is adancing at a good pace.

    I don’t read Rightist sites like zerohedge. This blog is the only site that I read to see things from a different perspectives. I don’t listen to mainstream news either.

    I use my time to educate myself in fields that interest me. For classical Chinese texts, virtually nothing cannot be found easily nowadays. With gen.lib, I can download ebooks and academic papers for free. I can even download papers from Chinese platforms as well, such zhiwang 知网.

    I find the internet becoming more and more relevant to my life.

    I guess you are just so into conspiracy theories that you increaaingly find it tiresome to read the internet.

    1. To be fair, Libgen is a very underground website, on par with the kiwi farms which Aaron mentions as one of the few websites he frequents.

    2. I think you heavily overestimate how popular Library Genesis is. Looking at traffic stats by Semrush for November 2023, it was the 3,149th most popular site in the world. Considering that website popularity follows a power-law distribution, you can deduce that this site is basically unknown in the general population. For comparison, Reddit was the 9th most-visited site in that interval whereas KiwiFarms was at position 10,061.

    3. Thats a pity, but it shows where the interest of the masses lies. Library Genesys is one of my top 5 sites on the web, I have amassed a sizable library of over 5000 tomes thanks to them.

      I dont have personal heroes, but if I had, Alexandra Elbakyan would be a candidate.

  3. Discord has played a part in the current state of the internet. I’ve never actually used it, but what I’ve heard about it is not good.

    It’s closed off, hard to find what you’re looking for, super low value communication because threads get buried quickly, full of power tripping mods.

    1. Discord is even worse than Reddit. There was a time when Reddit was at least readable as a non-registered user. Nowadays, you often need an ID to read non-normie forums, but even those have been disappearing. Discord is extremely closed off and it is almost impossible to find useful information. I used it a few of years ago as I am, or was, quite into a relatively niche computer game and Discord was where this community gathered. As bizarre as it may sound, the topics there shifted towards BLM, troons, vaxxing, etc. A power-tripping mod also banned me without warning. Ironically, this was in response to me questioning the indiscriminate banning of some very valuable members, saying that Discord shows how little power some people are able to wield responsibly.

  4. Perhaps we would stand to benefit from recreating the early conditions of the internet in a similar way. With the internet being totally saturated, what would the next medium of communication with a high entry point be? HAM Radio has it’s own intellectual bar of entry, but seems more like an old boys club now more than anything else.

    1. The darknet would be able to serve this niche. Using Tor is not a particularly high barrier to entry but it is clearly too difficult for normies. Some my favorite websites I need to frequently access via Tor because some ISP took it upon itself to engage in censorship.

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