Let’s talk about text
The “t” in HTML stands for text. The Web began as a text-based environment. Early websites were ugly and haphazard, and images were distinctly out of place. They were awkwardly aligned. They failed to download properly and left weird display icons in their place. If an image was a link to click on, it had an unsightly blue border around it by default, to signify that it was a link. In a lot of ways, the history of the Web over the past 20 years has reflected the tension between the technology’s text-centered roots and the shift toward a web full of images and, more recently, audiovisual and interactive content.
People love to look at things besides text, and today’s rich internet is full of wonderful things, but it’s important to critique this ongoing shift. I have often complained over the years that the internet is turning everything into TV. TV is a pleasant thing. But I don’t want everything to be like TV. My relationship to music is different from my relationship to a television show. My relationship to movies, art, and culture are complicated and diverse, and my actual HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS are dazzlingly complex in ways that the internet can never model. But there is this online push to treat everything the same. Data is data; bits and bytes are all basically the same; content is content. We have an internet that is pushing us to treat all the parts of our lives the same way we used to watch TV. Flip through channels or scroll down your social media feed. There is always something on.
I’m starting up a new website because, well, it doesn’t have to be this way. One way we can carve out some space on the internet outside of the corporate oligopolies is to go back to writing our own thoughts out in independent environments. It’s just text! It’s just documents. The internet doesn’t have to be complicated.
2017 seems like an important time to roll this effort out. Social media is seductive, and certainly not all bad, but it has built-in incentives for speed, controversy, novelty, and social signalling. Sometimes I need to sit and just write out multiple paragraphs in order to think things through. It’s slow, hardly anyone else will ever want to read or share it, but it is for me. It’s a form of introspection — something that social media really doesn’t value. So I’m calling this blog Introspect.
The topsy-turvy world of 2017
Current events are another reason to start blogging again. The incoming U.S. president is not a man known for introspection, but he is just a symptom of the political moment. The internet has been turning everything into TV for a while, but lately it has gone beyond disrupting cultural industries and personal relationships — now the internet is turning reality itself into TV. People treat absurd conspiracies the same way they treat TV shows. What do these spiral references on True Detective signify? What really happened at WTC Tower 7? Did Adnan really kill Hae Min Lee? What is the relationship between the real world and the Upside Down? What is the meaning of these Instagram photos of children at Comet Ping Pong?
There ought to be some delineation of entertainment, topics of real substance, and insanity, but the internet tends to treat it all the same way. Content is content, bits and bytes are all basically the same. There are subreddits and Tumblrs and parody Twitter accounts for everything, and they mostly work identically. Click, scroll, click.
As part of my college major, I took a concentration in “culture and politics.” We talked a lot about postmodernism and political ideologies and cultural hegemony. Those topics seemed dated for a while, but now strike me as more essential than ever. I can’t halt the internet or the weirdness of today’s digital life, but some of us need to speak out about what this is doing to our society, our human lives, and our political systems. Every act is political now (has it ever been different?). In my small way, writing about the cultural and political issues on my mind is a way to engage with the world on my own terms. It’s something I can contribute during a time that feels pretty dark and bleak. It’s a consciously political act.
The past decade of social media/social tedium, of Silicon Valley techno-optimism and politicians rejecting reality, suggests that stuff you get for free is mostly useless. Value comes from work, whether your own or other people’s. Writing is a lot of work. Thinking is a lot of work. But it’s time to get back to it. Here’s hoping the work I put into this site helps me figure a few things out that I’ll never get from clicking and scrolling.