Without remembering exactly when I first heard the term “internet,” it appeared in my house somewhere after 1990 as a dial-up modem. I had absolutely no interest in it for some reason. I was skeptical towards it some time later even when we got the faster, more convenient ISDN. The thought of communicating with strangers around the world seemed very unpleasant to me. Closing in on 2000 some homes near us started getting cable modems that put them online 24/7. Soon thereafter it was the norm.
I began using the web infrequently to search for topics I found interesting. Later I would start using IRC, unwillingly at first. But it had benefits for communicating with friends. You were a nick on a screen and nothing more. However, the system with channels was clearly altering the way people met new contacts and made social bonds. Not in a good way. I noticed it. The amount of drama, gossip, conflicts and lies where downright disturbing. Often people behind nicks did not reflect who the person was in reality at all.
Some people I had a good impression of, whom I felt I knew after long periods of chatting, but then “met” them again when a careless comment revealed their actual character, made me want to turn around and run. I had some serious arguments with people who were present on the channels to the point it seemed we were ready for a time and place to rip each other to pieces. Only to meet by coincidence, looking at each other, embarrassed, laughing and shaking hands. This was the norm by the way. My worst examples in each end of the spectrum are not even bad compared to what other people did. I can mention a person who attempted ordering an assassination and something close to a local gang war as the worst ones. And most of these people where just the normal guys and girls in town.
As a protection against this ridiculous form of skewed socialization I and some others moved out of channels like #yourtown to ones set up for networks of people who used to be together out in the real world. This improved the situation somewhat but still had problems. People would invite in others they knew, just like in real life. The difference was of course that it still had some of the same problems as the major channels. You had to deal with persons who were not there physically. People you under normal circumstances would never bond to, but ended up doing still because you kind of knew the friends of your friends more that way. This resulted in networks being formed in a more unnatural way, at least to some extent that was important. Every circle of people that formed around me at that time that had come out of internet communication was quickly torn up by levels of conflict that were unusual in our culture prior to this. Including one episode of severe violence that had substantial effect on the local community as a whole.
The final solution to this came around 2002/03. MSN. I quickly faded my IRC use to looking at the screen now and then a few times a day to pulling the plug forever in 2004. So did “everyone” else. I looked at my hometown channels list of nicks just before quitting. The only names remaining were those of a few nerds who were the original inhabits. MSN was perfect. Just a list with your actual friends to talk to. As a add-on you had forums for different interests. I left most of those to because of many of the same reasons as IRC. That it had the tendency to put incompatible people in the same “room” in a situation that would not occur in a purely IRL setting.
So here we have a example of how social networking online went from one primitive prototype and back into just private messages and forums for whatever interests the person had. You could still be on the internet with gloves on and nothing was centralized yet. There was a very clear distinction between your life and the internet, even when you consider the negative impacts it could have had already at that point.
However, here I should add one important thing. There were some other sites then, used by a certain kind of troubled people, which were similar to later ones like Facebook. It is interesting for me to note that the users of these that I knew often correlated with Leftism, r-selected traits and somehow using the internet purposely to find partners or sexual adventures.
Then came 2007…
Everyone was talking about this Facebook. “You have to join. It’s fantastic! You are not there yet?”
No, I was not there. I quickly learned that this was a new network that was different. I instantly felt a deep opposition to the idea and decided to not go on it. I got even more reluctant when we met friends out or invited them home. They seemed to know everything about everyone because of Facebook. I found that repugnant because one of the interesting things about meeting people is to talk about what’s new and what they have been up to. Knowing it all beforehand seemed to take away a lot of the point about going for a cup of coffee or visiting someone. Not to mention that everyone you knew were supposed to know certain things about you all the time the moment you did it. You could of course join and not broadcast everything, but it seemed to me that careful use was not the rule but the exception.
Looking back at Facebook I wonder why it happened. A network like that had certainly been technologically possible for years. And there had been some other attempts at similar ones before. But most people had a sense of a border between the internet and IRL. As in: you put on decent clothes when you go out, you don’t go to the store in underwear or walk around your garden naked. A bit of a clumsy analogy, but you get the point. Somehow people were very willing to break down those boundaries. Why take the gloves of then? Did the users of those similar networks before pave the way, push the boundaries further and somehow pull the rest of the population with them into this new level of doing it? Or was there a strong media campaign driving people towards it that was orchestrated by the creators?
I joined in 2009, in the summer. I made a compromise. I would not add people I had been in the same room as once. I would add people I knew well enough, then, or in the past, like the guy who sat two seats behind me in the German class I attended for two weeks in 97 would not be enough. So I was there doing nothing important. Somehow parodying the whole thing or doing it with a tongue in cheek attitude when I did anything at all. So for the first years it had very little impact at all. I mostly kept things as they were by doing my communication at MSN or SMS and some forum activity.
MSN was scrapped, and people I knew in real life wanted to use Facebook for messages so I had to do so as well. They quickly introduced their own Messenger. And suddenly, together with a lot more, the internet was centralized around the monster imitation Facebook…It had by then taken over networking, chat, personal home pages, dating services etc. to such and extent that you could almost call Facebook the heart of the internet. The metaphor of the boiling frog comes to mind here
In my point of “revelation” in 2015 I finally used Facebook for activism. I had done so on occasions earlier, but not very actively. I did some posting now and then on Islam and the breakdown of family values from 2011. My prediction or hope of a rising movement in 2015 included a rebellion against this form of networking as well. As I clearly saw how the peer pressure there and in the media had finally caught complete hold. Just before the migrant crisis most people were ready to say no…but they did not.
Over time I found myself deleting Facebook, then Instagram, then messaging services. My online usage trickled to a rivulet, having once been a stream. It was as if a false world fell away, replaced by an emptiness, and this emptiness proved to be less empty than what had gone before it. Perhaps, much as there can be degrees of infinity, there can be degrees of nothingness, and in leaving behind the full void it was possible to rediscover the daily void and search for meaning within it. I felt an absence as I deleted these empty things.
This monster clearly acts and shapes the internet in this way. It is the same pattern mirrored there as in the outside world: feedback looping. In my retelling of how I witnessed the rise of the internet I left out another very important event just to avoid mixing them up. In January 2007 I watched Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone. That event is hugely important as it marked a shift in people’s use of all these things. People would soon be able to have the internet not only 24/7 on their desktop and laptop at home, work or school. They would soon be on it 24/7 everywhere. Life went total as most people picked it up towards 2010 and it caused further innovations in various services.
I like many others have seen notable behavior changes in people after 2007. And even I being alert to this feel that my perception and experience of the world have changed. Even when leaving all this behind I can sense it around me like some sort of field. By that I don’t mean I can sense the microwaves. It is more a presence I know is there, everywhere, that my instincts detect as a threat, which it undoubtedly is. I can illustrate what I mean by this. In 2012 we where hit by a bad storm during Christmas. It knocked out everything. The mobile network, most emergency services and lines of communication went down. At one point the power went out and we were in total blackout as in a pre-1900 state. It was like some switch was shut off. My whole body and mind had a stress reduction response that was very notable. My thoughts was “Freedom!” And that was what it felt like.
A YouTube personality I found on Stefan Molyneux’s show brought my attention to another strange psychological phenomenon that is well known but somehow less talked about. Mass hysteria. She further connected it to social media. Where she theorized that it not only caused it, but made it more frequent and long-lasting. And pointing out that it was much more difficult to cure it because of that. This further reinforced the notion I have picked up that white people tend to be much more sensitive to outer stimuli and how it affects perception of reality. That makes the current overload of media and virtual social interaction a significant contributor to our current situation. Although not being the origin of our problems it has been speeding up the decline to an extent I find hard to calculate.
We should study how this artificial shrinking of the world, distances and communication methods really affect us. What happens in the body, the brain and its various systems when you meet someone in person compared to communicating over the web? And so on…The difference might be more important than we think or tend to feel about it. Because in our time there is a huge cliff between how we consciously think various things affect us compared to what they actually do. And this lie at the heart of it all. The disconnectedness.