Don't blame the user, blame the companies: on what "they" took from us and why carrd adjacent profiles actually aren't an issue

January 30, 2022

So I watched a two hour long video about NFTs that tickled part of my brain that had already been ruminating over so intangible loss I’ve always suffered when moving from web 1.0 to whatever the fuck web 3.0 is today. There was a really interesting part around the 1:53:23 mark where the speaker started talking about the accessibility of the web over time:
current state of the web, concentrated in a few mega platforms, is the result of compounding complexity. We used to have a web where anyone could learn to write a webpage in HTML in an afternoon…But over time people, understandably, wanted the web to do more, to look better, and so the things that were possible expanded via scripting languages that allowed for dynamic, interactive content. Soon the definition of what a website was and looked like sailed out of reach for casual users, and eventually even out of reach of all but the most dedicated hobbyists. It became the domain of specialists. So casual users, excluded by complexity, moved to templates, services, and platforms. This process gradually concentrated a critical mass of users into a handful of social media platforms.

I feel like this analysis simplified what exactly I’ve noticed over the mass migration and dependence on social media. And when browsing dozens of neocities sites, it’s fascinating to me to see people half my age hung up on the aesthetics of the “old web” without ever having experienced it. Being someone who grew up on web 1.0 and the transition to 2.0, I haven’t ever really been able to parce what exactly was magical about the older web. And I guess this essay is going to be me breaking down what exactly I miss about it and my issues with how social media has warped people’s perspectives (even my fellow digital boomers out there) for what is and should be possible with an online presence.

First of all, what the hell was actually web 1.0 anyway??? I may not be the best person to ask, since my use of the internet started in 1998 with the hampster dance and viking kittens (yes, I was EXTREMELY young when I first went online…), but even then I could pick up on what magic there was in browsing the web for single service sites that you mostly found via chainmail from friends at school. And also HORRIFYING. I vividly remember the clown statue copypasta that you had to send to 10 contacts or else it would haunt you, playing (and losing) the maze game for the first time, and daring each other to click links to a variety of now gentrified shock sites. Ah~ the golden age of trojans and malware… good times. But there was something so wonderful about using the web when it actually took time to uncover hidden gold, to find exactly what you were looking for, or to voyeuristically read a stranger’s blog and feel a sense of connection to someone you would never even know. There was magic in being a kid and making your own shitty angelfire site where you’d list all of your extremely specific interests and shoot it out on the web not knowing if it would ever be seen by anyone else, but always hoping that it would be.

All of this seems lightyears away now at a time when such a high percentage of what you read online is attached to someone you know personally, or at the least encountered once in person and felt obligated to add to your own person social media hellscape lest they judge you or start drama with your real life acquaintances. What a time to be alive when universally there was such a disconnect between your online and real life self. There used to be that saying “on the internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog” but these days, if you don’t list every single biofeedback you’ve gotten from your smart watch and your entire astrological chart on your social media (that you share with people who apparently already know you), then you’re looked down on as being distant or untrustworthy. Just what happened to make the net like this anyway?

I suppose the mass corporatization of the net is partially to blame, which was why I felt like starting this essay with that long quote anyway. But there’s this attitude I notice online that seems so distant from the roots of the early web: the customization, the pleasant isolation, and the distance from reality. I’ve seen many complain about people using sites like neocities to make “Carrds” because of their apparent distraction from whatever people born post 2000 think of as “old-net aesthetics”, but really these complainers seem like they’re not understanding what made the old net great. Really it was having that space where you could be unapologetically you. A space to declare your interests whether or not anyone else would ever stumble across your website. Spaces like Michael Blount’s page for his future (and never to be) girlfriend where he was unapologetically himself. There is a disconnect with many who seem to have forgotten about what exactly made the old web magical. Carrd and it’s many duplicates aren’t the issue, as my entire online existence has been made up of reading and creating little autobiographical dumps to scratch the twinge of narcissism that lies dormant in all of us. No, the problem seems to be forgetting the roots of the net–for it to be a place of escapism to be unashamedly yourself. To share your interests into a void of the millions of others passionately outpouring into the vast cosmos of the internet. I encourage everyone to do this more, as it is oh so validating and therapeutic to just put something out there, even if a template is needed.

But I do hate that social media has completely stifled the creativity that’s been dammed up in so many of us. These corporate data miners in disguise have contributed to the bleakness of the minimalist, streamlined web 3.0 that we’re bound to suffer through. I wish that there was more of a return to what made the net great, even if you aren’t fluent in any particular coding language. We have been brainwashed to think that every page must be dynamic and interactive and advertiser friendly, because everything must be monetized now. I feel we’re too far gone from taking back any of the individuality and non-corporatized landscape to really make a change for the self expression and overall health of the net. I’m not sure exactly where the net is headed from this point, but I guess I felt it necessary to catalog my thoughts as we enter an era of the internet where many have a misunderstanding of what actually made the old net great as a reminder to myself, and others, to place all my disdain onto the corporations that have us all on a leash. Don’t blame the user, blame the companies that decided we should endure this shitty monopolized web experience.