I’d wanted to have something good here with which to start the new year, but that’s also the sort of thing you don’t want to try to do Just Because. Then I sat down to read “Stop Talking to Each Other and Start Buying Things” by Catherynne M. Valente (via Andy Baio), an absolute tour de force personal history of the last three decades of being social on the internet; it pairs nicely with Joanne McNeil’s Lurking, which you already should have read by now.
This is one of those pieces for which it’s difficult to find a pull quote because there are too many and the best ones are so long you’d feel at least a little bit guilty using it wholesale, especially because many of the best come near the end, and you don’t want to deprive people of the long lead-up. Really, just stop what you’re doing and go read it.
Here I’m just going to use one little bit, not even the best bit, per se, for reasons that will make sense if you’ve been reading my blog.
It’s the same. It’s always been the same. Stop benefitting from the internet, it’s not for you to enjoy, it’s for us to use to extract money from you. Stop finding beauty and connection in the world, loneliness is more profitable and easier to control.
My ongoing thoughts about burnout and its discussion of late have landed in terrain where the idea of extraction seems central, and I’m struck here by this almost-aside that “loneliness is more profitable and easier to control”. I think back to my recent thoughts about L. M. Sacasas’ distinctions between the socially centrifugal and the personally depletive, and how I find these forces to be distinct only in the sense that the former both causes and depends upon the latter.
“Capital,” I wrote, “requires the negation both of solidarity and of capacity.” That negation sure sounds a lot like loneliness to me.
What’s happening with and on the internet right now through the convulsions at and on Twitter, as Valente writes, is about “express[ing] power not by what you can give, but by what you can take away”. The othering that’s lately been elevated on Twitter is inherently extractive in a way that transcends mere profit and descends into pure meanness, but both kinds of extraction are about devaluing “beauty and connection” and so find themselves quite naturally hand-in-hand.
Anyway, I’m not really going anywhere in particular with this, and it’s something of a sideways digression from Valente’s piece. Mostly I wanted to share that here because it should get you geared up for a 2023 in which “the battle for control of the internet” (in an organizational, not structural sense) is sort of a very real thing, and a battle that’s joinable in a way that it hasn’t really been for awhile now.