The Internet of … Nothing

The other day I got an interesting response from an old 9rules acquaintance who has often thought about “going dark”, permanently unplugging his private life from the Internet to keep the distracting, depressing and often irrelevant “noise” out. He wasn’t the first one to have thrown that thought out there recently, and he certainly won’t be the last.

Consolidating my online life and reducing what I once used to do online has been at the top of my list these past months …and I am far from finished. Mind you, I intend to stay online, even if the countless major shifts of the many past years have been disheartening. The ruthless monetization of online life in ever more depressing leaps and bounds, the often thought – and extremely careless tone of conversations, the hate- and fear-mongering rampant today and, especially, the often depressing superficiality of it all have turned me into an increasingly reclusive user these past years.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who feels that way. In my small corner of the Internet, I used to have a mile-long list of links to fascinating sites I read on a daily basis, usually personal websites run by creative and/or politically interested and verbal individuals that had something to say, but that list has shrunk to … absolutely nothing. Updates on those former sites of interest that have not closed down are, if there are any at all, few and far between, and once they do roll around, they seem more like alibi posts to superficially keep whatever is left alive. A huge number of intelligent, formerly seriously gregarious and altogether simply captivating people have, for all intents and purposes, gone completely silent on all issues (except job-related ones, at times). They might be around on Twitter, the only social network I also still frequent on a daily basis, but even there they are limited to spurting forth more or less relevant one-liners that usually sink down the timeline into digital obscurity within very few minutes.

You can write that off to (old/older) age – people having better things to spend their time on today, especially their families and new and/or better jobs – but that assumption would not be quite correct, I think. I’ve seen too many people disappear and whenever I asked why, the answer (after some serious digging) could invariably be condensed into a single word: “disillusionment”. I’m not quoting verbatim here, but having gone through (and deleted) hundreds of eMail conversations this past weekend, just about everyone I contacted in regard to their virtual disappearance felt that the Internet or, to be more precise, those sites they used to frequent, had largely turned into a virtual slush pile and, especially, into an endless stream of overly negative and perfunctory noise that was disrupting their lives more than it was invigorating them.

Creative people disappeared first, quickly followed by those who liked to engage in interesting conversations about, well, just about everything under the sun. I remember countless posts around the Internet whose comment section was, for example, a meeting point for individuals discussing the pros and cons of banishing cans from supermarket shelves or enjoying 17 uninterrupted hours of the Grateful Dead. I know it sounds all too cynical, but today that conversation would have been stopped dead in its tracks within seconds by someone posting “Nazis”, “Wankers” or “Asshats”, simply because he or she likes beer in cans or hates the Grateful Dead. At times those responses might have been phrased more elaborately, but in the end that’s all they really had to say for themselves. That trend, especially visible on just about any news site around the globe, has turned me off completely, simply because it becomes incredibly tiring after a few comments only.

Preconceived notions and knee-jerk reactions have been the soup de jour for all too long now and no matter how often I used to defend the democratization of the Web, I have gotten utterly tired of it.

Freedom of speech is one of the most precious achievements our civilization has to show for itself today, and it needs to be upheld at all costs. On the other hand – and that has been the major shift I have seen happen in my selective corner of the Internet – many individuals have decided to simply abstain and completely remove themselves. THAT, I think, is a frightening development … which, when considered on a global scale, has only just begun.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Oh man, yeah, exactly this.

    You know what a big part of the problem is, too? People don’t want to take the time to read and interact with meaningful responses anymore. They want quick and easy responses, the type that FB and Twitter provide. And that discourages people from writing. Also, that type of knee-jerk reaction you mentioned has a lot to do with it as well, and also discourages writing – especially publishing one’s opinion.

    I still write game reviews occasionally, but I rarely get any feedback on my site. Most of the reason my publishing slowed down as much as I did though, was because I was having trouble with my marriage, which resulted in a split. That silenced the personal side of my writing, and eventually slowed everything else to a crawl simply due to the lack of time I now have.

    I too miss the golden age of blogging, and the 9rules network.


    1. Volkher Hofmann28/11/2016 at 9:52 pm

      I totally agree, Matt.

      I have of course also been part of the problem as sometimes the quick way is also the easiest for me, simply because of the limited amount of time I can invest at that very moment.

      All kinds of private reasons have also had a seriously huge impact on the various sites I have kept around and made them pretty “unstable”. People lost interest when I disappeared … and rightly so. In some cases though, those private reasons also made me write more to fill the time or to turn my mind to completely different things for a while.

      Incidentally, this post has already garnered 7 comments or responses so far, none of which appear here. That would be another aspect that is impacting what you called “the golden age of blogging”, fragmentation. Where there used to be one spot to engage in conversation, today things are cross posted all over the place, get a comment here or a mailed response there and are all (far) removed from each other. Had they been in one place, more in-depth conversation might have been possible. I understand though that many people, actually for the reasons I outlined above, prefer to concentrate their activities in one single spot nowadays, usually some social network, to reduce the time spent online and to keep things centralized.

      Another aspect was thrown my way over on Google+. A friend there talked about “the echo chamber effect”, the feeling that after a while news and commentary became repetitive and monotonous. That is also something I have noticed and it becomes tiring quickly. People and news sites copying from each other and regurgitating the exact same items (often identically worded and purchased the way they are then published from some news agency) without a single second of thought or effort. That goes for opinions as well, unfortunately, usually split into a few easily identifiable camps.

      Last, but not least, someone else wrote in one reply that he felt that there seemed to be too many unofficial rules in regard to what one was allowed to say or write without sometimes experiencing severe repercussions. He thought it was much easier to just stay away from it all instead of living with people jumping aboard a fast-moving train with their knee-jerk responses and thus bringing it to a screeching halt. I totally agree, simply because the “political correctness” he was referring to has seriously soured the whole social engagement thing for me as well. All of a sudden, all kinds of ideas and statements have become virtually illegal on the Internet and those who don’t conform or don’t spend an entire hour fine-tuning a simple response in order to safe-guard it against every kind of possible criticism and not to offend a single human being on this planet might easily find themselves in the middle of an unintended flak barrage or, worse, in deafening silence.

      There are other points, but the more I look at the above, the more I think someone might as well just have responded: “get with the program already, old man”. That’s the one response I would actually have expected to appear quickly if I had posted it somewhere with a lot more exposure, populated with people who grew up with the fragmented and application-centric world we live in today.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Matt.
      Much appreciated.
      Long live the golden age of blogging.


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