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.