Year Fourteen

Today’s Tune: Void Symphony by eebrozgi

What we’d consider the capital-I Internet (before it was downgraded to lowercase-i internet) came into being a little before I was born, but not by too much.

While others a bit older than me may have grown up with Usenet, what I ended up growing up with, for the most part, was something just after the Eternal September, a sort of “early Internet” period where if you were lucky, your family bought into one of the seven trillion AOL diskettes or CDs they were sent in the mail every week, and if you were REALLY lucky, your parents actually knew how to use something besides AOL. (Unsurprisingly, I was in an AOL household.)

Still, this was how I discovered this shifting, endless place of infinite possibilities. It’s strange, watching something change so significantly over the course of your lifetime. When I was a kid, what I knew of the Internet at large was mostly served through AOL keywords, chatrooms, and, if I was lucky, maybe stumbling across the occasional webring, usually via Yahoo! Search or Altavista, that would then lead you to similar pages with similar interests. Even as someone mostly on the outside occasionally able to break out of a sort of walled garden, it felt like discovering a new world of endless possibilities.

You’d stumble across Geocities and find sites dedicated to some incredibly specific video game, learn how half of Sailor Moon (a show about and for girls, ew, but somehow appealing to child me who was feeling Ways about Things but lacked the emotional language for it) never left Japan, maybe learn that there was this thing called an “emulator” called NESticle or Genecyst that would allow you to play console games on your computer, as long as you deleted the ROMs within 24 hours of downloading them. You might find a site that just REALLY wants to tell you about the person’s favorite movie. Maybe it’s a single-service site that displays hamsters dancing with some music. Hell, you might even stumble across someone’s page dedicated to showing off their art. Sometimes it was popular characters you recognized, sometimes it was original characters of their own design.

Imagine that; sharing your original characters on the Internet for all to see. The vulnerability to put your work on display for complete strangers to see it; the knowlege needed to code a website with all those things like “HTML”. The simple joy of knowing that you’ve put yourself out there in the hopes someone likes it.

Maybe it’s a consequence of age, but it seems like there was a time when a book and a weekend of research could help someone code a webpage. This resulted in the sort of expressive, colorful early Internet that sticks in my mind, where the ONLY webpages you could seem to find, or were maybe only interested in finding, were these big, colorful, sometimes abrasive places full of heart and passion, typically for the sake of it. I’m sure I’m romanticizing it, but it seems as though people didn’t know any other way to be. They just put themselves out there and went wild with the canvas they were given, letting their inner selves flow. The only exception is that if it was a corporate site, it was this sort of flat, bland place with some contact information and a list of services. And, c’mon, who really wanted that when there was so much else to see at your fingertips?

But… something has happened over the years.

So much of that early Internet is gone now, and even if it’s replicated, it’s largely contained to separate services that quarantine them into The Good Old Days, like Neocities. People who are much better historians and much better writers can detail how much of the Internet was flattened into 4 websites all posting pictures of each other, but Google took over every aspect of search and advertising, YouTube stopped being a place for people to upload their own creative efforts (and episodes of Excel Saga) and became a monetization scheme after Google bought it. Facebook began to turn everything into an endless feed that was meant not to help you explore new concepts, but drip feed you things that you already wanted to see. Twitter, billed on being a place to discuss current events, became an echo chamber and a place seemingly designed to drive negative activity as “engagement” as algorithms took over for human curation.

Over the course of a decade, the Internet stopped being something that the average person or even a hobyist could do something with. HTML gave way to CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL databases. Suddenly, to create the sort of website people expect to see, it feels like you need a degree to put it all together. WordPress and similar services landed on the scene as a “fix” for this, except they, too, prioritize engagement, comment sections, and building “full-featured” websites. Over time, they’ve made even those dedicated websites clunky, slow nightmares, and so new standards emerge, but only in so much as they’re designed to create lightning-fast sites that can only provide a flat, bland place with some contact information and a list of services, because your originality, your creativity, can not be your own. Everything must be monetized. Everything is capital-C Content now.

Yes, I’ve buried the lede. This stream of thought post is actually about late-stage capitalism and how Everything is Content Now.

But it’s also about my own little rebellion, I suppose. I started building a website via WordPress several years back because I wanted a showcase of my art, a place where I could point to in case everything else fell apart, maybe in some ways as a nod to that earlier period of the Internet where you could have that. I’ve gone through several frustrations trying to build a new website based on a flat-file CMS (Content Management System), which is geared towards that sort of flat, bland, featureless kind of site that exists just to sell you something with giant callouts and testemonials. Every step of the process has been a nightmare trying to hammer it into the shape I want it to be, but I’m still trying. I believe we can do better for ourselves. We are more than the tiny slices of presence that social media sites, whatever sway they hold in the face of TikTok and every website trying to clone it, making everything into an endless stream of Content that serves to wash our minds clean of thoughts so that our only focus is to generate more capital.

I don’t see myself as a “content creator”. I don’t make “content”, I make art in what little time I have outside of the grind of a day job. And chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t make “content” either. You’re an artist. A writer. A streamer. An entertainer. A video essayist. A journalist. A developer. A person with interests and skills that makes something that only you can make. You make art, you make books, you put on a show, you make games, you entertain, you inform, you gush about your interests, you delight. You are deserving of more than describing what you do as “content”. You are deserving of more than being put in the same bucket as a new Disney show that’s driven by studio heads who have no creative vision but like it when the line goes up.

We’re all deserving of more than that.

Previously, these posts have typically reflected on the past year, but this time, I’m doing my best to look forward towards the coming year with the past as a guide.

Last year, at work, I was asked to use my creativity more. Which is to say that I was told that I had to use my creativity more, pointing to something I did several years back as though it was a template to recreate. Just do that again. This fun, beautiful art that I made as a celebration of something I loved, and made to share with others, was now a lever that was expected to be pulled to make the gears turn. It was lumped into the same line of thinking as “make more TikTok videos” because more content is good. The heart and soul that went into creating was flattened down to being a box that’s checked off to show productivity.

While it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands and say that’s what creativity is worth in this day and age, I don’t think that’s true. The reality is that so many of us have to monetize our hobbies to survive, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up what’s precious to us to make that happen. Own what you do and what you put out there. Don’t give it away to someone, someplace, that’s going to see it as a box to be checked before moving on.

My creativity is my own. I’ll keep fighting for it, and I’m not going to make the same mistakes. Your creativity is your own. Don’t let a capitalist hellscape take it from you. Don’t let it redefine what you do into something flat and soulless.

And… we’re all in this together. My goals this year, not resolutions really, are just to do better at getting to know more people. As time goes on it’s harder to make friends and really get to know other folks. I was never good at making friends as a kid, and I think that’s made it that much harder as an adult, but I’m still gonna try. I’m gonna keep reaching out to people. I’m gonna keep creating.

Today is roughly day 4,752 since I started drawing daily. I’m gonna keep owning it.

See you next.