So I'm the facebook generation. My freshman year of college, I distinctly remember a few days into the semester the announcement being made that our college was now going to have facebook access, and everybody freaked out, and I was sitting there going, "What even is that?" (This was fall of 2005.) This was back in the day when your college had to like register or something and you had to have a student email account to sign up. (TROLOLOLOL) Everyone immediately signed up and started using it way, way too much. Being me (natural contrarian you think I'm kidding but I'm not), I held out for several weeks, maybe even a couple of months until one of my friends sat down at my computer and signed me up for one. I played around with it some--I really, really loved when we got those buttons and you could send them to each other, do you remember those? Mine were all super geeky, and that was fun.
But I never cared that much about the site other than using it to look up names of people my friends were talking about who I couldn't put a face with. It was useful in that way, especially because at that time you had a network and so everyone at my college was on this network so I could find whoever I wanted to at any time. In a college atmosphere, it actually made a lot of sense if you wanted to figure out who that guy was that was always hanging around with that girl--if you knew someone's friends' names, you could find them pretty quickly. And then there were all those times where I heard a name over and over and finally looked that name up and realized it went with that face and had a big DUH moment. I viewed it mostly as a tool in figuring out who people were--which was, I believe, the point of a facebook.
Fast-forward seven years later (SEVEN YEARS? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY LIFE?) and I've still got an account, but I almost never use it. In fact, the only reason I keep it is so that I will be able to get in touch with people should I need to do that at some point in the future. I really only get on to check in on Big! Life! Events! with people--I like to look at wedding pictures now and then, and now my friends are all having kids, too, so there's baby pictures, though I only care to see them that first time (after that initial "Aww, look ___'s baby is real and has toes and stuff! Cute!" I don't particularly care about seeing more baby pictures). So all in all, I only log in about once a month at most. And I'm totally cool with that.
Because, y'all, my grandmother is on facebook. MY GRANDMOTHER. And various aunts and uncles and friends of my parents' and I just do not want to be involved in all that. That's not what I get on the internet to do. If I want to be with my family, I hang out with my family. If I'm on the internet, I want nothing to do with them.
But so many people do not feel this way, and I think it's because they're internet 2.0 users and I'm an internet 1.0 user, despite my age.
A couple of months ago, I read a truly wonderful book called You Are Not a Gadget: a Manifesto
by Jaron Lanier. This guy is seriously a badass and I would vote for him for president.
Here's the blurb:
A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping society, for better and for worse.
Informed by Lanier’s experience and expertise as a computer scientist, You Are Not a Gadget discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly risen from programming choices—such as the nature of user identity—that were “locked-in” at the birth of digital media and considers what a future based on current design philosophies will bring. With the proliferation of social networks, cloud-based data storage systems, and Web 2.0 designs that elevate the “wisdom” of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and wisdom of individuals, his message has never been more urgent.
Anyway, the book is great and I highly recommend it if you have even the most basic understanding of the way the internet works. His first concern is totally humanity and wanting technology to serve us, not for it to dominate us, and that comes through the book in beautiful ways.
He talks a lot about web 1.0 and web 2.0 and while he focuses more on things like wikipedia, I honestly think the easiest way of differentiating between the two is pre-facebook internet and post-facebook internet. And facebook is so ubiquitous that I really don't think I need to get into it any deeper, which is, frankly, just scary.
So back to me (heh). The thing that, I believe, totally defines my relationship to the internet is that internet 1.0 was my home. I discovered fandom at about 13, and that's what got me into the internet. Before that, it was a tool: I used it to look things up, and we only had very slow dial-up at home (AOL!), so mostly I did that at school.
But fandom changed all that for me. I found people who wanted to talk about the things I wanted to talk about and who were just as interested in stupid little details about canon as I was, and I fell in love. These were the days of message boards and yahoo mailing lists and those tackytackytacky geocities/angelfire/whatever personal websites with horrifying yellow font on black backgrounds that played songs you hated whenever you clicked on them. It stopped being a tool and became, like, a clubhouse. Or I guess more a network of clubhouses, where you found people who had similar interests to yours and you hung out and talked about those things (or ficced about them or made art or had shipping wars).
When I think about the internet and what it's given me, those are still the terms I use. It's the friendships I've made with people I've never "met" in "real life" (whatever that means). It's using the wayback machine to find that fic that I read five years ago and has since been erased from the internet. It's my usernames--Lirazel, especially--and the fact that I have an online reputation, even if it's limited in its reach.
And I think that really is the major difference between me (and probably a lot of you) and the majority of my generation. They also started out viewing the internet as a tool, but what pulled them in wasn't something interests- and community-driven like fandom (obviously it was bigger than fandom: there were lovely little communities dedicated to, like, reading northern European epics and stuff. But they somehow had a fandom-type feeling, if that makes any sense). Instead, the first time they started using the internet as more than just a place to look up information or check email or (possibly) play games was when myspace and facebook hit the scene. Since those were the first websites they knew, they kind of set the tone for how they would approach the internet from there on out.
I think they're the people who are still perpetuating this idea of the internet being something totally different from "real life" and the two being in conflict. I mean, the rest of us have moved beyond that, right? When I talk about y'all, I don't say, "My internet friend so-and-so," I just call you my friend. The way we interact is different in some ways than with people I met through other means, but not in any of the ways that really matter. Honestly, I share a lot more with y'all than I do with anybody in my "real life" who isn't related to me. At this point my own experience has completely demolished any boundaries I once perceived between "real life" and the internet (I'm very glad, too).
But if you primarily use the internet in a facebook sort of way, where you know people in real life first and then
use the internet to "connect" to people you already know--if that's your mindset--then I guess you might still think internet-first/only friendships are weird?
Of course, added to all of this is also the reason I refuse to use twitter: while I can see how it could be a useful thing (for instance, it seemed to be really powerful during the Arab Spring, and that's awesome, and I can see how organizations getting info out there could use it in interesting ways, too), for the most part I just find it annoying for individuals to use (unless they are pithy and hilarious, which, let's face it, most of us aren't). It pretty much promotes soundbyte types of conversations, it doesn't let you address things with nuance because of the word limit,
AND YET people love it, which baffles me. My generation seems to think that if it isn't being broadcast--if it isn't OUT THERE IN PUBLIC IN DETAIL that whatever they're experiencing isn't real. Like reality is determined by how willing you are to let everyone see what's going on. Like something is only real and legitimate and genuine if you're 100% open to sharing it with anyone and everyone. Like if something happens to you in private, it isn't real until it's validated by other people, a sort of audience of people who will give your experience meaning by acknowledging. And this has to do with reality tv, too, and the idea of fame as an end to itself (which isn't new, obviously, but I do think it's blown up in ways it never had before), and lots and lots of other things that have created this zeitgeist. I'm not blaming it just on facebook.
But I just cringe from that kind of approach to the internet, that kind of approach to life. And so I am endlessly annoyed by oversharing (which I may do with certain people in the confines of my flocked journal, but that is different than oversharing with EVERYONE) and life as a performance for other people and taking pictures at an event so you can put them on facebook being more important than being in the moment at that event because that event didn’t really happen unless we can document it and present it for other people’s consumption. It's like we value transparency as an end to itself, which I don't approve of--transparency in a lot of things is a very good things, especially when it comes to organizations. But when it comes to individuals? Not so much. Friendships are only possible because of privacy, because of secrets--because we get to decide how much about ourselves we reveal at what times and to whom. If everyone knows everything about everyone else, then you can't be closer to some people than to others. But I reveal certain parts of myself to my sister and certain parts to y'all and certain parts to my boss, and I keep things to myself, too, and that dance of revelation and concealment is what defines relationships. If we get rid of that, what do we have to offer each other? Nothing.
Which connects back to another thing I hate about web 2.0: this endless desire to CONNECT EVERYTHING UP. OH GROSS GO AWAY. I feel like web 1.0 really valued the idea of compartmentalizing your life through things like pseudonyms (one of my biggest pet peeves in life is people who mistake pseudonyms and anonymity THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING OMG) and even using more than one username at various places--if you were, say, a part of multiple online communities (fandoms, whatever) you totally had the freedom to decide if you wanted to use one username on all of those sites (thereby creating a sort of meta online identity) or to use different ones for each place or any degree in between. You had control over the level of interaction between sites you visited, you had control over who you were
depending on what site you were on (and again: this all goes back to the idea that we are different people when we're in different company, that we change our behaviors and speech and degree of honesty to suit whatever community we are in AND THIS IS NOT A BAD THING, it is, in fact, really beautiful if used with integrity). And you could escape
from the people in the real world who bugged you so much or who just didn't happen to want to share certain things with (facebook connect on every website ever just infuriates me. DON'T CROSS THE LINES).
Now the web is trying to turn into this big amorphous thing where you're just ACTUAL FIRST NAME ACTUAL LAST NAME no matter where you go, where people can "find" you no matter where you are (how terrifying is that? It's a small world after all INDEED and I can't imagine many things scarier than that). And the websites wrap it up in this rhetoric about "connection" and "finding your friends" but most of them do it either A) because they don't really think about it and don't realize they have other options or B) because this is what the advertisers looooove. All this fancy technology that can follow you around and gather all your data and see patterns and tailor their advertising to you directly and so make more money! Yay rah!
IT'S SCARY, OKAY?
Or at least it is to me, because I remember when this wasn't the default way of thinking, when this wasn't the way the internet world operated. So while I get really annoyed
when a website demands that I have a facebook or twitter account to log in to their site (and I refuse to do it--that's the quickest way to lose my traffic!), my friends seem totally unfazed by it. I literally didn't know that you had to have a facebook or twitter account to sign up for pinterest until today, despite all my real life friends having one, because apparently that isn't important enough to be mentioned. I found out because one of my livejournal friends just discovered it and was annoyed, too! I just look at the world differently than people who didn't grow up on the internet in the world that I did.
I think all this is why I still feel most at home on livejournal, internet-wise, because to me it's so totally rooted in what internet 1.0 was. Many of the things that bug me most about tumblr (the site I use the most) are the very things that are most 2.0 about it (shitty, shitty decisions by the people who run it aside).
And right now I feel like a cranky old lady talking about the good old days, and I don't mean to imply that the internet was perfect back then, because there were terrible, terrible things then, too. People have always been people, and people have always been asses. It's just that I liked the default assumptions about what the internet was for and whole it should work a lot more back then than I like the ones now.
And I am 25! I am not an old woman! But when I venture outside of livejournal (especially onto tumblr), I so often feel like one. So I'm really interested in the thoughts of those of you who are younger than me--do you remember the internet before facebook? Do you feel like you belong in one world more than the other? Do you even know what I'm talking about? Do the old days sound good to you? What are the benefits of the new way of approaching the web? What am I missing that's awesome about it? [I'm not talking about capabilities here--streaming and downloading and things like that are AWESOME--I'm talking about the worldview with which you approach internet usage.]
And please, those of you who are the same age/older than I am, tell me you know what I'm talking about and that I didn't just word-vomit all this about nothing.