What is the Internet for?

08:32am | 05/17/2019 updated
Daniel Tompkins

This blog has been a cherished personal project. I've spent hours reading and researching, learning to code, and forgetting how to write. I thought someone on the Internet would like to read it. Apparently not— what are you even doing on the Internet? If you're having a nice shit, then I bet you're scrolling through Insta... Facebook isn't cool anymore— don't forget to wash your hands.

If you have a job, you probably use calendars and email and spreadsheets— maybe Trello or something. A ton of people listen to music and watch videos. But what is the Internet actually for? Oh, Amazon. People buy a 💩load of stuff on Amazon.1

If you like to learn, then hopefully you're reading the news— probably Hacker News if you actually know how to use a computer, Flipboard if you're an idiot, Twitter if you only want to read Game of Thrones spoilers (or follow loosed #shameless). Most of the time I suppose we go on the Internet with intent, like:

"Ok Google", I only have asparagus, cottage cheese, carrots, and garlic in the fridge— what can I make for dinner?

It's going to be disgusting, don't put your garlic in the fridge, get some groceries. That's what. We have specific goals— things that we want to find, want to read, want to do, or a feeling we want to satisfy. Almost always, that involves using gosh darn Google.

Google (and Facebook) are gatekeepers of the Web. How are you supposed to find "l" hyphen "o" hyphen "o"... It's too annoying and ridiculous to even type out here— the answer is you would never find my website by chance. We "need" platforms like Medium to share and discover writing.2 We "need" platforms like YouTube to find vloggers and video.

You "need" Google to do the dirty work— to make the Internet easy, to make things accessible and find what you're expecting to find. Are we going to write our own algorithms to laboriously crawl and parse through petabytes of data to curate our feeds? Don't we "need" to see the likes and views and hearts and claps and shits to find content that will keep us titillated? To keep us coming back? Even the advertisements aren't entirely frustrating... I'm sure your personal data has helped pick them out. Like that pink Razer laptop you keep eye-balling.

It's ironic, but I suppose what's most frustrating to me is that I feel anonymous. Some people like the Internet because it provides anonymity— a way to see and act without exposing your identity. That's certainly changing— many people are finding it much harder to protect their privacy. San Francisco just passed a law to stop government agencies from using facial recognition in surveillance.

What's exciting to me about the Internet is its inherent publicity: I can put anything on this blog, and it's instantly available to literally billions of people with Internet access. So there are literally billions of people not reading this blog! 😲 Even if you're not technically literate enough to code your own static page site, to buy your own domain, or setup a server. Even if you don't know what the letters SEO mean. Even if you don't have the money or the time to build your Cargo Collective, Wordpress, Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, Github Page, Tumblr, or whatever the bleep. How are you contributing to an open, decentralized Web?

What is the Internet for? I thought the Internet was for having a voice. I thought the Internet was for finding people who cared about the same things I care about— for building digital communities and bringing people together. If the Internet isn't for us, who is it for?


1. In case you're wondering, in the past two months, I've bought a projector screen (50 bones, a steal), a cat harness, a roll of reflective vinyl and guitar strings— all unrelated. More stats on Amazon's growth and consumer purchasing.

2. Turns out there's a few more people who share a distaste for Medium: this guy... and this one, who created a handy npm repo to turn your Medium posts into a personal blog.