Two nights ago, I stumbled down the rabbit hole of nostalgia laden, idealistic, and romantic diatribes that convey an innate longing for the old web that once was. I loved what I saw, and it resonated deeply with me. I began my journey with an article on hacker news, a post by the writer of the cheapskatesguide.org blog. This article, entitled The Old Internet Shows Signs of Quietly Coming Back , put into words feelings I had been having for quite a while, as the online spaces I grew up with have been superseded by technological Leviathans. I read internet manifestos, declarations for a web that was centered around personhood as opposed to consumership. Capitalism corrupts, it subsumes, and it subverts. Despite the idealism proliferated by the academics and the enthusiasts in the youth of the web, we have been corralled, not as people, but as thralls and products, to feed the ever growing, ever hungry tech giants. This, in part, has led me to create the space this first entry is posted on. A simple neocities site, cobbled together using templates and HTML tutorials I have frankensteined together. I am driven by the same idealism, the same desire for community, warmth, and to create a small place of my own amongst the doldrums of the quainter web, as a shelter from the moors of social media.
I am intimately aware that this nostalgia is in many parts, manufactured. After all, I am digital native. I received my first computer at the age of 3, just before the dawn of the new Millenium. It was only internet capable briefly, and as someone so young, my activities consisted of clicking random links and finding games on the AOL homepage to occupy my mind. Punctuated by children's games of the era, The Putt Putts, the Spy Foxes, and the Pajama Sams, I began to wrap my mind around the glowing potentialities. This donated computer eventually succumbed to the wounds that only a three-year-old could inflict upon it, and I received the second in a long line of replacements. I never bore witness to a BBS, nor even a gif littered GeoCities site, I did not have the privilege of consulting rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5 to speculate on the fate of Captain Sinclair.
I did, however, experience the waning years of many of these technologies, and participated fully in the heyday of the humble forum. I met many friends, some of which I have retained connections with to this very day. While others were messaging school friends on AIM, I was conversing with strangers from all around the world on chat services ranging from MSN and Windows Live Messenger, to isolated chatboxes on FreeWebs sites, and server channel chats in obscure MMOs like Sherwood Dungeon. Later on, came my discovery of Tumblr blogs, perhaps an inkling of the sentiments that smaller personal sites had cultivated in earlier incarnation survived there. Due to age and other such factors that come alongside life, I plastered my feed with melancholy and angst, self-indulgent song lyrics bathed in the mire of existential crises borne on by puberty and the dynamics of Middle and High School as a suburban youth in the late aughts. Snow Patrol, Nine Inch Nails, and Thousand Foot Krutch among countless others served as my preferred methods of inducing existential dread, wallowing in some imagined self-pity. It was cathartic in a way that few things are, and vestiges of those habits persist even into my adult life.
I found community and acceptance in these corners of the internet, finding common ground in discussion of anime, video games, and other such staples. These blogs were dotted with media that would soon become inspirations and touchstones in my life, from the status quo upending messages of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the exploration of human interactions and hedgehogs dilemma in Neon Genesis Evangelion, to the futurism of Serial Experiments Lain. It was during this period that I discovered these and many other works, that to this day, help inform my worldview. I am not certain that I would get the same experience through a Facebook news feed of today, or an Instagram reel.
At least as far as my biased mind can recall, these interactions were intimate, valuing connections and discussion (thoughtful or otherwise), where the person was the fulcrum from which all content sprouted. Ads were present, obnoxious, but easy enough to block. Common wisdom prevailed that you were not the winner of a new iPod Nano and clicking the link would not cause one to materialize before your eyes. Today, ads are a rather more sinister affair, propelled ever forward in pursuit of a blind, unkind progress in service to nothing but the profit motive. Surfing the web meant something, you fell down organic rabbit holes, hopped from site to site through hand curated lists, and met people with similar interests. Pieces of artwork intrigued you and drew your eye in because of its own artistic merit, not because it had monetary value, it was a purely aesthetic value and that contributed all the more to the intimacy and coziness of the site, not a soul was exposing you to the image in a vain attempt to increase the value of their NFT. To my mind, it had not yet been tainted by capitalisms all consuming appetite.
You were not a hamster, funneled down a series of tubes, each painstakingly manufactured to increase the likelihood that you would empty your bank account. We have been pushed further into centralized content silos, each vying for your attention and doing everything within their power to keep you on the site, to keep scrolling, to keep you on the hamster wheel, from which the illusion of infinite content keeps you from discovering how small the cage truly is.
Sites like these, microsites, microblogs, neocities sites, they eschew this dogged pursuit of the profit motive, and instead return to what nostalgia recalls propelled the earlier web, connections to other people through content, communities, and person to person interaction. There is no collection of metadata, I do not care about search engine optimization, I am not logging your IP Address. Simply, you are not the product – there is nothing to commodify here, and I wish to pursue creative expression for its own sake. All of this information means nothing if it cannot be meaningfully shared between persons, freely and openly.
As I mentioned before, I am aware that much of this nostalgia does not come from experiencing the times themselves. I was not able to trawl nomutantsallowed for any scrap of the long dead Fallout Van Buren, merely able to look back long after the posts had been made, the threads had been closed. This nostalgia, I imagine, has been acquired through picking through the pieces of what is left, staring through the mortuary glass at the preserved remains.
There a few words that I can use to approximate this feeling. In Portuguese there is saudade, which can be loosely defined as a nostalgia for something that will never be again, a wistful longing and yearning for a presence always absent. There is the German fernweh, a wanderlust for a place that you have never been to, or perhaps that does not exist at all. Similarly, there is Sehnsucht, an idealistic longing for an alternative that has yet to manifest, and perhaps never will. Then, as defined in the dictionary of obscure sorrows, there is anemoia, nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. There is much more to be said for how these words shape my sentiments, but I think they are a suitable approximation for my relationship with nostalgia on the net.
It's important I think, to be self-aware about these inclinations and from where they arise.
To quote Mark Fisher, in Capitalist Realism
“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to have given wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realizing it is a cliché. The impasse that paralyzed Cobain in precisely the one that Fredric Jameson described: like postmodern culture in general, Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles in the imaginary museum’.”
In creating this site, I have committed a small act of futility. I will not upend Facebook, I will not make any meaningful impact by myself to stem the tide of corporate assimilation. Assembling these elements of the web of yesteryear is akin to bringing together ingredients together as to cast a necromancers magic spell, to bring these things together and expect an alchemic reaction is naïve. With that in mind, I do believe this is worth experimenting with. I will not bring back the dead, but I do think mimicking their rituals may bring some benefit to how we live.
I have three major goals in carving out this little corner of the internet for myself.
Technical skills: To learn and practice HTML, even in a rudimentary form
Introspection, creation, and reflection: To create a space apart from social media where I can express my thoughts in a coherent form, in order exercise both my creative and logical thinking abilities.
Vibes: To contribute my unique, small share to someone else's web journeys.
While I do have specific topics in mind for the posts I make here, they will be as they should be, erratic and idiosyncratic. It will be as discontinuous and fragmented as memories ought to be, analogous to shards of remembrances and scrawlings on cave walls. Ultimately, this is for me, a journal of sorts, a place to express my thoughts and catalogue them, before they are washed away by the torrents that come with life. This is an experiment in my own thought.