I have a history of scoffing at people who have been overwhelmed by the internet. Some of which I still think is justified, but some is probably at the very least uncharitable. But it’s always seemed obvious to me– you figure out what you want to get out of “the internet”, what sort of time and effort you want to put in, and from there it’s just a maximization problem. Webcomic you used to love is becoming unenjoyable? Stop reading. Vague Acquaintance posts too many quiz results in livejournal? Unfriend.
I have been, at times, so effective at deleting content streams I’m not interested in that I’m sure I’ve offended people. Like, there’s a person I really like, but I simply don’t need to know every single time any professional Boston sports team scores. (And I’m not just talking post-season.) I like her, and I’m interested in what she posts elsewhere, but I unfollowed her on Twitter a long while ago.
I deeply enjoy the internet community of friends I have acquired. Some are people I’ve never met in real life. Some are people I never would have talked to more than a few times without social networks. But I have a list of people who consistently post really interesting things. A list of people where I would love to read every single thing they post, on all social networks. And then, if I’ve read all of that, and still have time, I probably want to read all of what the rest of my friends post next.
I would love nothing more than if I could turn all of the internet into some sort of giant RSS-reader type thing– One centralized interface in which I could log in, and then categorize based on what I was interested in and was unread (IE, Facebook. Or everything my partner has posted that day. Or everything the celebrities I like have posted on tumblr.) I love checking things off lists, I love completing things.
I don’t have a problem with cutting out the content I don’t care for. But the popular internet is not set up to be able to easily create tiers. I’ve done it before in Facebook, and it worked until a few months later when they re-did the interface, and then I was stuck again. This has happened more than once. But at least there are a few options on Facebook, at least Facebook understands that one of the big challenges they face right now is showing you what you want to see, by both creating smarter algorithms but also giving you some of the control.
As far as I can tell, Twitter and Tumblr are not meant to be read to completion. Not unless you have a very small number of people you follow. And that’s sort of the opposite of the point. For a while, I had a sort-of solution rigged for twitter, which disintegrated when I switched computers. So I basically gave up. At this particular moment in time, I don’t know what I want out of twitter, or what I’m willing to put into twitter. Basically, somewhere in the internal maximization problem, I had to divide by 0, and the solution was “stop using twitter for a while”. This feels like failure.
This feels like getting old. For the first time in my life, I feel like there are aspects of the internet I “just don’t get”. I feel like what I want is just not on offer, because it’s not valued any longer. But, hey, at least I’m not alone.
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