A day or two ago I saw a post where someone was complaining about being in “Instagram Jail.” At the end of the post they wrote “it’s frightening how much power they have.” And it is, but the really frightening part is that we gave it to them.
Warning: Old Man About To Yell At Cloud
This biased and inaccurately remembered ramble goes somewhere, eventually.
Decades ago, I put up my first website. It was a single page hosted on my CSUN account. Here’s the oldest version I can find on the Wayback Machine, but the original version was much simpler. I wrote out the tiny bit of HTML in a text editor, made some graphics in some freeware image editor, and used FTP to post it. The only way to find it was to get the address from me (or someone else who somehow stumbled onto it). It was poorly coded, terribly designed, full of stuff that most of the world had no interest in, and no one else had a site quite like it. That’s not a brag about how clever and valuable the site was; every site was like that. Good ones, bad ones, hideous or beautiful, pointless or useful: all unique. I found other, similarly weird people and made friends.
And my site evolved. I started using web page editors. Remember when Netscape Navigator had a built-in editor? Remember when Netscape Navigator existed? I purchased a web domain (here’s the oldest version I can find of this site). Search engines started doing a fairly decent job of indexing the web, and people started to find me on their own. I was never huge, but I was in the d-tier of internet fame. It was actually pretty easy to hit that level when sites were still pretty rare.
Then social media sites started growing, and the World Wide Wild West settled down. People who would have struggled to make their own sites in the past realized it was easier to customize a page on MySpace, and you had the bonus of having a community built right in.
Now we’ve moved beyond even that tiny bit of customization. Everyone posts on sites where every post is formatted the same way, algorithms try to decide what generic content will make you stay on sites the longest, and you can get locked out of a site (and even lose decades of your work) almost at random. We traded control & creativity for convenience. Yes, me too.
One Weird Trick to Fix the Internet
So, now we’re all on the same three or four websites, everything looks the same, and the punishment for daring to look at a cat video is being fed endless cat videos. What can you do?
A few things. None of these will magically fix the internet, but they’ll make the stuff that shown to you closer to the things you want to see. Some of these are easier than others.
Use an adblocker
Websites don’t need to know everything about you. Find an adblocker and use it. As of February 2024 I’m using uBlock Origin, but that could change.
Stop liking & sharing garbage
Your friend posted a video of his cats? Cool! Like and share that thing!
Your friend found a useful or entertaining channel of original cat videos? Cool! Like and share that thing!
Your friend posted a random video of a funny cat he found online, or a website full of “collected “curated” (AKA “stolen”) random cat videos? Don’t like it, don’t share it, don’t even watch it. It’s a content farm gathering data about you.
Your friend reposts a Facebook post that asks a simple question like “What’s something you wish was still around?” Block the original site. Don’t like it, don’t share it, don’t respond to it. It’s a content farm gathering data about you.
Use a social network that doesn’t track you
This one’s hard. I’ve found a couple Mastodon servers that I enjoy, but it takes work to find ones that work for you, and getting set up can be confusing.
Create your own site!
This one is a lot easier than it used to be, but it’s still work, and you’ll spend a lot of time feeling like you’re shouting into the void. Will anyone ever read this? Probably not. But I control it and it won’t go anywhere unless I want it to. Squarespace, Wix, WordPress… there are lots of options. You might even go crazy and learn how to actually code a page!
Did anyone get this far?
Probably not. If you did, thanks for plowing through my rant. Next time, maybe I’ll complain about AI-generated images!