There’s an old description of the Internet as a network that, because of its inherent distributed nature, has the ability to route around damage in a way that maintains connection.
In the last decade the corporate voices on the network have managed to push most of the interesting and thoughtful voices to the fringe and replaced them with outrage and click-bait that plays to an advertising based economic model. But perhaps the protean nature of the Internet is allowing the network to shift again – going back to its early mode of creating smaller more manageable community rather than seeking viral-ity as the best possible outcome of sharing.
At least that’s the point of this article. It’s worth thinking about as we prepare to enter a new year, and perhaps a particularly important mid-term election year.
The old promise of the internet — niche communities, human connection, people exchanging ideas, maybe even paying each other for the work they’d made — never really lost its appeal, but this year it came back with a miniature vengeance.
We can see this longing for community — and specifically, the sort of small, weird communities that populated and defined the early internet — everywhere. There’s Amino, the Tumblr-inspired app that lets fandoms build online spaces that are essentially club houses, then coordinate the creation of elaborate works of fan art, fiction, cosplay, and fandom lore. At the request of its largely teenage audience, the platform released its first cosplay yearbook this December, and doled out honors to the best writing, photography, and tutorials around cosplay. The thousands of fandom-specific rooms are lively and strange, each with their own moderators and byzantine rules.
Perhaps the network is returning to its past – routing around the damage that has been done and allowing us to create the small communities of connected people that charmed us into using it in the first place.