I've been looking into this more, and I keep finding the same thing: everything I loved is still there, largely as I left it. Which is both a good and a bad thing; I can return to this world I missed whenever I like, but it hardly does me a great deal of good- very little of the traditional Internet is being updated, other than directly commercial sites carefully curated and maintained by a company. The sites that have survived do not have the properties I liked about the traditional Internet. I participate anyway, but perhaps I shouldn't.
What we've lost is our attention spans; what is gone is the long-form Internet, persistent documents of mostly text that may or may not have associated conversation spaces. Of course, when you get to stable essays citing each other in various argumentative ways, it starts to sound a lot like modern blogging, which is closer to what I want, but not the same. I think what I miss is a focus on topics and information, where a web site is arranged around a subject and I can immerse myself in the structured expression of someone's organized idea; a blog is chronological, a news feed that is expected to be as much about personal events as it is about ideas, and it is an inherently temporary, transitory, and time-bound thing.
I guess it's the transitory nature of the modern Internet that upsets me, between blogs and traditional web sites. A web site is an aggregation of information that is primarily connected by subject and concept. A blog is primarily connected by time, and reading back into the archives presents a jumbled mix of ideas of decreasing relevance, since the writing is also generally linked to a moment in time. True, all writing loses relevance with age, and all writing is a product of when it is written, but blogs have a social pressure to be immediate and transitory. I've certainly lost the urge to type up any reasonable amount of my various thoughts on identity and spirituality, because they aren't such a transitory thing, so there's no particular time I "should" post them, and then I never get around to it at all. Eventually, I stop even contemplating matters very much, and that does me no good at all; this desperately transitory culture, treating concepts and ideas as though they were as disposable as so many other things, has reduced my tendency towards philosophy, and that is not particularly to my benefit.
The modern Internet is designed to be distracting. Companies make money when you are active and active on their sites, so the modern Internet is deliberately crafted to draw your attention away from other pieces of it in a constant competition for clicks and pageviews. Settling on a site well-engineered for such things doesn't do you any good; it's not just pulling you away from other sites, it wants to pull you into other areas of itself, to draw as much time and attention as it can, as attention is the currency with which "free" web sites are paid for. The modern Internet is crafted to encourage short attention spans. The Facebookization of the Internet has, in my opinion, significantly reduced the quality of discourse.
But, maybe I'm biased? Perhaps these places still exist, and in the volumes they always did, but my attention was in the wrong place. I keep wanting to go back to old-style forums, places I used to know, and browse the "quiet Old Internet" for a while, but my attention keeps getting drawn back- I'm ignoring people I'd like to talk to, and I worry that anything I say on any other channel will get widely ignored. But, then, why shouldn't it? The small audience sizes of 10 years ago were enough for me then; it is merely the centralization of social channels, the Facebookization of the Internet, that has made me irrationally greedy for more. Irrationally and self-destructively greedy, since I am an introvert; I cannot handle the social pressure I have put upon myself, and at the same time I feel guilty and self-conscious if I fail to keep social pressure at sufficient levels. Facebook's product is insecurity, and despite never maintaining a Facebook account (I had one briefly, but I deleted it), I have bought that product, and I need to let it go.
We need to rebuild the quiet Internet of Ideas, and try to give it some reasonable fraction of the grip and audience that the Internet of Now and People has accumulated. The quality of discourse has suffered, but there is no reason it cannot be brought back once we find the right way to do it. What can bring people back to a quiet and concept-rich mode of communication, instead of this desperate and transitory form?
I've migrated to DreamWidth. The original post is at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/487228.html. View comments at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/487228.html#comments; go ahead and use OpenID to post your own, or you can comment here.