The Internet Has Changed

Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a building in a vibrant central neighbourhood of Tehran, and I did something I had done thousands of times previously. I opened my laptop and posted to my new blog. This, though, was the first time in six years. And it nearly broke my heart.

This is a fantastic article over at Medium written by an Iranian blogger recently released from prison in Tehran. He spent the past 6 years in jail for things he wrote in his immensely popular blog, circa 2008.

People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.

on the web, there were blogs: the best place to find alternative thoughts, news and analysis. They were my life

The changes he notes from then to now are both obvious and eye opening. As most of us lived through this era (2008–2014), he brings up some fantastic points that I bet you haven’t thought about.

The iPhone was a little over a year old by then, but smartphones were still mostly used to make phone calls and send short messages, handle emails, and surf the web. There were no real apps, certainly not how we think of them today.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in.

I love this. He mentioned how he used to receive constructive comments on his blog and engaged in healthy discourse with those who may have disagreed with him. That’s unfathomable nowadays as article comments tend to be breeding grounds of negativity. Even The Verge recently turned off their site comments.

The author continues, talking about how walled off the internet is becoming with how social networks do their best at keeping us in their space, devaluing the former currency of the web - the hyperlink.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency. But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. When a powerful website — say Google or Facebook — gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it — it brings it into existence; gives it life. Metaphorically, without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind; and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.

Conversely:

the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

I guess that’s what I enjoy websites like Daring Fireball, they contain both quality, long-form articles and these links that are windows to the rest of the Internet. Must be why I like RSS so much, I don’t have to rely on catchy 140 character tweets to see what’s going on.[1] I get the whole article up front; which brings up the author’s last point.

Maybe it’s that text itself is disappearing. After all, the first visitors to the web spent their time online reading web magazines. Then came blogs, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now it’s Facebook videos and Instagram and SnapChat that most people spend their time on. There’s less and less text to read on social networks, and more and more video to watch, more and more images to look at. Are we witnessing a decline of reading on the web in favor of watching and listening?

I know that I can be guilty on not reading a longer article because I’m feeling lazy. That’s why I have Instapaper. If you’ve made it this far, might as well gaze out the window that is the link below. It’s got a great view. [2]

The Web We Have to Save


  1. but that doesn’t mean I don’t dive into that stream every now and then  ↩

  2. ironically I found this article via Instapaper via Medium - two algorithmically driven means that the author may bemoan…interesting.  ↩