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The Garbage Optimist Manifesto
After a couple years of things just getting slightly worse all the time online, it seems like we’ve now reached a stage where we all largely agree that, yes, the web isn’t very good anymore. Which has, in turn, inspired a lot of different writers recently to try and figure out exactly why and, more importantly, how to fix it.
Let’s start with the why. The earliest concise take was probably from author and technologist Cory Doctorow who, in a January essay about why TikTok feels bad now, coined the term “enshittification,” to describe the process of a platform or marketplace getting lazier, dumber, and more closed off. Though I actually think one of the best articulations of why everything sucks so bad right now was actually the recent unhinged and borderline-fascist screed titled, “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto,” written by Andreessen Horowitz’s Marc Andreessen. “Techno-Optimists believe that societies, like sharks, grow or die,” he wrote, seemingly not realizing that this mindset is exactly why the internet is breaking. “We believe everything good is downstream of growth.”
Kyle Chayka in The New Yorker went with a more human-oriented diagnosis, calling the current web “an echoing hallway” and that “the social-media web as we knew it, a place where we consumed the posts of our fellow-humans and posted in return, appears to be over.” And Charlie Warzel in The Atlantic went big concept, blaming the bad e-vibes of our current moment on dark patterns, or the “deceptive bits of web design that can trick people into certain choices online,” which have consumed our digital spaces.
Right, so big companies led by men who think societies are sharks ate the web, filled it with bad automation, and have grown to a scale where they can no longer manage their platforms or themselves. OK, got it. Let’s talk about the solutions.
George Washington University professor David Karpf wrote a good response to Andreessen’s post, arguing that we should actually take a more pragmatic approach to technology. And Rusty Foster in Today In Tabs took this idea a bit further, writing, “A Discord server can be used to coördinate a Bitcoin heist, or to coördinate a relay race team. A hammer can build things or break things.”
My close friend and long-time tormentor, Katie Notopoulos, in The MIT Technology Review, outlined a few specific ways to fix the rot. One of them is that “sometimes… you have to pay for stuff” online. Her other ideas include more federated platforms and granular moderation. While tech writer Shubham Agarwal, in Business Insider, and The Verge’s David Pierce both think it comes down to the user building personal systems for managing a decentralized internet, though they have conflicting ideas as to how. Agarwal argued that users need to embrace a hub model for navigating the “pluriverse,” or a web of fractured platforms. And Pierce went the other way, advocating for what’s called POSSE, or “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere,” where everything you’re doing online is collected on a personal website, regardless of how hideous and unreadable (I personally think) that looks.
I think there are examples of all of these things working already, of course. The success of something like Dropout TV or, heck, even Substack proves that, yes, small-ish digital media businesses can work. And early in the pandemic, young TikTok stars realized that you needed a digital home base, whether it was a YouTube channel, Instagram page, or Linktree. Also, even if I think POSSE sites are ugly and silly, I support interoperability across social networks. I dream of the day that Mastodon, Bluesky, Tumblr, and Threads all link together on ActivityPub to create The Site.
But I’m also personally a big believer in the idea that once you have a name for something happening online it’s already over. Whether it’s a meme or a trend or, in this case, a general vibe, the minute there’s a consensus as to what it is, it’s already its over to some degree. Which means I sort of think whatever that new status quo is, it’s already arrived and that the rut we feel like we’re in is possibly already over. Somewhere, at least. And while I share the affliction that all tech writers have, in that I crave applying some kind of order to the chaos of how technology evolves, the truth is that it just does a lot of the time. And there is some pocket of the web out there that has already defined our digital future. We just haven’t noticed it yet. (Though, it’s probably whatever furries are doing right now.)
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As a Garbage Day reader, you’re probably a Chaos Connoisseur. But appreciating chaos doesn’t mean you want it to wriggle its way into your writing. Fed up with today’s tools, the Ellipsus team is building a better way to write together. Think organized draft management, clear-cut permissions, in-doc chat, and GitHub-inspired version control. And no illicit use of your writing to train an LLM. They’re looking for beta testers to kick the tires and share their feedback.
So skip the waitlist, join the beta, and start collaborating in Ellipsus.
Garbage Day Show Good
After three years of practice in various basements and tech conferences and a summer of writing and planning, last week, Garbage Day Live finally landed. And it was great! We had a packed house and it was awesome meeting a bunch of readers. Also, I cannot thank my guests Ena Da, Katie Notopoulos, Patrick Willems, Emma Logsdon, and DJ Cummerbund enough. Also, our venue, Elsewhere, was great about dealing with my bizarre whims. Oh, and the show’s visual design and promotion was all done by an incredible Brazilian content studio called Guizo that you should absolutely check out.
I wanted to take a sec to talk about what this show is and what its future looks like. Years ago, the documentarian Adam Curtis essentially took his documentary HyperNormalisation on tour with Massive Attack. I’ve always been really inspired by that idea. And so when I started putting together Garbage Day Live, that was my starting point: What if Adam Curtis live, but with more segments about WikiFeet. There’s music, there’s some jokes, some cool visuals, and, hopefully, you walk out of it feeling a little more hopeful about the internet than you did walking in.
I want to do more of these shows — and not just because of the insatiable attention void inside of me. The platforms and algorithms that scramble our ability to communicate with each other and, most crucially, dream up new and better ways to use the internet, can’t find us in concert halls and theaters. So, here’s the deal. If you want Garbage Day Live in your city, at your conference, at your festival, (living room?) email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As long as I don’t actively lose money getting there, assume I’m interested.
Roblox Users Are Digitally Marching For Palestine
Fun fact: At a Garbage Day Live show at a music festival in the UK this summer, which had an audience with a huge age range, a 10-year-old that was in the crowd came up to me afterwards and said that I should have included more stuff about Roblox. And I think he was right!
Users on the platform are staging digital marches in support of Palestine. You can watch a clip of it here. According to Mashable, the Roblox protests are largely being organized by a Malaysian gamer that goes by cikguzyd. The protests are also collecting donations, which are being paid out in Robux, the platform’s in-game currency. ($0.0125 is equal to about 1 Robuck.)
I think beyond just the surreal global politics at play here, this is a good example of how young internet users (the biggest demographic for Roblox is 9-12) are beginning to differ from previous generations that have come of age online. Millennials wanted to enhance the world around them with tech, Gen Z want to change it to better fit their tech, and Gen Alpha, at least right now, seem most interested in building their own version of the world inside of tech platforms like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite.
“Are French Canadians Latinx” The Greatest Thread In The History Of X, Locked By A Moderator After 12,239 Replies Of Heated Debate
For the readers that have emailed me, asking for more stuff about niche internet drama, well, buckle up. I’ve got three bangers for you. Here’s the first one.
Earlier this week, a user named @mtl_itgirl argued that “Hiking IS the logic of settler colonialism.” Dumb tweet, sure, and, honestly, kind of retro in a way. Years ago, this would have gone way more viral and turned into a bunch of content for digital media sites. Nowadays, it inspired some light snark and a bunch of ranting from Verified guys with usernames like “Alaric The Barbarian”.
Things got a lot more interesting, however, when @mtl_itgirl was asked why they identify as a latina or latinx, and they explained that they’re French Canadian, which counts as Latin American, because French is a romance language spoken in North America. I guess!
Hey, X might literally be junk debt now, but it’s still got some juice in it, I think.
Why Is This Redditor Doing This?
A user named u/WesAndersonHater (lol) has, at least twice now, posted a picture of his date outfit in the subreddit for the Red Scare podcast. Except, when he posts the photos, he takes off all his clothes and lays them out on the floor of the bar bathroom.
The user has not acknowledged how weird this is yet or explained why they’re doing it this way. But most of the other users in the subreddit are slowly becoming convinced that this is a fetish thing.
Least Horny Gamer Gets Exposed For Using Big Butt Mod
A Verified Xbox fan account was complaining this week about the size of women’s butts in Spider-Man 2 compared to Starfield. Apparently, Spider-Man 2 is too woke to give Mary Jane Watson a dump truck. Let gamers make games!!!
Unfortunately for @xboxBG, they forgot they had a mod turned on when they took this screenshot. As a user named @robfrawley pointed out, “I've played 200+ hours of Starfield and you clearly modded [the character] Andreja.”
And, lucky for us, @robfrawley did some more digging and found the mod. It’s called “VBB,” which stands for “Voluptuous Body for Beauties”. Whoops!
Let’s Talk About The Glory Hole Story
Surprise! I’ve got a fourth niche internet drama for you. Easily the most viral thing on X right now is this recording of a story about a joint bachelor/bachelorette party gone horribly wrong in Amsterdam.
For those who don’t want to listen, the gist is that one of the girls used a glory hole and discovered the person on the other side was her dad. Awful!!! It’s inspired a lot of memes, so if you see any jokes this week about unblurring the glass on your glory hole booth, that’s what they’re referencing.
I will say, I have heard variations of this urban legend for years. I think the first time was all the way back in high school. I don’t want to say that someone would just go on the internet and tell lies, but I am saying that.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good tweet.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***