For my entire professional life, I have started nearly every weekday morning with an extremely important productivity ritual: I make a coffee, I sit down at my computer, and I mess around on the internet for an hour or so. And, for most of my career as a writer, this has been an effortless task. I’ve had accounts on dozens of social networks, message boards and online communities thronging with similarly bored and truant peers, vibrant with creativity and delight. Or, at least, with tolerably decent jokes.
But recently I find the task of wasting time online increasingly onerous. The websites I used to depend on have gotten worse, and it seems as if there’s nowhere else to look. Twitter has been transformed under new management into an increasingly untenable social experiment called X. Instagram is evolving into a somehow-even-lower-rent TikTok, while TikTok itself continues to baffle and alienate me. Even Reddit, a stalwart last resort of time-wasting, briefly went dark in June during a sitewide revolt over new policies.
Something is changing about the internet, and I am not the only person to have noticed. Everywhere I turned online this year, someone was mourning: Amazon is “making itself worse” (as New Yorkmagazine moaned); Google Search is a “bloated and overmonetized” tragedy (as The Atlanticlamented); “social media is doomed to die,” (as the tech news website The Verge proclaimed); even TikTok is becoming “enjunkified” (to bowdlerize an inventive coinage of the sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow, republished in Wired). But the main complaint I have heard is was put best, and most bluntly, in The New Yorker: “The Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore.”
It’s indisputable that we are living through a transitional period in the short history of the internet. The end of the low interest-rate era has shaken up the economics of startups, ending rapid-growth practices like “blitzscaling” and reducing the number of new internet businesses vying for our attention; companies like Alphabet and Facebook are now mature and dominant businesses instead of disruptive upstarts. But I suspect there is another factor driving the alienation and discomfort felt by many of the people who feel as though the internet is dying before our eyes: We’re getting old.
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