The internet I care about has become a lot smaller

Time was you got to the end of the internet.

Not the wholee internet of course, but the blogs, sites, feeds and newsletters you cared about. For white collar workers of a certain age in the beginning decades of the 21st century, this is what we did for breaks instead of smoking. This was pre-iPhone, so you did it at your desk where you couldn’t smoke anyway.

It was also probably the last great time to be a smoker in the US. Thankfully, smoking rates have gone down.(Unfortunately, nicotine vaping has gone up.). The normies had given up smoking and the people you’d meet smoking outside the front steps of downtown Boston were generally great conversationalists. You had something to break up a night of drinking. You’d find unexpected camaraderie at weddings.

But who needs chemical inhalation when you have the universe in your pocket in the form of a smartphone? The internet became not just stories on a screen at your desk, but your friends’ camera rolls, YouTubes, memes and tweets. Podcasts.

The variety of media to consume exploded. Meanwhile, the thing that made the internet the internet — servers hosting webpages about niche subject matter that people cared enough about to craft entire disciplines like “web design” — became less important.

Tech exploded. Tech jobs were high paying and plentiful. Influencer and gig economies took off. The new entrants all got to work using the foundational protocols of the internet to figure out how to process it all into an endless slurry of Content and Ad Units (sometimes indistinguishable).

We know what happened next. Publishing suffered. Local news disintegrated. Quality declined. Engagement skyrocketed, but it’s easy to engage humans when you play to their fears, weaknesses, angers and resentments. Websites, blogs, posts… whatever I used to check at my desk throughout the day started to consolidate, atrophy or completely shutter.

Today, a few link aggregators remain that I check a couple times per day, but I click through on posts a lot less. The comments have long since been useless — we know what trolls live there. I have some newsletter subscriptions now, but they are mostly about the goings on in tech and media. Did you know that AI will certainly “change everything?”

I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore, and I’ve seen everything I need to see online by lunch.

This blog I’m writing on auto-posts to Mastodon and Bluesky, which I don’t log into so I won’t see how few people actually read and/or respond to it.

There’s no moral here, but the observation that the place you built your career upon doesn’t look or feel right anymore is a heavy one to sit with.

People are clearly still getting a lot of value from the internet and having meaningful experiences, but I’ll never appreciate what they’re doing the same way that they can’t appreciate a banger tweet from 2012. I know I’ve aged and tastes change with time and I’ve grown and that’s all fine, but still I catch myself mindlessly, reflexively trying to use the internet from 15 years ago in the middle of a slow afternoon, and I don’t like that habit.

When I knew I was done with smoking, I’d still hold an unlit cigarette between my lips for a beat. Felt great to attend to that oral fixation for a minute. I look so good with a cigarette. (In my mind, of course, I am Jeremy Allen White). Then it felt silly, and eventually I’d toss the rest of the pack.

These days I’ll similarly feel a brief but flaccid hit of dopamine when I click the bookmark, then a moment later I’ll sigh and close the browser tab.

Eric Brookfield @ericbrookfield