Social Connection and Nostalgia for Web 1.0

I have a somewhat rose-colored view of an internet from long ago, and based on my observations on social media, I’m not alone. Increasingly, I see among those who surfed the superhighway a desire to return to a still-connected but far less prominently “public” presence. There’s no doubt a heavy element of nostalgia, but I also think there’s another major factor: a longing for a time when you could feel comfortable baring your insides, both the beautiful and ugly parts, without risking attack en masse.

The internet has thrived as a way to help people feel less alone without great risk to themselves. Whether it’s a political belief, favorite book, or even a sexual fetish, thinking you’re the only person in the world who’s into something can be an incredibly isolating experience. Are you “normal?” If not, are there at least others who can relate to you?

Now, especially as an entire generation has grown up being encouraged (or even forced) to make their online presence and extension of their offline identity, it’s not surprising that people would become afraid to share themselves. In a recent interview, game creator Sakurai Masahiro (of Smash Bros. and Kirby fame) said something related to this, which was summarized by a translator as follows:

“Sakurai talks about how he feels like today’s culture is too combative & people are quick to tear down things they don’t like in bad faith, and that the people putting things out into the world are vulnerable whereas the critics aren’t; he has little faith that things will change.”

I think it captures the environment well, along with the fear it creates.

Trying to find out if there were others like you carried a risk in the past too, of course. I’m under no illusions that those days weren’t filled with trolls or mean-spirited assholes eager to tear people down, but compared to today, the potential damage to the self feels less severe. Or at least, it would be localized.

There’s an anime called Jormungand about a mercenary team led by an arms dealer. In the final episode [Spoiler Warning], the main characters essentially cripple the ability to wage war from the other side of the world, though more regional conflicts are still very possible. In other words, while they can never truly stop war, they at least wanted to slow its spread. I think the desire to return to an era of web rings, bulletin boards, and extremely unpolished personal sites comes from a similar sentiment. Call it harm reduction, perhaps.

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