Land of the Free, Home of the Weird
|Sachin Kesiraju||Feb 3|
The Internet used to be a weird place. As someone whose childhood was in the early 00’s, my conception of the world was very much coupled with the evolution of the internet (for better or worse). We used to have funky personal websites, friends in online chatrooms and digital pets we would care for with our lives. But somewhere along the way the grown ups took over and decided that the internet was no longer a toy, it was now a place of business. Today instead we have the same Stripe-style flat design, an onslaught of internet trolls and HR violations for misgendering our online pets years ago. A future that was once bubbling with possibilities suddenly feels more bleak. This seems to be representative of American culture in general. I recently met a friend fresh out of college who lamented at how life seemed like it was all laid out and running on autopilot — work to get promoted, marry, buy a house and raise kids in the suburbs. How did it become like this? Or has it always been this way? (inb4 boomers reply “welcome to adulthood”)
What’s the hold up?
The internet used to be the place to escape the suffocating constraints of our lives in the real world. Bringing business to the internet produced massive economic gains but also inadvertently brought along corporate authority into our sacred domain. Clickbait media strategy and overbearing employers for instance have made us more insecure of our public digital activity. We live in constant fear that someone might scroll through our profiles and scrutinize us for freely expressing ourselves years ago back when it was a different social paradigm. Our culture has essentially extended HR's jurisdiction into our digital lives leaving us forced to carefully craft our online social activity like a politician.
In Silicon Valley where most dominant internet companies are built, the prevailing attitude is that there are no more opportunities left in serving the social and creative needs of the average American. This is despite the industry still living off the gains of the success of companies that started off as weird improbable ideas that served this consumer — Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter and Youtube all started in the mid 2000s. Instead there's been a collective migration in favor of picking off low hanging fruit in building for the enterprise ironically by consumerizing the enterprise. We’re seeing declining innovation in tools for creative self-expression and our once free online identities have become threatened by the tyranny of the outside world.
Internet culture is American culture
At a time when American society is suffering from rising economic pressures, political conflict and declining spiritual purpose, now would seem like a perfect time to find refuge in the innocent internet of our childhoods. As weirdness gets squeezed out of our culture we begin to resemble NPC wageslaves devoid of individuality beyond professional identity. While the dreariness of the real world might attempt to hold us back, there have been glimmering signs of optimism at the fringe that are engaging, entertaining and inspiring the masses in new ways that might become more commonplace in the near future.
People browsing niche subreddits or playing online games (Fortnite, Pokemon Go, etc) have naturally formed communities where they regularly interact online and in the real world — a phenomenon many are touting as the modernization of church or the “digital third space”. Tik Tok amplifies the creativity and quirks of teenagers across the country and as a result is directly influencing meme culture and increasing our cultural weirdness quotient (how many of us were really dancing in front of a camera before?). We also have people like Elon and Tyler the Creator who are pushing the perception of what it means to be a successful person — that you don't have to conform to a certain profile and sacrifice your weirdness to climb to the top.
It appears clear that internet culture will continue to have a direct influence on American culture. If we are to unshackle ourselves from replaying the same tired plot our ancestors lived, I’d wager that the key lies in how we continue to influence the mainstream via the internet. The world is indeed a very malleable place and life can be as weird as you choose to make it. Resist falling in line with the rest of the suits.
Become the next Kardashian. Discover a new species. Start a cult.
Make America weird again.
What I’ve been consuming
Learn Monthly (h/t Jordan)
Cooking with Paris (lmao)
working on fun things like schemes and pranks and such