Yesterday Warren Ellis posted a question, what is your priority internet? His question was based off the following Sean Bonner tweet:
My first reaction was to reply with something glib like, “porn”. But then I was like, well, yeah, sometimes it would be porn but sometimes it would be checking the Premier League results or reading reviews on Pitchfork or ordering a book online. And at that point I felt like I’d come to two diverging paths to answer the question.
When Bonner asks the question he’s asking it from the perspective of rating what you’d feel most behind on after two days. But what he’s really asking is, what do you use on the internet every day? What could you not live without?
For him it’s email and Twitter as a top priority, and then Twitter (again), Vine and Flickr as a lower priority. Ellis answers the question from the same perspective in his blog post, highlighting email and Google Reader, and then maybe posting a picture various places through an IFTTT trigger tag.
Answering the question this way, I think the only essential site I visit is email. Outside of that, the big three that I stay on top of throughout the day are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but none of these are so urgent that they couldn’t be left alone indefinitely.
Extending Bonner’s experiment to see what really matter: if I only had half an hour every day, I’d probably stop using Instagram and Twitter altogether. Facebook would be touch and go. I’d either stop using it, or cater my Facebook feed to focus on family and very close friends. Anyone who posts boring stuff would quickly get unfollowed. So that’s me, email and maybe Facebook.
But I do remember a time when, between studying for exams and sharing the internet with two brothers, I often did only get half an hour or so to browse online. When I was 14 or 15 the only sites I would bet my friends all knew were the search engines, Alta Vista and Yahoo. The internet has changed a lot since then, it now has giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia that tower over all other sites. And keeping track of these giants gobbles up a lot of time.
Which brings me back to my original answer to the question. If I only had 30 minutes of online time, what would I do? I would do whatever I most wanted at the time, whether it’s writing some emails to friends, focusing on football results, reading music reviews for albums I’ll never listen to, reading articles about politics or entertainment, or whatever else came to mind.
Bonner’s question highlights how the endless scroll of social media has entrapped our time, so that we feel beholden to “keep up” with what has happened while we were gone. It’s also made the internet a more uniform place. What was once the Wild, Wild Web, has now been sanded down, polished and buffed to a sheen of standarised perfection delivered by Google, Facebook and the various tech companies they’ve inspired.
It made me think of Jaron Lanier’s excellent, endlessly quotable, You Are Not A Gadget. I’ll end with two of his thoughts:
“Individual web pages as they first appeared in the early 1990s had the flavour of person-hood. MySpace preserved some of that flavour, though a process of regularized formatting had begun. Facebook went further, organizing people into multiple-choice identities while Wikipedia seeks to erase point of view entirely. If a church or government were doing these things, it would feel authoritarian, but when technologists are the culprits, we seem hip, fresh, and inventive. People accept ideas presented in technological form that would be abhorrent in any other forms.”
“I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.”