A thousand years ago or so I had a website on GeoCities. It's gone now—long gone, after a slow but inevitable death at Yahoo in 2019. I had one site that I maintained there for years, plus one other that I didn't maintain, and then some newsletter site on Angelfire and maybe something on Tripod and/or something that had an x in the URL, I don't remember.
Back In The Day—the web was boring and trash.
It was really good.
I wouldn't want to go back to it, but then again, there are only a few features of the modern web that I really use. [pause] No, that's not right. I use a ton of features of the modern web, it's just that they're all infrastructure now, so they feel invisible. Using the bank website, or buying a book, or following a live baseball game—some trivial examples that come to mind, and I know there are more.
I can isolate what I meant by that comment, though: here, posting on this site, or posting on other sites, I really don't use all that many of the possible features, I think. I'm posting here on WordPress, and it's dead simple. I've been thinking of going back to a static site for ages but, ironically, that takes work. That's why the web used to be boring: it was a bit harder to make things. Not so terribly hard that no one could do it, just hard enough that the utilitarian bits of creating took enough effort that it didn't leave as much time for the creative bits, or the people who were good at the creative bits but not the technical bits couldn't get past the threshold required to post things consistently. Or, since there was a lot of other crap, crap was acceptable. I don't know.
I can't really defend the boring web, even though I prefer much of it.
I like to see boring updates of people creating. I think that's a fantastic use of the web. Not the self-promoting bits, or the retweets, or the mindless forwarding of conspiracy theories, or the LinkedIn posts that all seems to start with "Excited to... [something self-aggrandizing]", or the well-staged beauty or travel or eating shots, and so on and so on. I'm tired of polish, both real and otherwise. I just want to see pictures of people growing tomatoes. Give me the boring stuff. Hugh McLeod drawing cartoons on the back of business cards was boring—but there was something about the total body of work, or maybe the simplicity of the endeavor, or the constant showing-up that elevated the cards to something else. (A random selection from 2007 on gapingvoid.com from the Internet Archive to get the feel of it.)
I know that kind of thing is out there, and it's easy to find. I didn't set out to write that last sentence—I have been angling for a way to say the opposite, to indulge the getting-old laziness that I'm starting to enjoy, of how things really were better in the Good Old Days. But halfway through a now-deleted sentence I felt the opposite thing: we have an absolute embarrassment of riches on the web. It's so easy to find something, that once you find something it's easy to keep on going to find the next easy-to-find something, and round and round and round we spin.
I try to use the web in a reasonably boring way. I don't want to self-promote. I don't want to polish all my copy—except for the cases when I am making something that I want to be a polished finished product. Making this, cooking that, planting this, reading that, etc. Just: here I am. Seeing other people do that is pretty boring, honestly, and I don't want to follow it so closely—but dipping into it occasionally, sure. Being able to search and sample and see how different people do things, yes.
Sometimes I sit down here to write something, and the initial thought becomes clearer, and I hit the 'publish' button feeling satisfied. Today I'm more confused. I had this thought—a hypothesis, I guess, but not so well-formed—that the old web was in some way better. I was going to build a post around that, and why. But now, after thinking about it, I can remember the people who I've seen posting similar types of straightforward (read: not weird self branding or self promotion) things on Instagram, on Twitter, etc. For good or ill, it's all out there. Some (most?) of it is squirreled away on some platform, which I think is not good for long term access, but that's not really the point for most people—for normal people, at least.
I think I'm just looking for humble people on a journey, whatever that journey is. The website is just a conveyance for that.
- Gina Imperato. "You Are Your URL". Fast Company (1996-08-31).
- Owen Williams. "Why the ‘Weird Internet’ of the GeoCities Era Had to Die". Debugger (2019-07-15).
- Jeremy Wagner. "Make it Boring". jeremy.codes (2019-02-09).