Can the Internet still be magical?

As a kid in the 90s, I would run a spool of telephone cable across our living room to check email on Juno and download games on CompuServe. You could use the Internet to message a friend across the country, or learn about a favorite TV show, or even order a pizza. It felt like magic! Dial-up blew my tiny little mind.

Now it’s 2021. I’ve made a living doing computer things for a little over twelve years. Software has, as they say, eaten the world. You can still use the Internet to play games and chat with friends, but it turns out that you can also use it to spread hate or encourage violence. Working in tech is challenging and exciting, but it can also be a one-way ticket to Burnout City.

The future isn’t what I’d imagined. When I’m feeling down, sometimes I read Anna Anthropy’s book on ZZT. It’s a short book filled with stories of people who made personal little video games and shared them on the early Internet, learning about themselves and others along the way. It reminds me that technology can be empowering. I feel the same way when I read posts from Zeynep Tufekci, Paul Ford, Gina Trapani, and many others.

It still exists, that kooky, welcoming, humanist Internet that I imagined as a kid with a hand-me-down PC and too much time on his hands. I’d like to step into that world, and writing a newsletter seems like as good a place as anywhere to start. I’m aiming to write once a month. I’d love to reach friends, family, and maybe a few random people on the Internet. I’m not looking for hockey-stick growth or affiliate links or inbound marketing. I just want an outlet to explore how tech could become quirkier and more humane.

When I finally did use the Internet to order a pizza, it was sort of underwhelming. Emailing friends around the world, though - that still sounds like magic.