Cassidy Williams

Software Engineer in Chicago

Cassidy's face

I miss human curation

I’ve been thinking a lot about the internet lately, like as a concept. It feels like… I don’t know where everyone went.

Back in like… 2007, you’d find me checking out MyLifeIsAverage, maybe StumbleUpon, and a few blogs of folks that I knew, who mostly shared videos and articles they liked. I had my own little forum (not gonna share it because I am okay with forgetting teenage Cassidy cringe), and practiced my HTML and CSS skills on a website that was… so early 2000s (which you can find in a little feature in this zine from the Glitch team).

A very cringy screenshot reading, "Welcome. Click on whatever you want, and remember. This is a site for fun and random people. If you aren't either, go find a boring site OR let this site cure your boringness. HAVE FUN PEOPLE!!!!"

When I say “I don’t know where everyone went,” I know everyone’s out there surfing the web, of course, but it feels like it’s a different place now. When the algorithms are determining everything we should be seeing, it’s a much less personal internet. The “For You” pages of the world are right, I am interested in that content, but I’m not seeing it from my friends, or that one author I like, or that random blog I found when I was learning about an obscure hobby.

Especially now that Twitter is kind of a mess (I won’t get into other social networks, but they all feel like this lately), the networks of people that I know are really hard to navigate. I can’t really swing from profile to profile of friends like I did before. The Algorithm wants me to see content relevant to me, not my friends. We don’t have “affiliate links” in our website footers anymore to go down rabbit holes of other websites, and I rarely see a little corner of the internet that I can bookmark and check on regularly. Those spaces do exist, but they’re just much, much harder to find.

As I noodled on this, I realized that in addition to my missing humans curating the content for me, it’s also me curating what I want to see, when I want to see it, better. There was an interesting note in Alexander Obenauer’s lab notes about notifications, and this line stuck out to me: “fundamentally, the way notifications work in modern OSes is backwards: someone else decides when (and how often) my device wakes up to interrupt what I’m doing.” In the earlier internet days, you went to a fun website or read the latest thing because you decided to go do it. Now, all of this content is pushed in your face, designed to be as addicting as possible, so you keep coming back. You can curate it to a point, but companies design these systems this way on purpose.

Eh. Anyway. I definitely sound like an old woman talking about “the good ol’ days,” but really I just miss humans driving what I see, no matter how quirky the content ends up being. I feel like the closest thing I have to that is my Discord friends (who are probably the main people reading this, hiiiiii), and I’m going to cling to them as it feels like the internet as we know it goes through some major changes with all of these AI doohickeys and algorithm thingamabobs.

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