How to Internet: Dividing Attention

There’s a huge cor­nu­copia of stuff on the inter­net, far more than even the most adept writer could hope to sur­vey with even a full book on the top­ic. My goal is not to tell you what to pay atten­tion to. Rather, I hope to give you some inter­est­ing places to start and some guideline with which to find oth­ers.

In the spir­it of cov­er­ing everything, I think the first thing on the cur­rent inter­net that one must be aware of is 4chan’s /b/. /b/ (nev­er safe for work) is a pro­fane, juven­ile and largely dis­taste­ful part of the inter­net. But it’s also the home of its roil­ing sub­con­scious mind, and so the font of much of its nat­ive cre­ativ­ity. LOLCats star­ted on /b/ as did just about a mil­lion oth­er memes that you may or may not have heard of. I recom­mend one remain aware of /b/, but fre­quent­ing is prob­ably bad for your health.

A step toward where we might like to spend time is red­dit, a com­munity that con­stantly makes ref­er­ence to itself as the bridge between /b/ (where inter­net memes are born) and Face­book (where memes go to either become over­used or mis­un­der­stood). I check red­dit at least once a day, and it’s always good for some lulz (a vari­ant of LOL, usu­ally used to con­note enjoy­ment, sat­is­fac­tion, or fun). It’s not the place you should go look­ing for high qual­ity ana­lys­is of recent events or to get an edu­ca­tion, but it’s always fun and some­times edu­ca­tion­al.

Some oth­er less-well-known but very sol­id per­son­al favor­ites:

  • Waxy.org Links – Andy Baio occa­sion­ally writes longer art­icles of qual­ity that are worth fol­low­ing, but it’s his odd little link blog that really makes an impres­sion and offers a view of the things Baio likes that are newly pop­u­lar on the inter­net.
  • kottke.org – Jason Kot­tke has one of the longest-act­ive and most pop­u­lar link blogs on the Inter­net. His coin­age of “Lib­er­al Arts 2.0” makes a pretty good story for what I see as the core of inter­net­ing. (Jason’s also build­ing a meta-social-media site called Stellar–currently a closed beta–whose Inter­est­ing aggreg­at­or con­stantly churns up inter­est­ing and pleas­ant diver­sions you don’t need to be a mem­ber to see.)
  • Meta­fil­ter – Meta­fil­ter is prob­ably the most widely praised and cited inter­net com­munity. The main blog is pos­ted by mem­bers of the com­munity, the only bar­ri­er to post­ing is the one-time five dol­lar regis­tra­tion fee. And yet, if you’re will­ing to deal with the volume, there are few places that will give you a bet­ter view of what was recently pop­u­lar or note­worthy on the inter­net. Also of note is AskMeta­fil­ter, a sub­set of the site ded­ic­ated purely to ask­ing and answer­ing ques­tions. (If you’re volume sens­it­ive, I recom­mend the Pop­u­lar Favor­ites view.)
  • The Lone Gun­man – I thought about not includ­ing this on the grounds that self-ref­er­en­cing is even less accept­able on the inter­net than it is off. But then I decided that I’m just a guest here, and so it’s not really self-pimp­ing. When Lloyd’s here, his stuff is reg­u­larly inter­est­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing, and not really as inter­net-cul­ture-y as much that I’ve cited above.
  • Wehr in the World – Justin Wehr’s blog is prob­ably less about inter­net cul­ture than Lloyd’s is, but it show­cases a type of con­fid­ent curi­os­ity that I very much like. His blog is the single strongest recom­mend­a­tion I would have for fans of Lone Gun­man.
  • The Browser – Fur­ther still down the road from the inter­net-cul­ture that eman­ates from /b/ is The Browser, my per­son­al favor­ite source for mostly old-media art­icles that are inter­est­ing and avail­able on the inter­net. Among wide swath of sites that try to do this on the inter­net, I like The Browser best for its brief but opin­ion­ated and inform­at­ive sum­mar­ies of the con­tent it links to. More people who are try­ing to emu­late its mis­sion need to learn the value of this.

These per­son­al recom­mend­a­tions are a place for you to start to pay atten­tion to the inter­net. They’re not going to be all you’ll ever want to pay atten­tion to, or all that’s worth pay­ing atten­tion to, but they’re more use­ful than noth­ing. Even if you hate them all, you now know six web­sites you don’t need to spend your atten­tion on.

One of the first rules of the inter­net is that you only need to fol­low what you like. There’s so much stuff on this world wide web that pay­ing atten­tion to stuff that doesn’t excite or chal­lenge you is just plain stu­pid. (To be clear, I don’t mean like in the sense that inter­net crit­ics fre­quently take it of “this is in com­plete accord­ance with my world­view”, but rather in the sense of “I feel this is worthy of my atten­tion”. The best polit­ic­al writers, for example, are those with whom you dis­agree but share enough that you can grok their per­spect­ive.)

The second rule in pay­ing atten­tion on the inter­net is to fol­low and unfol­low promis­cu­ously. Don’t be afraid to offer your atten­tion to some­thing that looks inter­est­ing, and nev­er be afraid to take it back. As I said, there’s no point fol­low­ing what you don’t like. But because fol­low­ing pub­lic­a­tions and people is so cheap on the inter­net, it’s also worth it to learn not to be afraid to try some­thing that you sus­pect you might like.

These two rules paired togeth­er are the best advice I can give about how you should actu­ally divide your atten­tion on the inter­net. Tomor­row, we’ll make it easi­er to do that divid­ing, and reduce the time you need to spend to pay atten­tion.

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