Tag Archives: web

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.

How to Internet: Why?

The first thing you might be won­der­ing, is why? Why is he using “inter­net” as a verb? First of all, wel­come gram­mar Nazi. But one of the first rules of the inter­net is that new words and usages are accept­able, even fash­ion­able. If you can­’t accept that, you prob­ably should­n’t really learn how to inter­net.

That point made, there are a num­ber of actu­ally valu­able why ques­tions about how to inter­net that are truly worth our tak­ing the time to tackle. So let’s begin there.

Why should I care about inter­net­ing? Don’t I already do that?

There’s a big dif­fer­ence between what most people do on the internet–check Face­book, Google a few things, and maybe check their 10 favor­ite websites–and inter­net­ing. Inter­net­ing is essen­tially hold­ing a flu­ency with the wide swath of pos­sible inter­net activ­it­ies and util­iz­ing that abil­ity to stay abreast of everything from the latest news to the latest LOLCats. It is, in itself, a mas­ter­able cul­ture that is both dis­tinct from those recog­nized off­line, and deeply enmeshed with them.

Essen­tially, you might care about inter­net­ing if you feel that you’d like to have great­er pro­fi­ciency with the young­est, most ver­sat­ile and power­ful form of cul­tur­al dis­sem­in­a­tion ever inven­ted and you’re bump­ing your head against the wall because you can­’t find a foothold from which to begin to under­stand the roil­ing mass.

That’s my fun­da­ment­al intent: to explain to you how I and people like me use the inter­net on a reg­u­lar basis to do all sorts of things that most civil­ians nev­er knew they could.

Why are you the one to explain how to inter­net?

I am, as those people who know me but don’t know the inter­net I know would attest, rather adept at spend­ing time on the inter­net. They con­stantly mar­vel at my abil­ity to do little out­wardly but be con­stantly enter­tained, informed, and know­ledgable. Almost of these abil­it­ies are due, at least in part, to the way in which I use the inter­net.

I make no claim to com­plete mas­tery or know­ledge of the internet–if I had to hand that crown to one single per­son I’d prob­ably choose Andy Baio–but I can say with cer­tainty that from the time I first saw the inter­net (I think I was about 10 at the time) I’ve been rather obsessed with it. Fif­teen years of spend­ing a min­im­um of an hour a day with some­thing gives you a pretty thor­ough know­ledge of how it works.

Why should I learn how to inter­net?

Because you know it’s import­ant. As I intim­ated before, I believe the inter­net is the future. All oth­er forms of media dis­sem­in­a­tion are on their way to grave­yard. All oth­er forms of pub­lish­ing will even­tu­ally be sub­jec­ted to the pro­cesses and judge­ment of the inter­net, and it’s likely many will be found lack­ing. If you have mon­et­ary interest in any form of media that isn’t attent­ive to the inter­net, you’re almost cer­tainly destined for the poor house with­in the next 50 years.

The pro­cess of learn­ing how to inter­net is some­thing mil­lions of people do every year (even without guides like this). As people con­tin­ue to gain ever great­er flu­ency in the inter­net and it’s ways they will leave behind writers, pub­lish­ers, and people who think that hav­ing a Face­book page is what it means to be on the inter­net.

I already know all about RSS, pod­casts, Word­Press, red­dit, and many oth­er things, why should I pay atten­tion to this?

You clearly have good reas­on to ques­tion the value of this, as those are rather close to what I intend to talk about. Here are two reas­ons you might care: because you can always learn from see­ing how oth­er people see and think about the things you know how to do well, and because you’re inter­ested in help­ing someone who does­n’t know enough to be aware of Lone Gun­man to get bet­ter at inter­net­ing.

How to Internet: Introduction

When Lloyd asked me to fill in, I was a bit stumped. Because the con­tent I post to Link Banana is sim­il­ar to the stuff that Lloyd posts, and I already struggle to keep that full–I did­n’t really want to put that stuff here. I also did­n’t really want to ape his style, as I’d almost inev­it­ably have done that poorly.

Gen­er­ously, Lloyd spe­cified that I could pub­lish any­thing I thought would be of interest. And it was while I was con­sid­er­ing the odd nature of that fact that he and I know each oth­er at all–for those not keep­ing score Lloyd is a Brit who lives in the Neth­er­lands, I’m an Amer­ic­an who lives in Col­or­ado, we’ve nev­er met in person–that I thought about how dif­fer­ent the inter­net I know and love is from that known to almost all my “real life” friends, those of my sib­lings, par­ents, and pretty much any­one who I share phys­ic­al spaces with on a reg­u­lar basis.

So, if you’ll all allow me, my intent over this week is to explore that “Grand Canyon big” gap and how one could cross it if they so desired. I don’t know that any­thing I man­age to pub­lish here will be as inter­est­ing or valu­able to the Lone Gun­man’s read­ers as what Lloyd usu­ally does, but I hope it’ll come close.

Advantages of Internet Friendships

The meth­ods through which we cre­ate and main­tain rela­tion­ships are con­stantly chan­ging, with recent dec­ades boost­ing the move from a purely loc­a­tion-based mod­el to one where rela­tion­ships can spawn and devel­op remotely, thanks to the Inter­net (and, to a less­er degree, the tele­phone and mail sys­tems). How­ever, while this new way of cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing rela­tion­ships has dis­tinct advant­ages over the ‘tra­di­tion­al’ concept of loc­a­tion-based friend­ship cre­ation, many per­ceive it as inferi­or.

Tak­ing his cue from a quote that did the rounds on Twit­ter last year–Twit­ter makes me like people I’ve nev­er met and Face­book makes me hate people I know in real life–Dav­id Hayes attempts to shed light on the advant­ages of Inter­net-ori­gin­at­ing rela­tion­ships by per­fectly describ­ing the way friend­ship cre­ation has evolved over time (by means of describ­ing the con­straints to doing so). The con­clu­sion echoes my sen­ti­ments exactly:

I view the high­er value placed on place-ori­gin­at­ing (or “real-life”) friend­ships as wrong­headed. It seems only logic­al to me that it is bet­ter to build your rela­tion­ships from a pool of people who speak your lan­guage and have sim­il­ar soft-qual­it­ies to you, than to attempt to start from a geo­graph­ic­ally con­strained group and then attempt to find soft-qual­ity matches in a face-to-face series of inter­ac­tions. This is fun­da­ment­ally what the inter­net allows: the friend­ship pro­cess to start from a set of com­mon­al­it­ies around soft attrib­utes, and then poten­tially aim for geo­graph­ic match­ing. This is the oppos­ite of the stand­ard pro­cess, but cer­tainly the one more likely to yield deep and long-last­ing rela­tion­ships.

Inter­est­ingly, even though our only com­mu­nic­a­tion has been through numer­ous back­links and a couple of tweets, I would­n’t hes­it­ate in call­ing Dav­id a friend. Most likely, the major­ity of my Face­book friends (i.e. my phys­ic­al world ori­gin­at­ing friends) would not under­stand this.

‘Bit Culture’ and the Benefits of Distraction

The inform­a­tion con­sump­tion habits of many in the young­er generations–one fea­ture of the ‘Inter­net inform­a­tion culture’–has many mer­its, des­pite its many detract­ors. So says Ban Cas­nocha in an art­icle for The Amer­ic­an that acts as both a review of Tyler Cowen’s Cre­ate Your Own Eco­nomy and a fairly pos­it­ive and com­pre­hens­ive over­view of the “bit cul­ture” and its affects on atten­tion and learn­ing.

Cas­nocha begins with a look at his own media con­sump­tion habits (that closely mir­rors mine and, no doubt, many of yours, too) and a couple of the­or­ies for explain­ing this style:

The first is eco­nom­ic: when cul­ture is free and a click away, as it is on blogs and Twit­ter and the broad­er Inter­net, we sample broadly and con­sume it in smal­ler chunks: “When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is dif­fi­cult, we tend to look for large-scale pro­duc­tions, extra­vag­an­zas, and mas­ter­pieces,” […]

The second reas­on is the intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al stim­u­la­tion we exper­i­ence by assem­bling a cus­tom stream of bits. Cowen refers to this pro­cess as the “daily self-assembly of syn­thet­ic exper­i­ences.” My inputs appear a chaot­ic jumble of scattered inform­a­tion but to me they touch all my interest points. When I con­sume them as a blend, I see all-import­ant con­nec­tions between the dif­fer­ent intel­lec­tu­al nar­rat­ives I fol­low […]

When skep­tics make sweep­ing neg­at­ive claims about how the Web affects cog­ni­tion, they are for­get­ting the people whose nat­ur­al tend­en­cies and strengths blos­som in an inform­a­tion-rich envir­on­ment. Cowen’s over­rid­ing point, delivered in a “can­’t we all just get along” spir­it, is that every­one pro­cesses the stim­uli of the world dif­fer­ently. Every­one deploys atten­tion in their own way. We should embrace the new tools—even if we do not per­son­ally bene­fit— that allow the infovores among us to per­form tasks effect­ively and acquire know­ledge rap­idly.