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.