Press "Enter" to skip to content

Dear Internet: Is is time to break up?

Dear Internet,

I loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you. I saw your potential when you were just a raw young thing, before you even knew yourself.

I was wowed by your intellectual promise as early as 1987, when you helped me upload an article to a magazine editor (oh, that 300 baud brainpower!). You seduced me with your charm when a single funny FidoNet remark about “being in Claire’s shoes” led to a long romance. I remember my first glimpse of the real, mature you, when a client said, “Hey, you’ve got to see this. It’s this thing called Netscape that gets you on to something called the Worldwide Web.”

Oh, those were the days!

You and I were destined for each other. It was clear.

You were so gallant at first. Without you, my first book would have disappeared into underground press obscurity. You kept that from happening. You introduced me to entire new communities of friends. And what friends they were! Bright, committed, liberty-loving people who would never have found each other — if not for you. You were the great personality who drew us all together. You were the charismatic leader, the spark that lit the bonfire, the grand beating heart of something new and awesome. You made it possible for us all to experience and explore things we’d never dreamed.

You were the center of the world. You still are. But something’s changed.

I admit that I had some discomfort with you even in those early days. You were always so sociable! I often found that overwhelming, hermit that I am. But always the rewards of being in your orbit outweighed my unease.

I was clearly wrong when you came up with blogs and I questioned their value. I saw them as nothing more than giant, public, boring family albums of a sort. Just places for mindless natter and chatter. You were right and I was wrong about blogs. What amazing things they’ve made possible — from the opening up of journalism to the sharing of arcane knowledge.

Yet in a way I was right, too. Blogs opened the way for things like Facebook, which are exactly the giant, public, boring albums I feared. And Facebook was only the beginning of the empty, narcisstic, party-all-the-time path you’ve gone down. I look at you now and I see not only emptiness, but — worse — a terrifying dark side I never knew you had.

The intellectual promise I perceived in you is still there, of course. But increasingly you neglect it. Frankly, Internet, these days you mostly bug me with your noise and triviality. And sometimes you scare me, too.

Internet, despite your brilliant potential, you’ve eliminated thoughtful discourse and persuaded billions of people that 140 characters of snark is an adequate substitute.

You’ve discouraged reflection in favor of fast fingers on a keyboard. All anyone wants to do these days is react-react-react, then move on.

The wondrous ability to enable small voices to be heard has morphed into the endless clamor of millions of voices with nothing to say vying with each other to see who can shout their nothings the loudest.

You’ve fostered a culture of grievance and a something-for-nothing attitude that spills over even into places that attempt to remain civilized.

You are now the center of one endlessly noisy party full of rude, empty-headed drunk-on-their-own-narcissism guests.

And sad to say, that’s not the worst of you.

You’ve used your persuasive charms to become relentlessly, obtrusively commercial. I have nothing against commerce. But tracking every move people make and collecting vast databases just so you can sell to them (or sell them to others!) isn’t commerce. It’s just creepy.

And Internet, what happened to the great freedom fighter who was going to allow us all to route around censors and tyrants? How — how on earth — did the freedom fighter somehow morph into a partner and enabler of tyrants? Why are you helping governments spy on the innocent and propagandize the naive and susceptible? What got into you? How could you do that to those who loved and trusted you?

Now it seems you spend most of your effort pretending to be the host of the world’s biggest, loudest, most boistrous party — while conniving behind the scenes to manipulate us all for nefarious purposes. How could you, Internet? How could you?

There is so much more I could write, so many more fears I have about your character and your intentions. Every day, I want to give up on you. I often feel I’m staying with you only as an addict stays with a drug or a battered spouse stays with an abuser. I find myself making excuses for you (“But the Internet is such a good provider” or “I can take the best while leaving the rest”). Making excuses is always a very bad sign.

But the truth is that even with all I know about you now — everything from your obnoxious, empty partying to your stalking to your incessant deceptions — I don’t really want to break up with you. I want to stay with you and see all your early promise fulfilled.

I want to have hope of better things even as your behavior degrades. I want you to look at yourself and change direction even as I know in the pit of my heart that whatever direction you take from here is likely to be ever more shallow and destructive.

I don’t want to be the one to leave you — even as I increasingly understand that you are not the Internet I fell in love with all those years ago.


  1. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal February 15, 2015 6:26 pm

    The intellectual promise I perceived in you is still there, of course. But increasingly you neglect it.

    That’s not the internet, that’s what people choose to click on. I do both. In fact, the intellectual stuff is where I get caught in the deepest rabbit holes. That is worse for me than cat videos.

    Never forget Unfortunate Truth #1: People are idiots.
    To expect idiots to choose to click on anything other than idiotic stuff is probably unrealistic.

    If the internet as a whole ever becomes more of a burden than a benefit, I don’t think I’ll have trouble walking away. Until that time, I keep changing where I go online, meeting the wants and needs I have now, rather than the ones I had last week. Adapt.

  2. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 15, 2015 6:29 pm

    Eh, we are talking about humanity here, since the Internet is just a reflection of humanity. Your standards are too high, Claire. 🙂

    People are what they are. And truth be told, I’m against improving them. If they want to improve themselves, I’m all for that, but it’s not in my hands.

    Most of the creepiness and inanity would still be in the Internet if we had liberty. The nice thing is that if your Internet neighborhood is becoming too cluttered with trash, it’s easy to move on, and you have the whole Earth for your choice where to go next. That sort of thing is much more difficult in meatspace.

    Drive down a street, what do you see? Sportsbars, mattress vendors, big box stores, fast food joints. You have to explore a bit to find a shop you can appreciate. Same with the Internet…

  3. Claire
    Claire February 15, 2015 6:57 pm

    Keep in mind, guys, that I’m writing about my emotions toward the ‘Net (which is why I chose the form of a “Dear Internet” letter).

    I’m also speaking as someone who has to be online all the time, including as a writer. So it’s not just a matter of choosing to go out and visit this or that ‘Net neighborhood; it’s whether I can remain happy or relevant when the most sought-after online commentary has become increasingly twitter-pated.

  4. Jim B.
    Jim B. February 15, 2015 7:20 pm

    I agree, the mob is dumb.

    I would still access the Net, at least for its communication abilities and references online. There are also some stories that are pretty good to read but wouldn’t be published elsewhere. One such was a story of a female utopian/male horror dystopian world.

  5. Kelsey
    Kelsey February 15, 2015 7:25 pm


    Your excellent interpretation of what the internet has become is prescient. We need look no further than an older bit of technology to view what happens to such technology when self-centered masses accost it with reckless abandon. TV, for example, once gave us a bit of news and much entertainment. Today, news is a sham, and entertainment is what the corporate oligarchs say it will be. That’s why we aren’t “allowed” to watch the Little Rascals or Bugs Bunny even though we might want to.

    Similar scenario with the internet. It’s a threat to some to have a free thinking mass of proletariats devouring pointed topics or phrases such as “It’s too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” Like you, I was enamored with the internet in that it gave the common person the ability to have a say so on nearly anything with nothing more than his/her ability to communicate via English and typing. In other words, it mirrored our Constitution in which we are all created equal. With internet regulation coming, the narcissistic Twitter feeds will be everything and those lone Patriotic voices once so enjoyable to read will be as long gone as balanced and fair journalism. Wouldn’t you love to hear more about K. Kardashian’s posterior? You will with the Twitter feeds and other entertainment portions of the internet running overtime to the exclusion of sane, sound commentary.

    Good column Claire – you put into words the strange feeling that many of us have these days.

  6. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal February 15, 2015 7:28 pm

    Hmmm. I never considered having emotions toward the internet. I have emotions toward some of the people I encounter there, but not toward the internet itself. Sounds like a burden I don’t need. 😉

  7. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 16, 2015 4:53 am

    Not having a cell phone, iPad or any of the rest of the twitterpated gewgaws, I don’t know much about it and have no interest, though I understand that those are tools, like any other, and can be used for any level of good or bad… and each of us have our own definition of good and bad, naturally. 🙂 The key is choice… and personal responsibility.

    My internet use is both very narrow and very broad in different ways. I’ve become quite adept at using the Ixquick search engine, researching far and wide for my writing, for my clients and for my own amusement. I don’t look at much of the “news,” and only read a few select blogs, so don’t see too many “rabbit holes.”

    A tool is what you make of it. As for the spying and marketing, I don’t let it worry me a whole lot – even though they are deplorable. Ad and popup blockers eliminate most of the crap thus generated, and I don’t write anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Not too much different than any society, but it is even easier to avoid the jerks because it requires a click from me to enable them to speak to me.

    The old internet is like any large, open society. It will always include all kinds of people, with all kinds of motives, choices and actions. If anyone wants a different parallel “net,” more private and controlled, let them build it and sell it to others. And I think this is the way it needs to go. The idea of universal access and input is terrific in it’s own way, but that is what has encouraged all of the commercial abuses, as well as enabling more and more government control. There is no such thing as a free lunch…

    Getting “government” out of it is, of course, the key to success with any of that. The controllers, the bureaucrats, the “enforcers” are the fat, black fly in the ointment.

  8. David
    David February 16, 2015 5:11 am

    For me too, the bloom is off the rose.

  9. Mark Matis
    Mark Matis February 16, 2015 5:43 am

    I have no doubt that, should you decide to “divorce” the Internet, broadcast Media will be glad to fill the void with something that is more in line with your preferences.

  10. Pat
    Pat February 16, 2015 6:30 am

    I agree with Claire on this. I’ve seriously considered dropping the Net and have found that doing without is not as painful as I had supposed. I’ve enjoyed going to stores and library again (though not in this weather), and improves my health by more activity.

    The “emotional” part comes from disappointment. To continue her analogy: As the Net became more intimate with us, it started to believe “you-can’t-do-without-me”, so now does what it wants and feels we will always be there for it. This is a problem with some relationships. (And yes, I know the Net isn’t a sentient entity in itself!)

    The truth is, a substitute for the Net /would/ be hard to find. I understand Claire’s need to use the Net for her work. It’s just too bad it is “all or nothing” — always insinuating itself into our lives, or none of it is available. I’m not sure to what extent an earlier technology could fill that need.

  11. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 16, 2015 6:09 pm

    [ it’s whether I can remain happy or relevant when the most sought-after online commentary has become increasingly twitter-pated.]

    Relevant to the masses? Impossible!

    Even with all the irritations, it is still infinitely better than what I did in the old days, going to the library and searching manually though outdated volumes that didn’t offend the sensibilities of the government censor, I mean, librarian.

    Back in the day, when I was a “customer servant”, I took a service trip down to Palo Alto. The guy I was working with there showed me an old DEC-10 mainframe. I asked what they were doing with it, and he told me it was running something called Darpanet…

    At least, I *think* I have that memory. It (my memory) is not too reliable though.

  12. Ellendra
    Ellendra February 16, 2015 6:50 pm

    I’ve gone on “internet hiatus” a few times, and the lack of stress was always welcome but the lack of resources wasn’t. I had better success just culling certain parts of it. Sometimes that meant dropping off a forum even though I had friends I liked there because it was taking too long to keep up with the new posts every day, or refusing to read a blog I enjoyed but that got my dander up too often.

    After the second time I ended up on somebody’s “expectant mother” list, I decided the spying side of things can’t be nearly as accurate as it’s cracked up to be.

  13. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 17, 2015 4:46 pm

    Yeah, I read that Kapersky report about the “Equation Group”. As I mentioned on the Western Rifle Shooters:
    I read the Kapersky report. It appears that:
    1) this kind of exploit, being so complex and expensive to construct, is reserved for use only in the most valuable targets (it is automatically removed from uninteresting computers). Therefore ordinary peons such as ourselves don’t need to worry much.
    2) the exploit targets primarily Windows machines. Who would have guessed that the target machine owners are still using Windows? The idiots! They deserve to be targeted.

    I expect the Chinese and others are going to start demanding the use of Linux or BSD for any serious work in their countries. Probably also will use their economic clout to increase the scrutinizing of open source code against any exploits there that still exist.

  14. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 17, 2015 4:59 pm

    I wonder if there are disk commands to read back the firmware (almost certainly there are, for diagnostic purposes if nothing else). If so, then you should be able to read the firmware into another file off disk and compare it with that of a virgin disk each time you boot or after booting with e.g. Puppy Linux. This should work with flash drives too. Any device using firmware almost certainly has a way to read it back.

  15. LarryA
    LarryA February 17, 2015 5:03 pm

    After the second time I ended up on somebody’s “expectant mother” list, I decided the spying side of things can’t be nearly as accurate as it’s cracked up to be.

    As a writer, and as the alpha geek for a stimulating family, I regularly research things totally unrelated to any thought of making a purchase. Like British military rank insignia circa 1820, and Google-Earthing the port my Navy SIL is visiting. I can feel the internet twitching trying to decide which ads to display.

Leave a Reply