This week, I am feeling pessimistic about the internet. Yes, it is because I started reading Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror.
My theory is that we are all holding out for The Next Internet — the one that feels better than the intermittent dungeon of Instagram infinite scroll, which I can’t help falling into and don’t quite know how to get out of:
“In front of the timeline...we exhibit classic reward-seeking lab-rat behavior, the sort that’s observed when lab rats are put in front of an unpredictable food dispenser. Rats will eventually stop pressing the lever if their device dispenses food regularly or not at all. But if the lever’s rewards are rare and irregular, the rats will never stop pressing it. In other words, it is essential that social media is mostly unsatisfying. That is what keeps us scrolling.” (source)
Sometimes it feels like we’ve idled at an unfortunate truck stop on the path to deep technological interconnectedness, but the truck stop is, in fact, the destination we’ve been throttling toward, the outcome we designed for:
“I’ll sit there like a rat pressing the lever, like a woman repeatedly hitting myself on the forehead with a hammer, masturbating through the nightmare until I finally catch the gasoline whiff of a good meme.” (source)
Can we un-design for this? Can we trace back our steps? Are there any good things left on the internet? Can we do anything to fix what we have? Today, jobs on this topic.
128 is trying to make the infrastructure of the internet work better as as a transportation system.
Here’s what I understand about the issue they’re trying to fix. (1) The internet is like a postal service that follows strange rules: when you type an email, the first thing the courier (router) must do is rip up the email into small pieces, called packets, to make them easier to transport. Couriers throw those packets around to other couriers — a big game of frisbee across the net — optimizing the path at each node until every packet reaches its destination. But (2), this system is rickety and old. It’s built for information transport rather than application sessions, and routers aren’t very smart couriers. Sometimes packets get lost, and additional hardware with limited flexibility is required to train the couriers to sort safe vs unsafe packets (i.e., a firewall). So (3), it seems like 128 Technology is basically giving routers a brain and offering corporate IT professionals control over that brain to make their internal business networks work better.
They are hiring engineers, a product marketing manager, and more.
Complexly makes fun videos.
This is the organization behind Crash Course AP US History and Crash Course AP Biology. When Hank and John Green dreamed up these video series, their imagined use case was probably “people will watch to add nuance to class lectures." But just by virtue of being real people ranting about the civil war in a living room, Crash Course filled a deeper need. It (1) became a superior replacement to almost any form of secondary-school knowledge consumption, and (2) split open the archetype of nerd to include anyone who purported to be thoughtful about anything. This was a best-case cumulation of Web 2.0 in many ways: niche personality broadcast at scale to show the wonder of information. Today, they’re taking this approach to a broader portfolio that includes shows like Journey to the Microcosmos, 100 Days Fitness Journey, How to Adult, and more.
They are hiring a host for one of their shows. This is truly exciting, and I hope someone applies. Let me know if you do!
The EFF is shaping the future of the internet via policy.
The space of possible future internets is large. A short soliloquy on questions up in the air, starting with the obvious: what are we going to do with the fact that our internet micro-movements are jotted down by big companies who seem, at the moment, pretty untamable by any of the larger entities we’ve built to enforce societal order? Also, in the 2050s, will 23andMe be able to sell my genome to nefarious non-state actors? What about to a health insurance company that wants to raise my premiums? Or to Facebook, so that it can offer me genetically-calibrated matches on its new Dating app? Will Facebook, by that time, have removed every ounce of friction from their product lines such that all user workflows are, at best, lullingly catatonic and, at worse, totally encompassing? EFF is asking about stuff like that.
They are hiring staff attorneys, developers, and interns.
Automattic wants to design for thoughtfulness on the internet.
This is another example of something on the internet that makes me nostalgic. I’m from the midwest, and when I was younger, scrolling through my Tumblr feed is kind of what I imagined it felt like to walk through New York City. A zillion permutations of identity in a small space: floral backdrops set to Mayday Parade lyrics, Virginia Woolf soliloquies, depressive GIFs, Harry Potter fan-fiction, porn. Somehow, the site is about the assertion of worlds more than the development of hostility between them. How many other places have cultivated this? And imagine trying to design for it. To get honesty, you need anonymity, but you have to build features that push anonymity into reflection and not vitriol. It takes the right community incentives, a deliberate set of early-adopters to set the tone. This is the sort of challenge Automattic has always been working on: they’re behind Tumblr, Wordpress, Longreads, and more.
They are hiring in engineering, business development, and marketing.
And a special shoutout to…
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