Enshittification Blues

The internet sucks lately. Well, not lately. There has been a rot that has been setting in for years, now more accelerated by rising interest rates making “free money” technology ventures very unpopular and risky. What we’re seeing today is what Cory Doctorow famously coins as Enshittification. Quoting him directly from that link:

Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

Cory Doctorow

His essay specifically describes this phenomenon on TikTok but its really infested many reaches of the internet. Some prominent examples include:

Turns out that when interest rates creep up, these so called stewards of the internet realize they can and will milk the internet for every last penny. Who cares if the user’s experience is made worse? Where do they have to go? At least that’s the thinking in the short term. Mastodon and Bluesky are two up and coming projects to replace Twitter with a deep focus on federation and decentralization. Lemmy is a federated, open source reddit alternative. These ideas have a lot of hurdles to overcome, such as moderation, infrastructure spending and long term expansion plans.

However as a regular user I have to say: this really sucks. The internet I grew up on in the late 90s and 00s was pretty much dead by the middle of the last decade, replaced by these giant social powerhouses. However even those have lost a lot of their core value propositions that have made them, and many other services totally unusable. As someone practically raised on engagement with the internet, seeing all of the services and culture that I love slowly (and even very rapidly) disappear has genuinely left me in a sour mood lately. I don’t really know what I can do about it other than run my small, informal little corner of the internet and hold out hope that some of the alternatives might take off.

Another possibility is that maybe this is just a hard withdrawal from a social media era that needed to die anyways. After all, people are moving into smaller, easier to moderate, more curated audiences to avoid trolls, helicopter parents, invasive employers and others to vibe with a closer circle of friends and acquaintances on more specific topics. Discord excels at this but also any platform that supports closed group chats. I am very much in sync with this Verge article titled “So where are we all supposed to go now?” which states:

As far as how humans connect to one another, what’s next appears to be group chats and private messaging and forums, returning back to a time when we mostly just talked to the people we know. Maybe that’s a better, less problematic way to live life. Maybe feed and algorithms and the “global town square” were a bad idea.

And maybe its true. Maybe this was always a fleeting era of exploding out neurons full of dopamine in a culture already over saturated with appearances and “brand engagement”. It could be for the better than we’re moving beyond the social area. I am not going to mourn the social web disintegrating, in a lot of ways its responsible for how much of a trash heap the internet has become. I am afraid that we’re heading towards cable-package style siloing of internet experiences into small little channels for neat little demographics and I think the over-corporatization of the internet is going to get worse and worse.

All of that said, at the end of the day I will still have my little corner of the internet here where I can vent my feelings into the wind, perhaps to only be read by large language models dutifully ingesting my hot takes. In the end at least I have some control over my tiny little platform, and maybe that’s all I can hope for.