We Cant Save the Old Internet (But Lets Try Anyway)

Anyone chronically online knows about the “old internet”, both the literal old internet and the nostalgia bait, nouveau “old internet” that is populated by contrarian hipsters (such as myself) who desire nothing more than to make front end shit again. Both are enigmas in their own right, with the actual old internet being a time capsule from when millennials were zoomers, 9/11 defined the era, and Moore’s law was actually believed to be true.

I personally do not know the true old internet, merely it’s aesthetic and some knowledge of how things worked during the time. I am a zoomer. I grew up in the 2010s when the biggest things were YouTube, Minecraft, and the ever-unholy Smartphone. To jaded, low-life millennials, I am cancerous mockery of what the old internet used to be; to many younger zoomers I am an anachronistic Luddite stuck in the past for not using software that causes horrible addictions and suicides. Because of my lack of knowledge of the old internet, but knowledge of how bad the new internet is, I find myself in a strange middle ground that most young neocities users, Luke Smith followers, and small web supporters do: We’re suffering from a form of internet anemoia.

Internet Anemoia

Internet anemoia, in the modern era, is a return to the past internet by those who have never lived in it. This site is a product of Internet anemoia, and so are many others ran by the youth on neocities. Hell, there’s even an entire game you can play that simulates this time period in all of its stank, 90s glory. However, a big question must be asked when assessing this phenomenon: Are the products of internet anemoia merely recapturing an aesthetic of the time, or is there something more?

Now, I should mention that the above statement linguistically implies a form of mutual exclusion, however, there is none present. There is a lot more to why I design my site in the way I do than just capturing the aesthetic (but don’t be fooled, the aesthetic is a big reason why I design my site in the way I do). In fact, the reason I have a website at all (rather than a substack or twitter) is crux to understanding what the more sophisticated form of internet anemoia is:

The more sophisticated form of internet anemoia is a desire to return to a time when websites were run and operated by independent people or groups for the goal of personal expression, or at the very minimum, unique branding. This was a time when web pages were actually documents of text and images that you could read rather than “interact” with. The most interaction you could do on the web would be in the form of an HTML form sending POST request. Email and IRC was the most “social” media could be and things just weren’t that serious.

At its core, the internet of the past was a much more human affair. It was personal, raw, and, frankly, shitty, but in a good way. Everyone had a dinky little site dressed up to how they liked it with what they liked. It’s a digital form of one of those run-down, but cozy towns. Remember, what I’m describing isn’t nostalgia, because if it was just nostalgia, then I, someone who never saw the era, would not feel as I do. No, instead, the internet of that era was just more human.

Now, this time period of the web might not even have existed (we’ll get to that). Even if it did, it was obviously not sustainable long term. If it was sustainable it would have never gone away. The modern nouveau “old internet” effectively is just a nerd’s wet dream of a better time wrapped in a nostalgia-bait aesthetic. Yet still, the old internet was good, the nerds mock it for a reason, so, perhaps, there is something of value in there.

The old Internet as just a Noble Lie

It’s possible that the “old web” isn’t real. The old web, instead, is just the things that sticks out between the new web and the old web that people pick up on. Obviously, things are more corporate these days than they used to be, similarly, things were blockier and less polished back in the day. However, there’s likely a mountain of garbage that we are just unaware of lurking in the old web, waiting to be discovered. Anyone I’ve met who supports “the old web” has never really gone on a comprehensive deep dive of the time period using objective measurements and uncovered all the things that were craptastic from the past (including myself). Currently, we don’t have “early web historians” documenting what geocities was actually like given the context of the era. No one I know of knows what web hosting was like at the time, or what PHP from that era was like. We just have people telling tales of what they remember from the time, especially when comparing them to the new state of the world, but the true state of the old web only lives as a patchwork of anecdotes and memories that mesh together to form a vague picture.

Given that there is no reason not to believe that the old web is real, we have to grapple with a strange question: Is the old web a noble lie? That is, is the old web actually a myth in its conception? If it is a myth, is it a good myth that makes us strive for something better? While the jury is out on the question of the old web’s true nature, there is something to be said about the story of the old web and its values: They’re something desirable once you boil out all the particulars.

A desire for something more

The old web, once you boil away all the nostalgia, antique looks, and (possible) misremembering of the time, you get a very simple vision that, most, would probably see as desirable. That vision is for a web that focuses on self-expression, decentralization, and transacting between individuals and small groups in a person-to-person way.

Now, this concept instinctively evokes ideas of “old web”-esque websites that promote strange things like “Linux”, “Matrix”, and “Mastodon”, however, once you push those thoughts aside and tackle the core of the topic, you may see that some aspects of this have survived to the modern era, and it’s just a matter of putting these pieces back together. Similarly, there are things that are things on the web that, necessarily, go against this ethos and must be destroyed to pursue the core of the old web.

An Archeofuturist Web

Archeofuturism, coined by Guillaume Faye in his book of the same title, posits that there must be a reconciliation of technoscience with the values of the old. This description accurately describes the mentality people must adopt if they’d like to bring back what matters of the old web rather than just creating a new aesthetic to consume. If people want to bring back what matters from the old internet, they need to find a way to merge new internet technologies with older ones, preserve what is good and works, and kill bad technologies whenever possible. Only then can we put some humanity back into the internet.

What has stuck around and works

There are many things that have stood the test of time on the internet. You shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, especially if what you might be fixing has survived 30 years in a quickly changing environment. These things, in some form or fashion, have done something right and should stick around for everyone’s sake.

What has stuck around and must die

Some old things are just bad and need to die. These things have been carried over and sustained for quite some time, but, for one reason or another, need to be replaced now that we have better systems.

What is new and should stick around

What is new and must die

Of course, a lot has gone wrong in the modern internet. That much is obvious, so, I will only tackle the things people don’t talk about too often.