Bored Of The Internet

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 1)


As a long time internet addict, who has spent 20 years online, and 15 years working in the internet industry, I hate to say it, but it is true: I am bored of the Internet.

The thing is, I am quite certain I am not alone in this sentiment. Over the course of the 20 years I have been online, I have seen the Internet transform itself multiple times, so I am not saying it is over for the Internet, I am saying that in its current evolutionary state, the internet is boring as hell.

Not too very long ago, I used to visit up to a dozen portal sites like Digg, and Fark, and Reddit, and a bunch of others on my links page. It used to be that all of these sites would have a slew of cool and interesting things to see and read about, all of them different.  Slowly over time, something changed.  The same content started showing up on all of these filter sites more and more frequently.  It soon got to the point that there really isn’t any need to go to all of these sites, so I don’t. Digg is completely useless since it was sold, Fark is only worth reading for the occasional funny headlines readers come up with, Reddit is a haven for flame wars.  All you really need these days is one website to go to for the cool crap.

For me, I hate to admit it, but it has become Facebook.  I just “like” my favorite sources of info, and links get sent to me.  Too convenient.  Sure not everything worth seeing ends up in my feed, and there is still junk to sort through, but it is as good a filter as I can find, so I use it.

The War for Eyeballs

Still I am not getting as much cool stuff as I used to get when I surfed for it. The pre-meme cool stuff I used to find is still out there, it is just getting harder to find in the noise of pop culture gossip,  sponsored links, and pointless memes that make up the most visited websites today. Why? Because the pop culture gossip and the pointless memes sells the sponsored links.

The joke of making money online has been to follow this business model:
Make something cool
Give it away for free to get traffic
The funny thing is, Google, Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkdin, and a few others have actually followed this model to make billions.  After years of giving away their services for free, often at huge expenses, they managed to find ways to make money once they became famous.

The most important thing is to get that internet traffic, and it is much easier to get that traffic by catering to the masses rather than catering to special interests.  This is why the Internet, which once upon a time was a haven for special interest groups, has become a haven for mass media instead.

I know what you are thinking, it is still a haven for special interest groups.  I know because I am in a couple, but some how a large percentage of the discussion in these special interest groups end up being about mass media topics.

Think about it! Advertisers are finding it just as easy to get their message out online as on traditional media. They lose some control over the message, but still the message gets out. Money talks.

The Paradox of Choice

My thesis is this: The Internet, once dreamed as the ultimate rebellion against mass media and the control of knowledge, has somehow become mass media’s biggest promoter.  I believe it is a consequence of the Paradox of Choice, which I first mentioned in my first Happiness post.

Pretty much any info we want can be found online.  It gives us lots and lots of choices.  Psychological studies conclude that the availability of choices do not make us happier, instead they lead to feeling of loneliness and depression.  It is basic human nature to ignore the choices and find what we are comfortable with, or find a distraction from loneliness and depression we feel from all the choices we make online.

That explains all the cats.  Kinda sad to have this vast source of info, that I hardly use. I should take classes on ItunesU, or download and read classic literature from the Google Library, or read up on random topics on Wikipedia or TED. Somehow cat videos keep getting in the way.

20 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sung about “57 Channels and Nothing On”. Then it became 570 satellite channels and nothing to tivo, then 5700 DVDs and nothing to rent. Today its 57,000,000 videos and nothing to stream.

This is the first in a series on this paradox. Next up, how the Internet is destroying politics and religion.


  • I am sorry if I come across as ignorant or inconsiderate(especially because you’re doing a series with the Paradox of Choice applied to the current state of the internet), but this is my opinion for consideration:

    1. Just because advertisers are popping ads up over the internet more so than before does not automatically mean that people seeing those ads are going to automatically like it.

    And in light of more legal action being taken against big corporations such as Google and Facebook over recent years(including a law made official in recent months of keeping the volume of ads equal to talking level), people are more likely talking about how to ignore or take action against the overwhelming number of ads on the internet.

    In other words, if people on the internet had more choices on what ads they get from who, it would help them be happier with being on the internet.

    2. If any info we want can be found online, any choice made on finding that info is going to give us at least some level of comfort because of some level of clarity.

    And even though we do often choose what we are most comfortable with out of possibly countless choices(the choice of None of the Above is also included here), that does not mean that every choice anyone makes has a option that that same person will like.

    In other words, probably any info online falls under one of these three categories for anyone looking for it:

    A. Info that someone will not like to know regardless of how that same person chooses how to see it.

    B. Info preferred by someone from one source rather than another.

    C. Info with no preference by someone.

    In the case of A, anyone would most likely choose the None of the Above choice by making their own personal conclusion and so would be happier with that choice.

    In the case of B, anyone would most likely choose the preferred choice and so would be happier with that choice.

    And only in the case of C, less choices would be preferable to anyone because of not being able to easily choose from the choices being given and so would lead to a negative impact regardless of what choice is chosen.

    • On topic 1, it is not the ads per se that are bad, it is what sites are willing to do or not do in order to get the ad revenue. Mostly they cater to the masses, which means they focus on the popular, or whats hot. How do they determine whats hot? By looking at what is hot on other web sites. Suddenly every website has a picture of Taylor Swift on the home page.

      On topic 2, individual choices can easily be dealt with, but the sheer number of choices to choose from is what is really overwhelming.

      • Well, you bring up some interesting counterpoints that mostly makes both topics look like second rate conclusions.

        The only thing that you might have overlooked is what I said in other words on topic 1, which already is along the lines of blaming the way ads are being spread across the internet these days. I guess I just was not clear enough there.

        Through your counterpoints though, it is a bit more clear to me what your points are. And in light of this, I find myself agreeing with most of your points.

        If the internet stays as mainstream as it is now, that is not a good thing.

        Ironically though, with more views of formerly ignored minorities in recent years accepted by most people and at least some mainstream media, I think most sites on the internet will overtime improve in content if not in diversity.

  • Phew, for a moment I thought it was me who was getting old, but its the Internet itself. Can’t agree with you more…

  • It’s not the number of choices, but that one choice is always relentlessly pushed into our faces, and most people reject having this choice pushed onto them. That’s why people fled from mass-media to the internet in the first place. Now that the mass-media has made internet ™ their playing ground by suing anyone who dares to provide a choice they (mass media) don’t like, the internet has become stale. It’s the same old story, and the challenge is to find that one spot the mass media can’t reach.

  • Disillusioned maybe, but bored?

    Capitalisation of the internet was inevitable. I’m surprised, if anything, that it didn’t happen sooner. It simply offered too many ways to be exploited to be ignored. The one thing that it still has, and for me keeps it interesting, is an accessible platform for anyone to express themselves and their ideas. It’s still the ‘global village’, it just has billboards like any other.
    It is sad that the pioneer days are over (28.8K ISA anyone?), but apart from those of us that struggled on with it in those early days, I doubt anyone knows it was any different.

  • I agree with you on most of your points, though I am far too antiqueated to give a hoot about memes and cats and whatever trends pop-up on line. I believe that’s what AdBlock and hateful comments are for.

    To me, the only site for content I go to is Youtube or Cracked. Youtube has rennovated itself recently that you can eliminate the content you don’t care about in favor of what you want to watch. 2 simple clicks and I don’t have to bother with the latest One Direction video or the most recent video to go viral. I know what content I like to see and I go look for it.

    On a side note, Ariane, you don’t happen to know the site, do you? It’s a great site with tons of witty articles about various topics ranging from Movies to History, Videogames to Science or Pop Culture to Sociological, more meaningful ones. If you’re looking for insight and ver witty writing, please give a try sometime. 🙂
    Also, try this article:

    • I am very familiar with Cracked. Waste a lot of time there. Back in the late 70’s as a kid one of my favorite books to read was the “Book of Lists”. Cracked is the internet version of that book.

  • I like this post. I remember being young and bouncing around from one new website to another. Now I seem to spend a lot of time following the same sites I’ve read for years.

    I had Yahoo Groups, then Journal sites, then Tumblr, now Facebook and Google+. Seems like now the sites themselves are about streams of intrusive content. I’m a little wistful for a simple 1998-era homepage that doesn’t try to update, it just is.

    Maybe I should build one.

  • This isn’t just the Internet, it’s western society in general. Same old crap with a 2013 pricetag. Everybody wants the same consumer garbage that does the same thing as the crap they bought last year, but does its job slightly better. The radio only plays songs from the last six months. Cinema is nothing but sequels or reboots or bald-faced clones of classic movies. Even /b/ of all places is spewing thread after thread of the same unfunny forced memes or whatever talking point is doing the rounds this week.

    I don’t feel overwhelmed by choices, I feel like I have NO choice because every choice is the same, and it’s not the one I want. So I do go and browse wikipedia and read up on the SR-71 Blackbird, and how it actually flies like a bag of hammers until you hit top speed, when the air friction heats up the skin of the aircraft and all the panels expand and mesh together perfectly.

    The Blackbird is just another metaphor for the modern age. No jet in the modern age even comes close to the technical accomplishment of the Skunk Works of 1966. The Curiosity rover is a big deal, but they weren’t any more confident of it landing safely than the Russians were in 1971 when the Mars 2 lander failed to deploy it’s chute. This isn’t nostalgia talking either – I was born in 1988.

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