It’s great that the internet is big business now and all, because we can make our living from it, or part of a living anyway, so that’s nice. But for me, there’s a sadness there, too. It’s tied up with the two possible ends a website could come to, both bittersweet. If a new website (or other online tool) fails to attract a large audience, it’s considered a failure, and is abandoned by its backers, who have moved on in search of something more profitable. And it it does attract an audience, then it becomes official, a place where people come to do serious business, and you are expected to do the same. Your actions there are no longer considered experimental or “virtual” but are instead inseparable from your actions anywhere else. They become an expression of your core identity.
The result is the awful kind of congenial politeness you find in offices with low-to-moderate morale, or neighborhood newsletters. Just as you don’t talk about your personal problems at work, you studiously erase any stray lines of personality on these serious-business sites. You post a headline with a link; you say how excited you are to be in a city; you share some small annoyance during your day. You don’t do anything confusing, or playful, or expressive. No weird shit. Keep it light. Everyone’s watching.
The monetization of online space is a big part of this, of course, but the web’s fundamental openness, generally a good thing, is also to blame. You could do these things on a closed e-mail list, or a private Tumblr, or a rigidly friends-locked Facebook account - though not really, and ultimately everyone will want to know why they can’t friend you on the big new social thing - or you could go anonymous or pseudonymous - but then of course if you’re too good at it someone will want to “unmask” (fun term there!) you and you might as well have posted under your real name. Unless you take extraordinarily elaborate precautions, these actions are still tethered to a stable, professional identity you’ve developed, and if they get out into the wild could complicate the image you’ve spent years making hireable.
And besides, the openness is what makes it fun, or at least fun in a different way from writing a photocopied zine no one reads. You’re doing a thing and people you know can find it and join in, and play too. The problem is that you can’t control who finds it; you need to either become the kind of person who just says whatever they want in public and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, or you become a casual cipher. This was not always the way, here online, and maybe this is all nothing-gold-can-stay melodrama. But it’s hard not to feel like something’s been lost.