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How to Escape the Internet
Is that air you're breathing now?
The internet is too big. What originated as a way to share documents between universities, and evolved into a wild west of creativity, has now become an all consuming societal monolith. I barely remember the days before the internet, so I hope to assure you this isn’t a nostalgia fueled rant about the good old days. Having all of human knowledge at our fingertips has revolutionized everything. Knowledge is no longer jealously guarded by a privileged few. It is open and free for the taking, ask and you shall receive. The common man can be as well informed as his elite counterpart. Knowledge is power, but every blessing comes with a set of curses. The “forbidden fruit” paradox is in full affect. Now that the only thing between you and knowledge is time and self discipline, the knowledge is left to gather dust. The choice is made, what your friends are eating for lunch is deemed more important than what great men accomplished in the annals of history. The truth is drowned in a sea of lies.
Mega-corporations are the bane of modern man. Most every sector of our world is held in the grip of one entity or a few. But is it really a choice when they all want the same thing? George Carlin said,
“A formal conspiracy is not needed when interests converge.”
Much like our political parties, we are given the illusion of choice. Apple vs. Microsoft will keep the citizenry arguing for years, but the truth is they both spy on you, harvest your data, and sell it to the highest bidder.
Silicon Valley is known for holding an iron grip on the internet. The life-blood of our society runs through one suburb in southern California. But they control a much greater treasure. The monopoly of focus. Log onto Facebook, browse Reddit, watch Youtube, you’re told if the service is free, you are the product. Your data is valuable no doubt, but you’re paying with something much more valuable, your attention. You are what you think about, and you are not immune to propaganda.
We need to build our own platforms, this is the rallying cry. But I’ve soured on this idea. I look to Gab as an example. Gab is a Twitter/X alternative, and has been quite successful. I harbor no ill will towards Gab, and I hold its founder, Andrew Torba, in the highest regard. His refusal to bow in the face of insurmountable odds should be the template for everyone facing down the powers that be. Gab is built from the ground up, banned from all app stores, its founder is unabashedly Christian, and bans all forms of pornography from its platform. Yet it has found success. But it remains a Twitter alternative. It’s nice to exist on a platform where free speech is honored, and I can sleep better knowing I’m not selling my soul to a faceless corporation but it’s still Twitter. Twitter excels in hot takes, outrage, headlines, and little context. To put it simply Twitter is not worth your time. The problem is not who’s running the circus, but the circus itself. We need something new.
I wish the problem ended there, but we’ve been staring into the void for so long, it has started to stare back. AI isn’t a new idea. The technology has been present for decades, but we’ve lacked two things, processing power and data. Thanks to moor’s law the former has come to pass, and we’ve gifted the latter through our collective negligence. What we call AIs are advanced pattern recognition algorithms, it can talk like a human only because we’ve been talking to each other online for decades. AI is a blind idiot, it can walk because we have shown it the way. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it was created with small parts of each of us. Now these creations have been unleashed, they lurk in the background watching us with sleepless eyes. The algorithm, its true motives remain unknown, is at the beck and call of its masters in Silicon Valley. When you are watching Youtube, you aren’t simply giving it your attention, you are letting something in.
The Dead Internet Theory
You can’t trust anything. Not the pictures you see, the words you read, or the videos you watch. The dead internet theory postulates that most of the content you see online is AI generated. From YouTube comments, to news articles, and social media accounts, how do we really know what is real? AI passed the Turing test with flying colors, and the images it creates are increasingly difficult to spot. I hesitate to say that 99% of all content online is AI generated, but here is the real problem, it could be. We have no reliable discernment mechanism. Is that news article real or fake? Is this social media outrage coming from real people? Or is it AI chatter? Have you really come to this conclusion, or are you caught in a web of AI generated manipulation? Is that air you’re breathing now?
I can’t tell you the extent of AI’s abilities. No one can. But we can say with certainty what its strengths are. It can identify patterns that no human being could ever see. Social media weaponized algorithms for years to keep you scrolling. The best way to keep people scrolling? Outrage. It knows who you are and knows exactly what news articles will make you angry. Could AI be tuned to make people depressed? Feel hopeless? What about suicidal?
Before you throw your computer into the trash and go live in a cabin in the woods, I ask that you hear me out. Complete rejection of the internet is not the best course of action. It remains the single greatest source of knowledge ever created by mankind. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. But use with caution, because here be dragons.
The Internet, a Practical Approach
I’ve been wrestling with the internet for many years, here are some easy steps you can take to minimize its influence.
Not a true solution but good advice nonetheless, you look pale.
Use an ad-blocker
I have told many people to install an ad blocker. And I almost always receive a blank, my brain has been fried by the chemicals in the water, stare. The internet is borderline unusable without an ad blocker. It’s quick, easy, and free. Please do yourself a favor and never see another ad again.
I recommend uBlock Origin - https://ublockorigin.com/
You’re reading this post, so you’re already taking a step away from the matrix. Substack is something new, and something old. The old internet was a collection of private blogs and pages. A culture of sharing and individuality grew in these early days. It was common practice to link from your website to other private websites you enjoyed. Yes, Substack is a centralized version of this idea, but credit where it is due. Substack’s success is in three parts:
Favoring thoughtful content over reactionary content
Simplicity, Substack is easy to use as both reader and writer
User supported, not ad supported
It’s not perfect, I’m not encouraged by their “notes” feature as it feels too much like Twitter. But if they hold to the three tenants above, Substack will remain a bastion of interesting conversation in a wasteland of hot-takes and cat pictures.
Don’t use social media
I understand how difficult this is for some people. But Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. are too insidious to ignore. The issue is social media has become the primary form of communication for friend groups, it is for my friends. Break free, I’ve done it, be a trailblazer, your friends won’t follow you but you can keep up with them in other ways. Texting is still the most useful form of telecommunication, or you could man up and call them, I don’t, but you could be better. Show up at their houses unannounced at odd hours, anything to exercise social media from your life.
RSS, or how to get rid of refresh fatigue
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is an often overlooked part of the internet. It’s a protocol that is designed to check when a website has been updated. Almost all websites still have an RSS feed and taking advantage of it can be a powerful tool. Stop drifting around your usual internet haunts, getting distracted, falling down rabbit holes, and generally wasting your time. Instead you can use an RSS program, subscribe to everything you want to keep track of, including YouTube channels and Substacks. Now instead of mindlessly scrolling, check your RSS reader once and move on with your day.
These are the RSS readers I use
In my early childhood, I remember hearing the now disregarded internet common sense. The rules were simple, don’t post personal details, don’t think people are who they say they are, and don’t believe everything you read. This reads like a cruel joke knowing how the internet is used today. We can’t stop ourselves from posting personal info, in fact, it is expected. We never stopped to think about the consequences and now we are paying the price. The algorithm knows us better than we know ourselves. Everyone knows their data is being harvested, and the punchline is no one seems to care. The dystopian future is already here and we’ve embraced it with open arms. Silicon Valley has power only because we gave it to them. Only now have we noticed this scorpion on our back has a stinger.
The internet is a dragon, and if you are not a dragon slayer it will burn you alive.