Friday, June 21, 2024

“I’m 30 years old and I miss the old internet. Send beautiful people, like everywhere “

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The Internet is changing so fast that there are already people in their 30s who longingly remember another era. The Franco-Moroccan journalist Marie Le Conte has written a 300-page book to lament these changes. It’s called Escape. How a generation shaped, destroyed and survived the internet (so far only in English). Le Conte has analyzed the changes in the internet between the first two decades of the 21st century.

The result is a useful cultural history of the Net: ”The Internet is like an old great bar. You discover it by accident, you see that it is wonderful, you tell your friends, they tell theirs, the drinks become more expensive, it fills up every night and you feel that it was great because hardly anyone knew it, ”he writes. She is still in that bar now, entertained, but sitting in a corner, more alone.

EL PAIS has spoken by videoconference with Le Conte, who has lived in London since 2009, where he works in political journalism. His life on the internet began centered on blogs about indie music. The network became an anonymous place to find friends, some fame and even sex. Today, that clutter has disappeared in favor of algorithms, influencers and more passive consumption. All this does not imply that the journalist has fled. The Internet is still “my home”, she says, but it is no longer an intimate and cozy space, but rather “flat, boring and lifeless”. Internet was not real life and now it is. In his conversation with this newspaper, Le Conte explained some of the most important points of his book.

I have a new book coming out on September 1! It’s called Escape, and it’s about being part of the first ever generation who got to grow up online, at a point when the internet was new and fresh and ever-changing.

1. The nostalgia for the place of the geeks

“I have identified two periods of the internet,” explains Le Conte, “in my formative years it was very much a place for people who weren’t very sharp in real life: they were very weird, they didn’t have many friends, and their hobbies were weird. ”. The author includes herself on that list: “So we all ended up in that different space because in real life we ​​weren’t doing well,” she adds.

Those years were for a microgeneration born between 1985 and 1995 approximately. They were the ones who shared adolescence with the Internet, created in 1989. It was already a popular place, even Amazon, Google and Facebook were born, but life was in forums and blogs that were also read only on the home computer.

In the second decade, everything changed: “The second phase probably started in early 2010. That’s when literally everyone else joined us. All of a sudden, spending all your time online became completely normal,” she recalls.

It was when they “invaded” the bar. Being on the internet was no longer special. That distinction between digital and real was whittled down to zero: “Real life and the internet in early 2020 finally completely merged into one world,” he says. Everything that happens or is said on the internet is already real, has consequences at work or in private life and is linked to your identity forever.

2. The lucky microgeneration

One afternoon in 2007, at the age of 15, Le Conte lived through a “boring” experience of the 20th century. He organized a concert with small bands in his hometown: “What we did was basically piss off my father by printing a lot of brochures on his printer. Then we went to distribute them to the cool parts of the city. At that time it was still the only way to spread the word”, he recalls.

This era of streaming porn was a bigger change than the internet in general.

The lucky microgeneration of the journalist saw the last breaths of the previous era. Furthermore, they were young enough to use the Internet as a controlled laboratory of adolescence. First, they were anonymous: “We had this infinite capacity to reinvent ourselves. Because of the culture at the time, you didn’t use your real name online, but you could also use different pseudonyms on MySpace and in a Messenger forum.”

And second, that anonymity meant that the distance between digital and real life was enormous. Nothing splashed on the other side: ”I did a lot of stupid things online when I was young and got into a lot of stupid fights. None ever made it to the real world.”

To these two online features was added a physical one: the iPhone did not yet exist or had barely been developed. Internet was something that happened at home: “I already had a cell phone and could send text messages. But I didn’t have internet. That, in hindsight, strikes me as the perfect balance. That is a world that I really miss: having almost everything from the internet, but also leaving it behind when I leave the house,” he says.

3. The porn was a frozen trout

The chapter on the discovery of sex and porn is perhaps the one that best illustrates this leap between that internet and the current one. At the age of 12, in 2003, Le Conte and a group of friends played a contest to “find the weirdest porn on the internet”. The results today would be impossible to describe in a newspaper. But at the time they found videos starring a frozen trout, men dressed as pterodactyls (from the waist up) and a rotten sheep’s head (the journalist won with this one).

The journalist remembers those discoveries as something positive for her training. She helped him discover that world, with the collaboration of her mother, who answered any question she had. She didn’t strike him as a terrible influence.

But as I was writing I changed my mind. She had been suffocated once for sexual play, without her obvious consent. “The chapter was going to have a positive conclusion, but I looked at the data and I saw that I couldn’t pretend that this is good. I’m sure it’s not just choking, it’s very extreme events that have become commonplace,” she says.

Le Conte also sees a generational divide: “When I was a child, pornography was everywhere, but it was in pop-up windows or images or videos that took a million years to download. Whereas if she had been five years younger, suddenly all the porn pages were there. This era of streaming for porn was a bigger change than the internet in general, because sex has always been on the internet throughout history. But now it’s a matter of volume,” she explains.

4. The arrival of the handsome and when everything changed

The expansion of porn was just a symptom. But the author sees several progressive moments that are difficult to define: when we all jumped to Facebook, when Tumblr ceased to be a niche network. But more key was when bloggers gave way to influencers. About this step, Le Conte has an elaborate theory: “If you were a blogger, you did it because you liked to share your life excessively and make friends online. While influencers want money, they want success and fame in real life. This shows the change in internet culture: from wanting to write my thoughts and hopefully get some followers, to basically being a failure if the big fashion brands don’t send you thousands of euros worth of clothes.”

It was as if the internet became the typical American high school movie

But his most refined hypothesis about the moment when the internet became the real world is “when the handsome ones arrived.” ”There are studies that show that attractive people have a more pleasant life. That is in the data, I do not invent anything, ”she assures. At first, in a pre-Instagram network, this prevalence did not exist. “The rise of Instagram marked that change: ‘Oh God, we’re doing it again, we’ve reinvented that beautiful people are popular.’ They’re men and women, and they’re really beautiful and they’re boring, and it was like the internet turned into your typical American high school movie.”

5. The algorithm is like my cat

“People 10 years younger have grown up in an internet that I don’t recognize,” writes Le Conte: “I was talking about it with a friend recently and we felt older.”

She uses Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and most other common apps, but has marked TikTok as her border: “I don’t like it. I’m never going to have TikTok on my phone because I tried and I hate that it doesn’t let you search or watch what you want. It is fully algorithm driven. It’s incredibly frustrating. I am the human. You can suggest things to me, but you can’t dictate what I see,” she says. The most common use of TikTok is not focused on who you follow or on specific preferred topics, but on what the algorithm decides.

Le Conte doesn’t want the TikTok algorithm to decide for her. Instead, in the book she explains how the algorithms that recommend ads or other content have entered her life. As an original reader of blogs, which basically depended on the will of the user, she sees algorithm-driven recommendation engines as an unnecessary, albeit cute, addition. For the journalist, her algorithm is “like a pet.”

“I am aware that there are people in Silicon Valley who want to control my movements to sell me things, but they are far away and irrelevant,” he writes. “My algorithm, on the other hand, is small and is here with me; I preferred my life online when I was alone and could decide everything, but they have not given me a choice. Now I have a companion on my travels and I take it personally when he’s not paying attention to me, which is often.” It’s like your cat, add.

6. But the internet is still my only home

Le Conte has not taken advantage of this speech to abandon the internet and focus on the real world. Can not. It is still her house, less pleasant, but unique. “I still really enjoy spending basically all my time on the internet, even though it has also improved my life in the real world. The tension for me is between the fact that the internet is no longer the home I used to feel, but at the same time it’s still my home and there’s nowhere I’d rather be, I guess.”

“As a space it’s not as fun and liberating as it used to be, now it’s shrunk more, it’s flatter. But it is still, I would say, at least for me, something that has a positive impact on my life”, she adds.

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