Alexander Hellene

A Dog on a Skateboard

I can still recall my seventh-grade shop class teacher telling us all about the Internet. The teacher was an asshole, and this was 1994 or so, so the Internet was still a faint glimmer in the eye of every future anime avatar, but it sure sounded kind of exciting.

Why were we learning about this in shop? For starters, yes, we were taught stuff like how to operate a bandsaw and build CO2 rockets, but the class was technically called Industrial Arts or something like that, and we did a wide variety of sometimes fun projects, including playing Dinosaur Park Tycoon and SimCity, which were somehow educational.

Anyway, our teacher was explaining how the Internet would work. Anyone, anyone of us, could create a thing called a “Home Page” detailing all the stuff that we liked. Some of the words could be these things called “Hyperlinks” which, when clicked, would go to another “Website” or show a “Picture” of what the word described. If you were into baseball, for example, and your favorite team was the Red Sox, clicking the word “Red Sox” might bring you to a picture of Wade Boggs or whomever. It sounded awesome, but even at the time, seventh-grade me also thought it kind of pointless. To what end would people be making these “Home Pages” for? Why put all of this stuff about you out there where, presumably, anyone could access it?

Little did I know that a mere few decades later people could pay mortgages on expensive homes by sharing pictures of their netherparts.

In any event, we even got to use the Internet! The dial-up sound cracked us all up and we regaled each other with our best renditions of those unforgettable sounds of data being transferred over telephone lines. I remember one classmate, who is currently a famous musician you’ve likely heard of, spending something like 45 minutes waiting for MTV.com to load.

Heady days, when Generation Y still had hopes that the future was going to be totally excellent.

I miss those days, you know? Not just for the optimism and innocence of my personal youth, or society as a whole, but for what the Internet could be.

It was supposed to be a passing fad, remember? Late night talk show hosts like David Letterman (remind me to tell you the connection between the sleepy New England hamlet I grew up on and Mr. Letterman sometime) were making fun of the fact that TV commercials now advertised the company’s website. “What’s the point of going to Colgate.com?” the gap-toothed one sneered.

That was obviously not the case. But for a while, when young people of my vintage used the Internet mostly to play online games, join message boards of co-hobbyists or see new stuff about movies, or chat with friends to make plans to go swimming or bike riding or what have you. It was all rather very sweet, and nobody figured it’d result in literal crazy people dictating national and global policy.

This article from Erica Pandey and Mike Allen of Axios made me wish I could use the Internet like that again. Called “The new silent majority: People who don’t tweet,” it provides some numbers detailing how the majority of Internet users actually use the Internet:

Most people you meet in everyday life — at work, in the neighborhood — are decent and normal. Even nice. But hit Twitter or watch the news, and you’d think we were all nuts and nasty.

Why it matters: The rising power and prominence of the nation’s loudest, meanest voices obscures what most of us personally experience: Most people are sane and generous — and too busy to tweet.

Reality check: It turns out, you’re right. We dug into the data and found that, in fact, most Americans are friendly, donate time or money, and would help you shovel your snow. They are busy, normal and mostly silent.

These aren’t the people with big Twitter followings or cable-news contracts — and they don’t try to pick fights at school board meetings.

So the people who get the clicks and the coverage distort our true reality.

Three stats we find reassuring:

75% of people in the U.S. never tweet.

On an average weeknight in January, just 1% of U.S. adults watched primetime Fox News (2.2 million). 0.5% tuned into MSNBC (1.15 million).

Nearly three times more Americans (56%) donated to charities during the pandemic than typically give money to politicians and parties (21%).

One chart worth sharing: As polarized as America seems, Independents — who are somewhere in the middle — would be the biggest party.

In Gallup’s 2021 polling, 29% of Americans identified as Democrats … 27% as Republicans … and 42% as independents.

The bottom line: Every current trend suggests politics will get more toxic before it normalizes. But the silent majority gives us hope beyond the nuttiness.

This would normally be a sign of hope for the American public. However, there is a well-known and highly accurate mathematical equation that goes like this:

Real life = Twitter + time

Time varies, but we can safely state that whatever nutty kook fringe radical idea you see on Twitter will become official policy, either de jure or de facto, between six and twenty-four months.

So what do we do? How do we keep the twisted tail from wagging the wholesome dog? Speaking of dogs, I’d love to return to the world where the most popular thing on the Internet were video clips of dogs riding a skateboard. Remember those?

Sure, such things weren’t exactly the bleeding-edge cultural changes wrought by the Internet and intended by its creators. The Internet was going to topple dictatorships and free the world for democracy and human rights and so on. Oddly, or maybe by design, the opposite has happened. We see an inverse relationship between what gets pushed on Twitter and other places and actual human flourishing. Remember the Arab Spring? Of course you don’t.

Maybe the answer, then, is to get this new silent majority on Twitter. Let them see the insanity for themselves. Let them interact with the demonic nutcases—yes, these people are evil and stupid—who run their national, state, and local governments, teach their children, sit on schoolboards, promulgate philosophy, run sports leagues, and create their entertainment. The answer to all of this could very well be more sunlight, more users, making sure that the number of people who do Tweet is at 75 percent or higher. See the plague that is young girls camwhoring for money. See the abject misery planned for all of us by those who will never feel the bite of inflation into their already tenuous way of life. Let them experience the cesspool that is the bird network in all of its glory.

I don’t want this silent majority to take out their frustrations merely at the ballot box. I want them to vent their spleen at this sick, sad world as a whole.

I got on the bird site in 2015 due to (a) having moved to a new city for work and being lonely until my family could join me, and (b) wanting to keep up with the utterly bonkers 2016 presidential campaign. This turned into linking up with writers who inspired me to write. Twitter and other platforms, then, became great ways to build and connect with an audience of people who actually buy my books. It’s also a great place to let off some steam and share memes, yes, but also to find out the pulse of the nation, discover what is actually going on, and learn what is going to happen.

This last part is the key to it all.

Twitter might be a dump of toxic freaks spewing dangerous opinions that eventual trickle up to the upper echelons of power, as well as a dump of toxic freaks spewing dangerous opinions promulgated from on high that eventually seep down into the crevices of everyday society, but it’s a dump of toxic freaks that normal people should see for themselves.

It’s also, I’m told, full of some wonderful people.

– Alexander

2 thoughts on “A Dog on a Skateboard”

  1. 75% of the people being unaware the people in charge hate them with frothing rage and want them and their children to die is not a reassuring thing. Especially when that small percentage has carte blanche to destroy everything while making the modern climate as terrible as it is.

    The early internet was fun, but it’s never coming back. That frontier was tamed and they won’t let anyone ride free again.

    What will be interesting is what is going to come post-internet. That is something no one wishes to speculate on.

    1. 75% of the people being unaware the people in charge hate them with frothing rage and want them and their children to die is not a reassuring thing.

      Exactly! We’re always told that it’s a good thing that most people don’t use these social media platforms, but this is actually cutting themselves off about knowing what is in their future, and figuring out how to fight it.

      The early internet was fun, but it’s never coming back. That frontier was tamed and they won’t let anyone ride free again.

      Indeed. And I wasn’t trying to imply that we could make the Internet like this again, only that I did miss those proverbial young and innocent days. But we can still do good things with these tools. And that’s what they are: tools. Much like a hammer, you can either smash people in the head with it or build something of value.

      What will be interesting is what is going to come post-internet. That is something no one wishes to speculate on.

      If we get to the point where there’s no more Internet, I suspect it will be due to some calamity. So my guess is that post-Internet we will see, by necessity, a return to oral tradition.

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