Gathering online like it's 1999

There's an interesting piece in MIT Technology Review about how the COVID-19 virus and social isolation have re-enlivened the web in ways that hearken back to its earlier, more human and optimistic days.

It's like turning the clock back to a more earnest time on the web, when the novelty of having a voice or being able to connect with anyone still filled us with a sense of boundless opportunity and optimism. It harkens back to the late 1990s and early 2000s—before social media, before smartphones—when going online was still a valuable use of time to seek community.

You see it in the renewed willingness of people to form virtual relationships. Before social media soured us and made us aloof and dismissive, we used to take the internet's promise of serendipitous connection more seriously. Now casually hanging out with randos (virtually, of course) is cool again. People are joining video calls with people they've never met for everything from happy hours to book clubs to late-night flirting. They're sharing in collective moments of creativity on Google Sheets, looking for new pandemic pen pals, and sending softer, less pointed emails.

I'm not so sure of some of its assertions, but I do love the thought of reclaiming some of that early optimism and genuine sense of (virtual) community. And it does beg the question of how the pandemic might change the character of the web in its aftermath.

Read the rest.

Image: Salorenzo Herrera on Unsplash