The Long-Term vs. Short-Term Internet

Isaac Morehouse

1 year ago by isaacmorehouse

I was thinking about how well some writers understand the human condition and it dawned on me that they lived pre-internet. They had no access to all this information and human interaction at a vast scale through which to observe, yet they completely nailed with penetrating insight the way humans behave, even at this scale.

It made me wonder if the internet makes it harder for us to understand humanity.

Things move so fast on the internet, and incentives are so different. The world as reflected on the web is not the real world, and internet people are not real people. Sure it’s part of the world and part of humanity, but it’s a small slice. The more of reality gets filtered through it the more distorted.

The ephemeral nature of internet experience forces us to think on very tight time horizons. Pre-internet, you’d be forced to look through a broader lens. There was no way to know the immediate reactions across the globe of something that just happened today. You’d have to watch the wave unfold through time and only the stuff that really stuck would make its way into your analysis.

I wonder if there’s a way to use the internet that improves this more distanced, longer time-horizon type of experience. What if you restricted yourself to the long-term internet? The long-term internet are the parts that take longer to form (e.g. no instant trending hashtags) and take longer to vanish. There is tons of tons of amazing content on the web, but when I think about the stuff that has deepened my understanding, it’s stuff like decade old essays or lectures, century old books, or well documented and repeated research.

If those pre-internet thinkers and writers had access to all of that - basically their local library and lecture hall on steroids - it’s hard to imagine it weakening their insight. But if they were on Twitter much as I am, I suspect they’d get some of the same short-term distortions I can.

I’m not anti social media. Nor do I think people or culture were inherently better in the past. I am curious about how shifting media of communication impact our understanding of the world. People are easier to dupe with limited access to info. They also seem easy to dupe with near infinite access to info. I’m curious what kind of informational environment best fosters understanding of our own condition, and how to take individual responsibility for creating it.

When I spend more time on the long-term internet, I walk away feeling like I learned something. The short-term internet can entertain and create some useful human networks or social reference points, but I rarely feel sharper after scrolling.