The Internet Still Has Its Moments
I’ve written a couple times about the death of the internet as a cultural engine. The basic argument is that the era of intense generalized connection is coming to an end—instead of having some enormous portion of humanity sloshing around together in gigantic social stockpots like Twitter and Facebook, people will separate themselves into little social ramekins based on interest or affinity like hobbyist forums or private Signal groups. Hence the death of the media companies (like Buzzfeed) that tried to exploit the big stockpot for an audience, and the continued success of those that have continued to cultivate their own little ramekins (like HuffPo or the legacy papers), which was, after all, how the internet started out.
I recently came across a delightful little example of this past as future. One Phil Gyford, a British web developer, maintains a website devoted to the 17th-century diary of Samuel Pepys, a Restoration-era bureaucrat in Britain’s incipient defense apparatus. You can sign up to receive a day’s entry of Pepys around close of business in your email; even more delightful, in you click through to see the day’s entry on the site, there follows below it a forum discussion where Pepysheads dissect early modern linguistic oddities, the condition of our man Sam’s finances, the geography of London, and the like. Because Pepys kept the diary for roughly ten years, the forum posts come in decadal waves—a burst of activity on the entry on the date in 2003, 2013, and now 2023.
Gyford also ran an associated Twitter account that would post excerpts of the day’s entry. (Pepys, always very frank about life’s coarser difficulties, has some pretty funny Twitter material.) The ongoing technical problems with Twitter have caused Gyford to cease tweeting, per a notice on the diary site; but on the forum itself, Pepys-centric activities will continue unabated, as they have for over twenty years.