2 months later: A Neocities Reflection
May 21, 2023
Hey, what’s up. I haven’t made a blog post in awhile, mostly because the microblog exists as a more convenient place for me to dump my half-baked thoughts, and also because I haven’t finished any of the actual guides or posts that I want to post here (sorry).
So this is more of a diary entry reflecting on some stuff I’ve noticed while being on Neocities. It’s been a little over two months since I started this site, and I still have such a long way to go (keep an eye out for new shrines soon btw…), but I’m really happy with how much I’ve learned so far. I’m excited to continue moving forward with Neocities, but I do have some observations about the community element of it, and about online communities (Discord, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) in general.
- Old web nostalgia
I’ve noticed a ton of old web nostalgia, which I guess is to be expected on a platform modelled after Geocities. I also have a healthy dose of nostalgia for old forum aesthetics and table-based layouts, but I do think some people take it a little far.
I’m 26 and I’m still too young to treat dial-up and AOL messenger as if it was ever a major part my life. Web 1.0 ended around 2005, when I was still in elementary school, and I’m older than a lot of users here. What little I do recall of the old web is a mixed bag–I remember excruciating wait times for webpages, obvious adults on Neopets trying to lure kids into private chatrooms, and just an overall lack of organization and cohesion. There was also a lot to love, but I don’t know if it really benefits anyone to pine for an aestheticized and frankly fictionalized phase of internet culture that will never exist again. It was wild and untamed because it was brand new, and there’s no way to re-capture the novelty of the late 90s/early 2000s internet.
Honestly, I think it’s more about re-experiencing childhood for a lot of people than anything else. And I don’t think that’s wrong or anything, I just find the justifications for this nostalgia strange. Like, why do you have to pretend the Kid Pix widget on your site is political resistance against corporate internet when we both know it’s just because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy to remember simpler times? It’s okay to be self-indulgent on your personal website! I’m not sure why it has to be more than that. Which isn’t to say you can’t have fun and try to make a statement, it just sometimes feels like people don’t realize they’re allowed to enjoy things for the sake of it.
And for a lot of people who are definitely too young to have experienced it, I dunno, it’s weird. It’s like teenagers projecting the politics they imagine Web 1.0 held and prescribing a set of aesthetics to those politics. I think it’s generally a bad idea to treat ideology like fashion, but I think social media has done a lot to normalize this practice.
Which leads me into my next observation…
- Politics in online communities
I think we messed up by insisting to ourselves and each other that Gen Z is somehow ontologically woke. Many, many young people online have deeply conservative impulses that they’ve never questioned. Ever notice how it’s always the people with “be gay do crime” in their bios who get mad at you for pirating their blorbos? The state of political consciousness is so grim that the people siding with Disney on stricter copyright laws think they’re anti-capitalists.
It also doesn’t escape me that a lot of the politics people ascribe to the old web are just…entirely fabricated. For example, this whole “don’t steal my code” thing I keep seeing is almost always coming from the exact same people who wax nostalgic for the old web. Girl! If you scold people over CSS theft, you would not have lasted a day on the actual old web. You are “good old days"ing something that never even existed! Besides, one of the best things about the old web was how collaborative it was. Frantic possessiveness over HTML and CSS is antithetical to the ethos of the old web.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that when you create a social dynamic where people are expected to immediately have an opinion about everything, they’ll base those opinions on vibes (read: social conditioning) rather than theory, data, or logic. This is also why you constantly see openly conservative politics paraded all over social media as if it’s novel or brave. If someone has no ideological base, it’s easy to convince them something is radical as long as you use the right framing. But if you scratch off the coat of progressive paint, it’s abundantly obvious that scorching hot takes like “let women wear makeup” are, in fact, neutered and useless. If your politics are all just pithy, nonthreatening slogans a CNN pundit might tweet, your politics are necessarily not-radical and probably actually strengthening repressive, hegemonic narratives.
This isn’t just an issue on Neocities; it’s become the status quo for political discourse online. So I did expect it to some degree, but I think I was overly optimistic. I guess I thought that a platform like this would be more “here’s some Linux guides and FOSS recommendations” and less “you’re a fascist if you don’t think heteroromantic asexuals are queer” microblogger discourse. It is surreal to see people continuously re-litigating 2014 Tumblr discourse. I recognize so many of the common talking points online because I was there when that discourse was born, and I am still here now that discourse’s bloated corpse has washed back up to shore. I wish we’d let it rest. Most of it was stupid infighting among bored teenagers then, and it still is now.
The truth is you’re supposed to grow up and find real things to care about, not triple down on the apparent life-or-death seriousness of fanfiction politics or whatever. Which isn’t to say you can’t get into some inane, petty discourse as a treat (I do this), but I think you have to keep it in perspective. Could you explain this topic to an offline person without a 3 hour YouTube essay? No? Then it’s probably too insular and niche to justify the energy you’re putting into arguing about it.
- The promise of community
I am constantly falling into a trap. I think the concept of community is so fantastic that I continuously search for it on every platform, and I am continuously disappointed when the reality doesn’t meet my expectations. There is a certain community on Neocities that recently shut down. I never partook in it, but I was hoping for its success, and reading the moratorium has been a bit disheartening.
Maybe this is just the byproduct of an increasingly polarized internet, but it feels like people are getting worse and worse with boundaries. It seems some aren’t content with setting boundaries for themselves–they want to set yours, too. Extremely online spaces always seem to devolve into masses of paranoid people policing each other. I mean the type of people who’ll emotionally blackmail you into walking on eggshells, who’ll tell you what you’re allowed to watch and read, who you’re allowed to speak to and associate with, and what thoughts you’re allowed to think. All this while totally convinced they’re moral paragons.
I recently saw a post on Tumblr that essentially said we need to learn how to simply dislike people without manufacturing a moral justification. It had nearly 100,000 notes; tons of people were acting like this was some long overdue revelation, and I find that unnerving. Very bleak when we need a post to explain that your personal dislike of someone doesn’t make them evil!
I can admit I used to fall into this tribal thinking, but it’s a miserable way to live, and I saw people get torn apart by their online peers for things that would’ve been total non-issues just a year later. When you create a category of person it’s morally justified to destroy, you create an incentive to put anyone you dislike in that category. This is especially true for people who are bullies to their core but desperately need to maintain moral superiority.
I’m not saying you should tolerate anyone. I think it’s necessary to set boundaries. But I also think that this weird, entitled vigilance people exhibit goes way beyond that. Once you start publicly shaming random no-name people for their associations rather than just blocking and moving on, you turn into a sanctimonious little hall monitor in my eyes and I am deeply skeptical of your motivations.
I have seen the justification for this sort of behavior being, “the small web is about curating your own space, we shouldn’t allow (xyz).” First off, who is ‘we’? When did I agree to this? Second, who said that’s what the small web is about? Where is this memo? Third, if the small web is about curating your space, why are you trying to tell other people how to curate theirs? Who even decides what constitutes the ‘small web’ to begin with? What is your goal here?
I absolutely refuse to engage in this sort of triablism anymore, but it seems that’s all that’s available these days. There’s no community, just self-cannibalizing cliques. Very sad!
I think I’ll wrap up this post here, but in the interest of cultivating community, DO please consider sending me an email if you: are an eldest daughter, are a Haruki Murakami hater, have strong opinions about betta fish, are skeptical that dinosaurs were real, have been accused of being pretentious by someone who exclusively reads YA fiction, are a woman with moderate to severe scoliosis, step on sidewalk cracks with purpose, or have ever earnestly cast a spell on someone.
See you next time!