On internet nostalgia

An ask I received on Tumblr recently:

Do you ever just get super nostalgic about 2012? Social media back then just felt like a bunch of dorks, and now it’s morphed into a huge popularity contest.

And my answer:

In my experience, it’s very hard to tell whether the nostalgia one has for a bygone era of the internet is more “longing for one’s own lost youth” or a more objective “it was better back then.” 

In the case of the year 2012, it’s a bit of both, given that the internet and social platforms and the way fandom works HAS changed massively in the last decade. But personally, when I think about “era of internet I’m most nostalgic for” I definitely go straight to 2010, not 2012. 

A lot happened during those years to change the way Tumblr users in particular interacted with each other. New site features, new standards of behavior in platform etiquette, etc. It’s really interesting that you narrow in on 2012, because for me, by then I was already seeing elements of what we would now deem “cringe culture,” with emergent divisions between users, and a kind of hierarchical infighting among members of different communities that wasn’t necessarily a part of the culture two years prior. 

But here’s the thing: everyone has a different age of innocence! Eden is in the eye of the beholder. Your 2012 is someone else’s 2006 is someone else’s 1993, before the Eternal September flooded Usenet with newbies. 

Of course I miss being 15, and posting earnest Impact font macros and photoshopping Doctor Who characters in stupid ways. It was a good time! But also, I’m 24 and having a blast still making shitposts about my favorite TV shows, because I haven’t changed that much, and though my platform preference and usage has necessarily shifted, my priorities with regards to what I enjoy doing for fun online absolutely has not. 

It’s definitely still possible nowadays to find (or make!) smaller spaces on the internet in which you and your friends can be a bunch of dorks, without it being a popularity contest. It might take a bit more effort, sure, but it’s more than worth it.

There’s a whole other essay in the unfortunate fact that young people coming online for the first time in 2020 are immediately subsumed into a toxic, algorithmic morass, but I’m not talking about that right now. I’m talking about you, presumably an adult, who has the ability to put in the work to find your own healthy, productive corners of a personal digital universe.

And anyway, I can assure you in 10 years someone will be sending this exact message to someone, along the lines of “do you ever get super nostalgic about the 2020 era of the internet? when stan twitter was a thing and we were all going crazy in quarantine?” —because that’s just the way human beings are.