My name’s Jon, and I’m a PhD student at Stanford. In my academic work, I’m interested in social histories of politics and the relationship between knowledge and governance in the early modern period, especially with respect to political economy. In the broadest sense, I’m focused on the seemingly intractable problem of managing modern societies.
Why do you have a blog?
When I was 12 years old, I already lived in the world of Web 2.0 – of user-generated content. I used basic social networks, video sharing websites, and spent time on online forums meeting other people who liked hacking Club Penguin. Thinking little of it, I joined Facebook. By then, the social network had been growing for some time, but its full significance, as an all-purpose platform to ‘connect’ everyone, was yet to be felt. In the ensuing years, social networks like Facebook made the internet more popular, but the platform’s potential as a vehicle for meaningful interaction slowly diminished. The boundaries of online self-expression were increasingly encoded by developers to fit decidedly commercial interests. The way we used the internet turned into something no one asked for: scrolling through endless algorithmically-generated feeds of third-party content. As the platform grew, popular attention focussed on orchestrated data scouring campaigns, which carried lots of data about individual users to show them targeted advertising, including that of a political nature.
Over the past decade, like most people, my active online presence also gravitated towards these big social networks. They did and do consume most of the time and energy I spend online. I’m especially surprised, when I look back over the last few years, at the sheer amount of time I’ve wasted scrolling through endless streams of content, often eagerly taking the click-bait, and never usually feeling more happy or fulfilled. Whether or not it’s good for society, I’ve realised that using the internet like this all the time isn’t good for me. One outcome of that thought was the decision to experiment with this website.