This might be a surprise to many people here, or really to anyone who joined this website after 2008: there used to be an entire E2 scene. E2 used to be a regular part of my social life. This was back in Portland, around 2002-2007. And while television often lies to us about many things, if television tells you that Portland was a twee and fanciful place, in this case, it is telling the truth. Back in 2005 or so, I worked at a non-profit in Portland and ideath, icicle and lawnjart were all my co-workers. Qousqous was my neighbor and we would wander around Southeast Portland together. Other people would drop in and hang out like we were all wacky neighbors in a sitcom. In June of this year, there were only 16 people who contributed write-ups to this site. And for me, in the early 2000s, that would not have even been a busy week for seeing noders in person. Okay, maybe a fastish week. Not a fast month though. There were lots of young people and semi-young people who, in the days before social media, thought this was a fun place to hang out. To express themselves. To get to know others who shared their interests. By 2002 or 2003, much of that interaction was already moving on to LiveJournal. By 2006 or 2007, much of it was moving on to Facebook.
But here is the thing: by the time I started associating with E2 people, most of them were already treating it as a silly thing. Most of the people involved were in their 20s---at the time, 30 was old. And they were busy doing what people do in their 20s, which is form romances, including short term ones, and also drinking and carousing. The shared background of E2 basically provided a stock of in-jokes to lubricate this social interaction. But at the time, the attitude towards titles and levels and numbers was that it was already kind of tacky or immature to bring up the things that brought us together. In an analogy that I think will make painful sense to maybe half of you out there, remember coming back from summer vacation to a new year of middle school, with a backpack full of baseball cards/pogs/pokemon/collectibles of some sort and seeing the looks of disdain from suddenly sophisticated classmates when you wanted to talk about the hobby that had been so fun three months ago? By the time I joined, people were already moving on to a more personal way of relating.
Now, this might be a surprise to people reading this, but I am not always the world's most socially skilled person. I know that is amazing--- a semi-employed man living in a basement apartment whose hobby is reading YA Novels from The Dollar Tree isn't a total social butterfly--- but please believe me, it is true. And back in my 20s, one of the reasons I liked E2 was because it gave me a structure to tie my social relationships to. I felt a little more secure because we all shared code names and esoteric knowledge, and because our contributions were objectively defined by a series of digits. The pecking order was described in objective terms. Or at least I thought it was. As mentioned, it wasn't, and people started to relate to each other based on mature, adult things like shared interests and interpersonal empathy and fucking in shoe closets. (NB: Not going to get into the details of that, but yes, the early years of the site, with drunk young people in transitory contact produced a lot of hook-ups, not that I was very privvy to the details, and not that I was participating, because as mentioned, I was still trying to show people my metaphorical Pokemon at the time). So there was a time, way back then, when I realized that I was not going to swoop into a party, see some hipster girl and impress her with the interquartile mean on my latest 50 writeups. So it was important to grow up and relate to people as people, and not as code names and numbers on a website.
Besides that mature attitude later installed surreal fascism and killed a half million people from a preventable disease.
Okay, that last statement is hyperbole, but it is also true. Starting with the Republican Uncle invasion of Facebook in 2010, I noticed the problem in 2010, and it got worse until 2016, when memes and edgelords, combined with with bitterness of an older generation, elected a reality star from New York as president. What was reality and what was part of a troll? Did it even matter anymore? If someone could "own the libs" by being obnoxious on Facebook, was there any reference to reality beyond that? Fascists famously hated dada, surrealism and anything that presented a non-linear vision of reality, but sometime in 2016 or 2017 we got their bastard child. The purpose of the internet was now to post the most ridiculous things you could. And why not? There were no repercussions. Facebook never had a downvote. There was no feedback mechanism. All attention was good attention, turning to adults to toddlers. It started with insulting or edgy posts about real political issues, because taxes, regulations and Hillary Clinton's pantsuits are things that can be objectively criticized. At a certain point, that morphed into being offensive for the sake of being offensive. And at this point, the stakes of the game are now to advocate why making people inhale your infected saliva is a good thing. SALIVA! SALIVA! SALIVA! Saliva makes you strong! Saliva crushes enemies! Saliva!, apparently. People expressing themselves without needing the gimmick of "gamification" didn't lead to empathy, understanding and sharing real personal stories, but the exact opposite.
Immanuel Kant famously said that a bird in flight feels the resistance of the air and imagines how much further it could fly without air. Which of course, it couldn't. And so it was with our internet structures. Structures like voting and levels and points and privileges might seem like they are a detriment to "real human interaction", and most internet sites, especially ones who wanted to generate as much content to attract more views and more ads and more dollars, have allowed people to post as much as possible, with no way for them to get feedback or to encourage effort. And people are unable to think critically or express themselves without concern for other's opinions, anymore than a bird can fly in a vacuum.
Everything that had been debated, and already found passe, back in 2004, on this site, is something that is now an existential issue for civic life, and also life life, in the United States. How do we encourage people to put in effort, and be factual? What should be the mix between facts, opinions, and jokes, and meta commentary online? Should people get points or feedback? How do we encourage a wide difference of opinion, while discouraging trolling? How do we deal with the surge of confidence that anonymity brings? Do people earn their bullshit? When does someone go from having confrontational or contentious opinions, to being disruptive in a community? How do we stop cliques and bullying online? How do we promote good, thoughtful content to show up in a sea of contextless facts and subjective things like daylogs? What level of gamification and standards gives people a challenge that encourages participation, and what level scares people away? All of these questions, which were discussed and critical on this site before people drifted off to other pursuits, are now questions that affect the life and future of everyone on this planet, as wars are fought with lies and plagues are spread through people's self-deception.