all posts tagged 'social media'

I'm getting rid of my iPhone for a month

originally shared here on

Long time readers of this blog may recall that I've been psyching myself up enough to try switching to the Light Phone.

I’m legit embarrassed to admit just how much I’m addicted to my iPhone.

It happened slowly over the course of the last 15 years. Today, I find myself frequently incapable of putting it down, even when it’s actively making me feel terrible.

The biggest expense of always being virtually connected is never feeling connected to the physical moment happening in front of me.

That wasn’t so much of a problem to me when I was sitting in front of my Compaq desktop in the basement of my parent’s house.

Back in those days, I used to hate being away from my computer. The very first thing I’d do when returning from a family vacation was to jump on the computer and catch up on a week of message board posts.

Here in 2024, though, I don’t subject myself to that experience.

The other day, I was playing a Lego game with my son and while he was explaining an aspect of the game to me, I pulled out my phone and went to turn on music. Mid sentence, he stops and says, “Dad, can you put your phone away? It’s distracting me.”

Oof. That’s not how I want my son to remember me.

I’ve tried all the techniques people say can help limit screen time. Grayscale the screen. Delete apps. Block toxic websites. But because none of those tricks are actually working, it’s time to take more drastic measures.

My plan is to move my phone number onto the Light Phone for a month. Just a month.

I'm going to do this during the month of August. That will give me a couple weeks to prepare for it. I am honestly worried about what I’ll be giving up, and so I'm doing what I can to brace myself for that impact.

I’m mostly excited, really. After more than a decade in the comfortable, walled garden of the Apple ecosystem, I think it will be nice to experiment with new tech tools again.

The Light Phone is designed to be as boring and practical as possible. It can make phone calls, send texts, and give driving directions, among a few other things.

But there are certainly some activities that the Light Phone won’t do very well which I am unwilling to give up. So here are those activities, along with how I'm thinking I'll deal with those activities for the time being:

Taking notes and reminders.

A notepad with a pen. ✅



Sometime in the last couple of decades, I stopped reading books.

I’m not exactly sure why. I used to love reading books when I was a kid. I would go to the library and read every book they had on building websites and computer programs. I’d also read every new edition of Animorphs, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter as soon as my library stocked it.

But beginning in high school, I stopped reading books for fun. Reading felt like a burden, something you were assigned as punishment. I resented reading so much, in fact, that I used to pride myself on not buying books for class in college and finding a way through without them.1

If I read books these days, I almost only read non-fiction, which is fine… but I miss reading for fun.

Earlier this year, I helped my wife proctor some tests at her school. I wasn’t allowed to be on the internet, so I brought a book along that a friend recommended called What You Are Looking For Is In The Library. I burned through it in a day, and it got me interested in reading fiction once again.

I think I wanna try getting into a fiction series. The last series I read was the Left Behind books in high school, so uh, yeah… I’m a bit out of the loop with what’s good out there.

If anyone has recommendations, let me know!

Taking pictures.

I used to be really into cameras when I was really into making clips2. When my oldest was born, we thought it made sense to buy a good SLR, so we picked up a Canon Rebel T6i.

I do still grab it out of storage and bring it along to the occasional soccer game or choir performance, and the shots feel better to me than the ones I get with my iPhone. It helps that I have a decent assortment of lenses, but I think it also speaks to the joy you get from using a tool that was intentionally built to complete a task.

Of course, I can’t realistically carry an SLR with me all the time. I need something more practical.

When I sold cameras at Best Buy3, the camera I recommended the most was the Canon SD800 IS, and it was the camera that documented some of the most fun moments of my life. It was small enough to fit in my pocket alongside my iPod.

Even though it fit, I still didn’t carry it with me every day, which makes the pictures I did take with them feel extra special when I browse through them today.

Maybe having a camera on me all the time is less necessary than I’m worried about. I mean, in a normal day for you, how many situations can you envision where you must take a picture of something and can't flag down someone to take one and send it to you?4

So I’m in the market for a camera that’s small like the SD800 was, but perhaps more professional. I remember seeing someone mention the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III and I thought the silver one looked kinda dope.

It makes me happy to see Canon keeping these devices up to date. The G7 X can shoot 4k video, and it’s got WiFi and USB-C so it’ll be easy to get media off of it. Most importantly, its size means it can stay in the drawer by the door and leap into service at a moment's notice.

But anyway, what about y’all? Anyone else use something besides their phone to take a picture or a video?

Listening to music.

The whole reason I wanted to make this post is because I wanted to brag about my restoration project with my old fifth generation iPod.

But because of course this is what happens when I brag, I’ve been stuck for a few days trying to debug a hardware failure that is proving exceptionally frustrating to resolve. Chef’s kiss.

So instead of bragging about that, I’ll instead confess that I’m one of those sickos who maintains their own library of MP3s.

I’ve always looked at streaming services with squinty eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m still mad at what they did to our beloved Napster. Maybe it’s because I think it’s important to not give complete control of my cultural history to massive corporations5. Maybe it’s because buying an MP3 version of an album from an artist will give them vastly more money than my combined streams would ever account for. Maybe it’s because I am an aging boomer.

Either way, transitioning away from Apple Music will not be too excruciating for me. I’ll still use it because I have HomePods all over my house, but when I’m not home, I want need a way to bring my music with me.

The Light Phone does have some storage and an MP3 player option, but because of the intentional design, you’re limited to a single playlist and 1gb of tunes. That doesn’t work for me, brother.

I’ll keep y’all posted with my progress on the restoration process. I want to get Rockbox installed on it so I can experience what the home brew community is doing with this old hardware.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to address issues with an iFlash Solo syncing with an M1 Mac mini, holler at your boy.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express how pathetic I feel that I need to take these extreme steps to reclaim some part of me that I feel like I’ve lost ever since going whole ham on the mobile revolution.

I talk at length about the joy that comes with technology, but I should also recognize the negative impact that tech can make.

We went through an era of unfettered growth from Silicon Valley-powered firms who had nearly no supervision and did everything they could to exploit our political and economic systems for their own gain.

And to be clear, their growth did bestow some incredible tools onto us.

But as much as our society derides subgroups like the Luddites and the Amish for their apparent aversion to technology, there is clearly some merit to how they approach technology. You should adopt technology because it’ll help you, not because everyone else is using it.

Every night around 10:30pm, I find myself lying in bed, entering the casino that is my iPhone. Every app is a different section of the game room floor.

My email app is a slot machine, where I hope I’ll hit the big bucks and get an email saying “yay you’re hired!”, but the odds are better that I’ll see an email saying “lol you owe me money still.”

LinkedIn and Reddit are craps tables, where I sometimes roll an 11 and see a post from a friend who had a successful day at work or a post on /r/AskHistorians that teaches me something interesting (like Did President Andrew Garfield ever eat lasagna?). But more often than not, I roll snake eyes and see something which makes me feel like a failure or living in a dumpster fire of a society.

Even my beloved RSS reader app, filled with feeds that I explicitly opted into, can feel like a game of blackjack. Yeah, I often walk away with at least some money, but I still sometimes leave the table feeling unsure why I’m passionate about anything anymore.

I let this happen to myself. And every time I pull my phone out of my pocket during a family dinner, I rob myself of what makes life worth living in the first place.

Like our Silicon Valley overlords like to say, you can’t stop the march of progress. Technology is rapidly improving, and major advances in our collective understanding of the universe are unveiled at an overwhelming pace.

There’s gotta be a way where we can harness the good parts of technology without entirely succumbing to all of its detriments. The first step, I suppose, is defining what I want to get out of life.

And really, it’s pretty simple:

  • Play Legos with my son
  • Sing karaoke with my wife
  • Watch Rocko’s Modern Life with my daughter
  • Make music, work out, and learn new things
  • Be able to visit the doctor when I’m not feeling well without going bankrupt
  • Build something useful for people
  • Not make other people’s existences any worse than they already are

If those are the things that are important to me, then why would I burn precious energy spending time on a device which gives me anxiety attacks on a daily basis?

So yeah, come August, I’m signing off from my iPhone for a bit. It’ll feel good to step out of the casino and focus on building legos, taking walks, shredding on the guitar, singing karaoke, hanging out with friends, and listening to music.

  1. At the time, I was extremely anti-book because the book publishing market is an extreme racket, issuing frequent updates to textbooks with minimal tweaks while commanding insane prices. Today, part of me wishes I read the assigned works for most of my liberal arts classes. Maybe I would’ve picked up more useful facts about the Australopithecus or found useful anecdotes from Cold War geopolitical conflicts. 

  2. This is what we used to call videos before YouTube. We'd record a bunch of segments of a video on someone's dad's camcorder, then use a capture cable to play back the video onto a computer, and then edit it in something like Pinnacle Studio. Wild times, indeed. 

  3. Which seems to be my point of reference for where to look for all of these problems... I worked at Best Buy from 2005 to 2010, so basically, what were the tech solutions we had for these problems before the iPhone came out? And is there anything from the past 15 years that has improved on that tech? 

  4. Maybe this is a hypothesis born out of privilege, but let’s call a spade a spade: this entire article and premise is only possible for someone who is drowning in technology and choosing to reduce his consumption. 

  5. Brennan Lee Mulligan recently had an excellent monologue about this topic, but I don’t have a direct link to it. Just look at Paramount’s recent decision to remove all of MTV and Comedy Central’s backlogs of content as all the proof you need that you should back up what you care about. 

 The Internet Is About to Get Weird Again

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

There’s not going to be some new killer app that displaces Google or Facebook or Twitter with a love-powered alternative. But that’s because there shouldn’t be. There should be lots of different, human-scale alternative experiences on the internet that offer up home-cooked, locally-grown, ethically-sourced, code-to-table alternatives to the factory-farmed junk food of the internet. And they should be weird.

If you missed this one when it was making the rounds seven months ago, Anil Dash did not disappoint with this think piece about the weird internet.

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TikTok Has Made Shoegaze Bigger Than Ever

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In early 2023, an 18-year-old college student decided to make her first-ever shoegaze song. Her friend sent her a “beat,” a grungy shoegaze instrumental crafted by the producer grayskies, and she spent two hours recording herself singing over it into her phone, using her everyday Apple earbuds as a microphone. No guitars were strummed, and no reverb pedals were stepped on. The next day, she titled the song “Your Face” and uploaded a snippet of it on TikTok, posting under the artist name Wisp. The video gained 100k views overnight, so she made another. That one got 600k views. She made another. That one quickly racked up 1 million views. Soon after, “Your Face” was being streamed millions of times on Spotify, and before Wisp even released a second song, she had signed a deal with Interscope Records.

Fast-forward eight months later and “Your Face” has been streamed nearly 30 million times on Spotify, almost twice as much as My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless closer “Soon.” The official sound snippet has been used in 126k TikTok videos, almost as many as Mitski’s runaway TikTok goliath “Washing Machine Heart” (174k videos). In the real world, Wisp sold-out her first-ever show in less than a half hour, and then her second just as quickly.

Consider this article a bit of a “shot, chaser” to my previous post.

I’ve been really into shoegaze lately. This article does a fantastic job of highlighting how zoomers used TikTok to give the genre a renaissance.

It's a good reminder that social media isn’t innately awful. It warms my heart to see the children using these incredible technologies to unite under the banner of ethereal and somewhat depressing tunes.

Go check out Duster's album Stratosphere.

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🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

The whole point of the web is that we’re not supposed to be dependent on any one company or person or community to make it all work and the only reason why we trusted Google is because the analytics money flowed in our direction. Now that it doesn’t, the whole internet feels unstable. As if all these websites and publishers had set up shop perilously on the edge of an active volcano.

But that instability was always there.

The only social network I post on anymore is LinkedIn. I have close to 2,000 followers there.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the “engagement” on my posts is increasingly sparse. Earlier this year, I was routinely seeing thousands of views per post. These days, I’m only seeing hundreds, and when it comes to sharing links to my newsletter, I’m seeing only dozens.

Meanwhile, here on my rag tag blog, I know my thoughts end up reaching people who matter the most to me.

It’s certainly less than the 2,000 people who follow me on LinkedIn, and substantially less than the tens of thousands of people a week who “engage” with my “content”1 there… but I don’t care.

By posting here, I’m taking the harder route of building an audience without the flashy shortcuts promised by platforms like LinkedIn and Google.

Whenever I try to take shortcuts and play SEO games, I end up doing things to my website which make it feel less authentic.

And these days, I find myself asking, “what exactly do I need to take a shortcut for?”

Robin also quotes this piece by Jeremy Keith where he discusses our need for human curation:

I want a web that empowers people to connect with other people they trust, without any intermediary gatekeepers.

The evangelists of large language models (who may coincidentally have invested heavily in the technology) like to proclaim that a slop-filled future is inevitable, as though we have no choice, as though we must simply accept enshittification as though it were a force of nature.

But we can always walk away.

It’s tough to walk away from the big tech companies, but I can assure you it is possible.

Facebook used to dominate my daily existence, but besides perhaps Marketplace for selling my junk, I do not miss any of Meta’s properties since I left several years back.

Google was my portal to my email, search, and maps for years. In the past few years, I have switched to primarily using Fastmail, Ecosia, and Apple Maps. Here in 2024, they all work well.2

I do my best to avoid ordering stuff off of Amazon, and I hardly stream anything on Netflix anymore.3

I haven’t made the move over to the Light Phone yet, and I find it hard to believe that I’ll give up my Apple Watch, Apple TV, or iPad/Macs… but I do find myself questioning the prolific presence of Apple in my life more often than I did, say, ten years ago.

As I continue to experiment with LLMs, I’ve noticed that the locally-run, open source models getting closer to the performance you see in closed source models like GPT-4o and Claude Sonnet 3.5 Sonnet. It’s only a matter of time that they’re good enough to do the tasks that I find myself turning to ChatGPT to complete today.

Enshittification isn’t inevitable. Like depression, it’s an indicator that something in your digital life needs to change.

  1. Sorry for the obnoxious emphasis on terms like “engagement” and “content”… I’ve reached a point where I feel like those words are meaningless. A lot of the themes of this post can be summed up with trust, and in order to accurately engagement, you have to trust that the metrics provided by the platform vendor are accurate (which I do not). And calling our collective knowledge “content” as though it’s the equivalent of feed for the cattle also upsets me.  

  2. Ecosia’s results are powered by Bing, which traditionally haven’t been that great, but I just consider this to be a benefit of Google’s results becoming terrible. Now both search engines return subpar results, and by using Ecosia, I am helping to plant trees. It ain’t much, but it’s honest work

  3. The last couple weeks have seen my most Netflix action in years, because I did watch Muscles & Mayhem, the American Gladiators documentary, on Netflix last week, and I do highly recommend it. I’m also gonna give the Tour de France documentary a shot as well. 

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It’s Time to Dismantle the Technopoly

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[Techno-selectionism] is a perspective that accepts the idea that innovations can significantly improve our lives but also holds that we can build new things without having to accept every popular invention as inevitable. Techno-selectionists believe that we should continue to encourage and reward people who experiment with what comes next. But they also know that some experiments end up causing more bad than good. Techno-selectionists can be enthusiastic about artificial intelligence, say, while also taking a strong stance on settings where we should block its use. They can marvel at the benefits of the social Internet without surrendering their kids’ mental lives to TikTok.

As much as I personally enjoy hanging out on the cutting edge and experimenting with new technologies, I would consider myself a techno-selectionist when it comes to adopting these tools into our lives.

I am sure some people enjoy the new Google search results that are driven by AI, but when it still recommends you add glue to pizza despite the widespread mockery they received initially, maybe we should take a step back and demand better from our techno overlords.

Or, since we know that’ll never happen, maybe we need to decide for ourselves which tools are worth incorporating into our lives.

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On Ultra-Processed Content

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In the context of nutrition, we’re comfortable deciding to largely avoid ultra-processed food for health reasons. In making this choice, we do not worry about being labelled “anti-food,” or accused of a quixotic attempt to reject “inevitable progress” in food technology.

On the contrary, we can see ultra-processed good as its own thing — a bid for food companies to increase market share and profitability. We recognize it might be hard to avoid these products, as they’re easy and taste so good, but we’ll likely receive nothing but encouragement in our attempts to clean up our diets.

This is how we should think about the ultra-processed content delivered so relentlessly through our screens. To bypass these media for less processed alternatives should no longer be seen as bold, or radical, or somehow reactionary. It’s just a move toward a self-evidently more healthy relationship with information.

This mindset shift might seem subtle but I’m convinced that it’s a critical first step toward sustainably changing our interactions with digital distraction. Outraged tweets, aspirational Instagram posts, and aggressively arresting TikToks need not be seen as some unavoidable component of the twenty-first century media landscape to which we must all, with an exasperated sigh, adapt.

They’re instead digital Oreos; delicious, but something we should have no problem pushing aside while saying, “I don’t consume that junk.”

Brilliant analogy from Cal Newport.

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Smartphones, social media, and parenting teens/tweens

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I was recently part of a big parenting discussion group about whether a parent should allow her tween to have a smartphone with Snapchat. It produced a lot of stories and anecdotes and feelings and opinions, including a few tales of teens finding ways to circumventing parental controls or even picking up burner phones in order to be able to do things like keep up streaks. There were also some anecdotes of real-life consequences around location tracking, hazing, content getting shared and saved without consent, etc.

It was eye-opening and terrifying, because my kids are too young for this sort of thing today, but I’m sure the options will be even more overwhelming and difficult to manage by the time they’re this age. The social pressures in their and your peer group will influence what’s considered appropriate, regardless of any age listed for any terms of service, and there are so many things that are technically permitted but not exactly good for us in this world.

I wanted to take the time to formulate the long reply I had composed into a more publicly shareable blog post – which will likely come back to bite me in the ass! I’m sure things will shift between now and when my eldest hits iPhone age, but for now, my perspective on giving a 13yo a smartphone with Snapchat is a hard NO, and this is my reasoning why.

My daughter is already asking me for a phone for her eighth (!) birthday, and right now, it’s an easy no.

I understand that social media is obviously where all your friends are and you don’t wanna feel left out, but to me, there is no difference between using social media and using drugs or alcohol.

The thing I keep telling my kids with stuff like this (swearing, adult themes, etc.) is that it’s all about context.

There will come a time when you are able to fully understand the context of when to deploy an F-bomb.

There will come a time when I can’t shelter you from the maelstrom of crap that rains down on you from every direction on social media. I hope if you choose to engage with social media, you do so with the knowledge of both the benefits of these platforms (connectedness, sharing your life) and, more importantly, the detriments (data privacy, mental health struggles).

But yeah, for now: no phones. Sorry, gang. My number one job as a parent is to keep you safe, even if you aren’t happy with me.

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We can have a different web

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Okay, I guess this blog is just turning into a bunch of links about why the internet sucks these days.

But I should stop framing these links as a “here’s why what we have right now sucks” because truthfully… it doesn’t.

Or rather, it doesn’t have to.

I really enjoyed Molly White’s metaphor about gardens1. I’ve been tending to my own garden on this site for more than a decade, and I’ve kept up patches of turf on the web since the mid 90s.

I just like being here. I like having a place where friends and other folks can see what I’m all about and choose to interact with me or not.

A part of this article that stuck out to me was Molly’s observation that the internet started becoming less fun when we all came here to work. I couldn’t agree more.2

Somewhat related here: this past weekend, I decided to finally do something about my IRL piece of land. You see, most of my backyard is now just dirt. My front yard is patches of grass but primarily dominated by weeds.

My back patio is in literal shambles, chunks of broken patio paver strewn around the yard.

The screens on my windows are either broken, bent, or missing altogether.

The cool Govee lights no longer stick to my overhang, so they dangle like a complete eyesore.

It’s frustrating.

This past weekend, I went to the hardware store and spent way too much money on grass seed. It felt incredibly rewarding to do the hard work of ripping up the old junk and trying to build something new.

It felt like a sign for me to log off a bit more often and tend to reality.

But that’s not to say this garden is going away anytime soon. I’ll keep sharing articles like these here because I think it fits nicely with the thesis under which I am about to launch a newsletter: technology is so cool, and we could all use a reminder of that sometimes.

We also could use a friend to help us figure out how to use it right.

Much like I could use a friend to help me figure out how to replace my busted up patio.

  1. As an avid anecdotalist, I’m bummed I haven’t been using this metaphor the whole time. I mean, we even use the term “walled garden” to refer to massive platforms like Facebook or TikTok. Get your head in the game, Tim! 

  2. And as someone who nearly swore off programming altogether during my senior year of high school because building Simpsons websites wasn’t as much fun anymore, I find myself once again disappointed that I didn’t see this one coming. 0-for-2, Tim, you’re slipping! 

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How to fix the internet

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I swear my blog isn’t going to just be links to think pieces about why the internet sucks these days.

It just so happens that there was a wave of these pieces published last year and I’m finally getting around to them in my Instapaper queue.

Two pull quotes stood out to me:

“Humans were never meant to exist in a society that contains 2 billion individuals,” says Yoel Roth, a technology policy fellow at UC Berkeley and former head of trust and safety for Twitter. “And if you consider that Instagram is a society in some twisted definition, we have tasked a company with governing a society bigger than any that has ever existed in the course of human history. Of course they’re going to fail.”

I’ve seen a few good posts about the difficulties of content moderation at scale.

On the one hand, most of the abundance and privilege we’ve built for ourselves wouldn’t be possible without the massive scale that large conglomerates can achieve.

On the other hand, if something gets so large that we are unable to keep your head wrapped around it, maybe that’s the point where it’s okay to let it collapse in on itself.

The destruction and collapse of large entities is awful, with very real consequences for people.

But it’s out of the ashes of these organizations when we're presented with an opportunity to take the lessons we learned and build something new. We get to try again.

The fix for the internet isn’t to shut down Facebook or log off or go outside and touch grass. The solution to the internet is more internet: more apps, more spaces to go, more money sloshing around to fund more good things in more variety, more people engaging thoughtfully in places they like. More utility, more voices, more joy. 

My toxic trait is I can’t shake that naïve optimism of the early internet. Mistakes were made, a lot of things went sideways, and there have undeniably been a lot of pain and misery and bad things that came from the social era. The mistake now would be not to learn from them. 

Keep the internet small and weird, my friends. ❤️

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Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore

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Posting on social media might be a less casual act these days, as well, because we’ve seen the ramifications of blurring the border between physical and digital lives. Instagram ushered in the age of self-commodification online—it was the platform of the selfie—but TikTok and Twitch have turbocharged it. Selfies are no longer enough; video-based platforms showcase your body, your speech and mannerisms, and the room you’re in, perhaps even in real time. Everyone is forced to perform the role of an influencer. The barrier to entry is higher and the pressure to conform stronger. It’s no surprise, in this environment, that fewer people take the risk of posting and more settle into roles as passive consumers.

The overall message of this New Yorker article is that the internet isn’t fun because big tech platforms have turned the internet from a place you stumble upon quirky and novel content into a machine designed for no other purpose than to capture your attention and keep you hostage for as long as possible.

I feel like that’s so defeatist. Everyone keeps wanting to create “the next Facebook”, but what I’m looking for is “the next single topic, PHPBB-driven message board with ~400 regular posters.”

When I got my UMN email address in May of 2006, the first thing I did was sign up for Facebook. It was so cool to join a place where everybody was.

In the ten years that followed, though, it turned out that being in a place filled with everybody was pretty terrible.

I think in order to make the internet feel like it did in the early 2000s, we need to shrink, not grow. Specialize, not generalize. Be more digital nomads rather than live in untenable metropolises.

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