How to Take Back the Internet


Lauren: But tell us a little bit about the argument you’re making.

Cory: Sure. Well, this is an argument about more than tech. This is an argument about all industries. And, if we say, OK, well, there’s something about the leadership of these companies that allowed them to do what their predecessors hadn’t done. Then you have to account for how it is that we found this cohort of senior executives across every industry, from professional wrestling to cheerleading to running shoes, who all had this special zhuzh that allowed them to do what no one has ever been able to do since Rockefeller. And if you don’t believe that hypothesis, which I think is a stretch to believe, you’re left looking to things that happen in the environment.

Lauren: Outside forces.

Cory: Yeah, exogenous forces. And the big one is we used to enforce laws that prevented monopolization.

Lauren: Before we get into an even more specific discussion about this topic, what is wrong with the internet right now? If you could just summarize it—the past 20 years or so.

Cory: Well, you know, Tom Eastman says, I’m old enough to remember a time when the internet wasn’t five giant websites filled with screenshots of text from the other four. And I think we all have this sense that, like, the internet kind of sucks, right? The content moderation is terrible, everybody hates it, there’s nowhere else you can go because everyone is on the same platform, so if the moderation doesn’t suit you, you gotta just gut it out. We’re getting spied on. Nothing works. Everything good that we have, they keep shipping updates for that we’re not allowed to stop. That causes us to pay for features that we thought we’d already bought. We are just at the pointy end of the most extractive, surveillant, creepy, careless system of electronic connection that we could have imagined.

Lauren: I don’t necessarily agree that everyone hates the internet right now, but the sense that I’m getting, and maybe I’m personalizing this a little bit, is that everyone hates feeling so addicted to it. That there are these forces that are actually keeping us in a place we don’t necessarily want to be for as long as we are there.

Cory: Well, look, nobody worries about being addicted to coffee, right? People are just like, oh yeah, I get coffee, it tastes good.

Lauren: Speak for yourself. [Laughter]

Cory: Oh, well, fair. OK, but there isn’t, like, a widespread sense. It’s not like fentanyl, right? There aren’t a lot of people going, oh, I drink coffee every day, but I wish I couldn’t. You know, if you have a reliable supply of high-quality product priced competitively that is good to drink, then you don’t worry about it. I think the reason we feel addicted to the internet is because we don’t enjoy it, but we still have to use it. And I think that this is a mistake that some people make—is they think that Big Tech made mind-control rays. And I think that instead, Big Tech just took all the people you love and put them on the other side of a reg wall that you have to go through and create an account for in order to talk to them. And so it’s your friends and your job and your education and your prospects of finding a romantic partner that are on the other side of Big Tech. And the reason it feels like we’re addicted to it is because opting out of all of that stuff is a lot to ask. And so we keep using services we don’t like.

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