Dodging The Rain Men

Had a long talk with — or rather, I ranted deliriously for about a half hour or more in my (quite literally) malnourished state at — my friend Gary today, about why I’m getting so fucking sick of the Internet.

It was a long and meandering rant, much of which I don’t remember, other than going to a certain hyper-popular group blog and going “How can anybody give this much of a fuck about the minutiae of goddamn Disneyland!”. But I do remember this, and what it is that’s driving me crazy about the Internet in general and the blogosphere in particular:

I’m tired of being bombarded with other peoples’ obsessions, even the ones that feed into my own.

Really. That’s what it comes down to. Just that sentence.

See, imagine that friend of yours who’s into, I dunno, classic cars. He’s actually kinda an authority on the subject. And he knows really interesting stuff about classic cars, the kind of cool facts you actually are interested in hearing, every so often when you hang out at the bar or meet by chance at the coffeeshop. That’s his thing, and it’s cool, and even though sometimes he babbles on about Hearst shifters or whatever fucking Springsteen thing, he’s still interesting and fun to talk to, mostly.

Now imagine if every day, that guy showed up at your door with a detailed list of every interesting thing he found out in the last 24 hours about classic cars. Not just the big stuff, but little stuff — a list of every shape of side mirror that Ford made between 1947-1979, for example. Also tangential stuff — pictures of cars, songs about cars, ashtrays shaped like cars. Hell, one day he shows up with a list of the kind of car driven by every American presidential candidate since Herbert Hoover.

That’s when you start realizing that this guy is a pedantic, creepy obsessive freak who’s not really interested in cars. He’s interested in information about cars. And any interest you might have had in this hobby of his has been completely obliterated by the sheer volume of information he’s flinging at you.

And yes, you can simply tell him to fuck off and go away. But then, after a while, you find yourself missing that random, occasional bit of cool trivia he throws your way. So you let him back into your life, and simply resign yourself to listening to about five percent of anything he has to say.

Now multiply this dude by a factor of a couple of billion, and you’ve got the blogosphere.

Look, I really like the idea that anybody can share their thing — whatever that thing may be — with the world. But what I’ve learned in the decade or so since blogging really began is that a) I don’t really care about 90% of the shit that other people care about, and b) I don’t really care that much about half of the 10% that I do care about.

I dig the steampunk aesthetic. I really do. I think steampunk computer mods are cool. Hell, I was into Thomas Dolby in the mid 1990s, when he was still uncool. But I don’t need to know about every fucking garage machinist’s attempt to retrofit a Turbo Grafix-16 into a goddamned Difference Engine. I don’t want to see your crocheted steampunk-goggle cozy. I don’t need to read steampunk slash fiction where Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla settle their battle over AC vs. DC with a vigorous round of man-on-man love in the snow outside Tesla’s Colorado laboratory.

I just don’t care that much. Nor do I care about papercraft versions of classic synths, even though I love synthesizers. I don’t want to read the Top Ten Humorous Blog Posts About Pixel Fonts, even though I dig pixel fonts a lot. Understand what I’m saying: I like and love these things, and I still really just don’t wanna hear about every possible related thing you can think of to each and every subset and category of these things I like and love.

I think I’m just getting completely fed up with the trainspotting, otaku nature of the blogosphere. Sometimes popping open Google Reader in the morning is like wading into a giant room filled with Rain Men, only they’re babbling about copyfighting and Rickrolling instead of batting averages, and counting casemods instead of toothpicks.

And, of course, linking to each others’ posts about copyfighting and Rickrolling and Halo casemods and The Funniest Single Words That John Hughes Characters Said In His 1980s Movies. (Hint: “Donger” is on the top of the list.)

People like to snicker that the Internet generation has a massive collective case of ADD, but I think the opposite is true in many cases: a lot of the bloggers I know have attention surfeit disorder.

Now, there’s an obvious answer here: gee, Ellis, you misanthropic asshole, if you don’t like what people write, turn off your Internet and go fuck off back to a cabin in Montana or something. And believe me, the temptation often looms. If it wasn’t for iPods, I’d probably be the goddamn Unabomber’s Apprentice.

But I can’t help feeling like I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I can’t just write this off to me being a prick, as I can so many other things.

I had an interesting idea during my rant to Gary: write an RSS reader that only pulls random posts from your list of regular blogs. It never shows you two consecutive posts from the same blog twice. It never shows you links from all your blogs simultaneously. It scans through posts for identical links, measures the length of each post with that link, and only shows you the longest one. It can filter out certain words. (In my case, it would begin with a list that was something like [“American Idol” “copyfight” “lolcatz” “halo” “lohan” “papercraft” “knitted” “casemod” “Ruby on Rails” “anything about how hard it is to find good Vietnamese food in goddamn Manhattan”] and was added to constantly.)

I like that idea. Ambiguity. Because ambiguity is far more interesting than the alternative, which seems to be what we’re all so desperately shooting for here on the Web.

And now I’m going to sleep.

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  1. The RSS reader with a spam filter would be brilliant enough without the rest of your idea. Just being able to blacklist posts containing words of my choice would be very cool indeed.

  2. You’re not the only one.

    You pretty well put into words how I fell about the Internet these days.

    Looking through my RSS feeds these days is more of a chore than anything nearing enjoyment. I’ve got more than few – the majority – of my feeds with hundreds of unread posts, just because I’m not interested enough in the minutia of their topics to read through them.

    I used to feel guilty – or, worse, like I was missing out on something cool or new or interesting – if I skipped over any posts.

    Now, when I hit that “Mark All As Read” button on Google Reader, it feels a bit cathartic.

  3. Dude, and you write for an Apple blog. A site that focuses on Apple products, all day, every day.

    Really, it’s just a matter of picking the right feeds to throw in your reader. I personally like Cory’s strange disneyland thing, as every now and then it reveals an interesting nugget of this or that, but B-B is in a secondary folder in my reader that I just skim when I find myself with too much free time.

    I dig those hyper-obsessive people, they are the ones willing to scratch past the veneer to find the good stuff.

  4. A) is this post meant to be ironic, a blog about blog aesthetics? in a much different vein, B)do you think that there \correlation beteween the Great (Revival)Awakenings and the modern day blogosphere

  5. Hmm. Josh, I know this wasn’t about me, but still… am I bombarding you with too much stuff via

  6. Ok… What do you hate about Vietnamese Food on Baxter st? My vietnames friends swear by those places, and do you not like Nha Trang at 87 Baxter’s Pho?

    If you would perhaps indulge us with a rant on Vietnamese food in Manhattan, it would be much appreciated. I’d love to know what I’m missing… and yes… I’ve never had the real thing in Vietnam.

  7. I’m an idiot for not reading carefully. Please ignore my last comment.


    I suppose there’s a reason I don’t come across posts whining about Vietnamese food in Manhattan…

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