Look at you; it’s 2024 and you’re STILL addicted to the internet; you’re disgusting
Hello! I hope you had a nice Jesus birthday period.
As I’m sure you did, I spent much of my break not relaxing, but lamenting over how the internet has mangled our soft, precious brains. But it’s okay, over the last two decades we have exacted our slow, onerous revenge on the internet by altering it beyond recognition. I look at the internet now and I think ‘what happened to you; you used to be so beautiful’ and I shame it for how it has ruined my life.
In order to figure out what went wrong (and what went right — there must be something) I explored the Merriam-Webster Time Traveller. It shows you what year words were first used ‘in print’ (whatever that means, hahaha I love screens!), and it is in no way a silly gimmick; it’s a very serious tool actually. Come with me on a word journey; don’t worry about 2024, it’s so dumb and boring, let’s get lost in the past.
Right so, when traversing the words of the past you’ll see that at 1994/95, suddenly there’s a huge influx of new words, and most of them relate to the internet and technology. I imagine this is because that is roughly the time people started getting the internet at home. The thing that surprised me most when looking through the years of words was how early certain terms cropped up: e.g. smart phone was already ‘in print’ in 1996. Many of the words and terms from this point up until the late 00s were therefore very future-facing, if you look at it from our perspective (which is the future). For instance, qubit and chatbot, appeared in 1994, a full thirty years ago — and it’s still the case that neither of these things are fully realised as something useful or understandable. It took this long for chatbots to even become interesting (and they still are not that interesting).
And, in 1995, when the firm grip of cyberspace took hold of our attention, we discovered it’s inverse: meatspace. Isn’t it great? Discovering an alternate reality and then realising you never had a name for your current reality.
Okay but then we had social networking in 1998, and I feel this was just internet users giving a name to something that everyone was already doing (networking in the meatspace is the traditional way of doing it afterall). The addition of the internet made the act of social networking more obvious. Suddenly you could network with the whole world. Stop handing your business card to people at work events like some kind of loser; instead, email 100 strangers a link to your geocities site.
Despite social networking being pretty close together conceptually (nowadays), the term social media didn’t pop up until 2004. This is obviously because we literally didn’t have it until this point, but it kind of reinforces what I was saying above. I remember when I first started hearing this term. I found it annoying, partly because I was begrudgingly impressed with how well it seemed describe this new thing we didn’t have a word for yet, but mostly because it implied that new media was based on socialising. So in that sense, socialising (or the performance of socialising) started to resemble work. There was pressure to upload photos of your night out, or pressure to comment on significant world events — and this was the new way to ‘be social’; it was second-order socialising. You go out with friends just so you can brag about it the next day. 2004 also gave us fomo, which of course makes perfect sense. And now, I think the performance of working, socialising, and networking have all become thoroughly intertwined online, and it’s hard to tell them apart from each other a lot of the time.
Another thing that exemplifies this new media paradigm is flash mobs, a term which appeared in 2003. I feel that these were among the first kinds of prearranged spectacles that took place in the real world, but were mainly for online consumption and virality. It marks the beginning of a shift in the way we consumed media; that online communities were soon going to be the source of news events, and be reported on by legacy media organisations — rather that it being the other way around.
Moving on, we see the effects of multiple human minds coming together and engaging in discourse: climate change denial became a thing in the year 2000, and anti-vaxxer in 2001. How ironic, to escape the millennium bug only to destroy yourself by succumbing to disease or continuing to pump the atmosphere full of toxins. Fuck you, Greta Thunberg, for not even being born yet.
Through this sea of alternative facts we see people’s patience wearing thin, with microblogging, TL;DR, and rage quit making an appearance in the early 00s. God rage quit is such a good one; so versatile; I did it to my parents very recently and I feel great.
It’s clear from the words cropping up in these years that we realised that our apparently limited attention was no match for the infinite bottomless pit of content that the internet was suddenly providing us. We wanted everything, but we wanted it quickly, because we were afraid of missing it. E.g. both open world and binge watch suggest having a lot of time on your hands for content — the time to explore a whole alternative world, or the time to sit down and watching eight hours of television — but it didn’t feel like we had time.
Special mention to the word vlog, which became too embarrassing to say out loud so people just say ‘video essay’ now. Also podcast, which was a word that was invented by a corporation, and now is a word for something which is fully open and interoperable both technically and conceptually. Anyone can record themselves talking and host it themselves somewhere and call it a podcast, and a podcast is also a thing that can be ‘officially’ published to RSS — and therefore published anywhere that supports RSS. I just like that it’s a word that was conceived by Apple, and could have easily been copyrighted by them, but is not. Would be great if we had an open protocol like this for video content wouldn’t it…
Right anyway, do you remember 2008? AKA the crash of the mortgage-backed security. Thank god for bitcoin. Following this of course came blockchain, initial coin offering, and another bunch of crap not worth mentioning. Also adulting, which I think is where you order a pizza but also have it with a nice glass of red wine? Idk.
I would say that, except for generative AI which appeared as a term in 2012, all other words seem to match their year a little better once you get into the 2010s, and also the introduction of new words slows down a lot. Everything has now calcified. Ghost kitchen and cloud kitchen make an appearance in 2015, thus cementing the idea that the real world (you know the meatspace) must start rearranging itself around the internet, and the conveniences it affords us.
2017 sees NFT. 2018 gives us deepfake. Things are getting worse. What about 2019? Our last chance to come up with words before covid hits? We get meme stock (great, more crashes imminent), review bombing (better than other kinds of bombing!), and large language model.
In 2020, nearly all new words are something to do with the pandemic. Except murder hornet. No one is talking about this. Imagine being called a murder hornet only to have your main function (murder) overshadowed by a pandemic. Pathetic.
I could talk about internet terms all day. So many silly acronyms and portmanteaus. What will be committed to the Merriam-Webster Time Traveller next? What about ‘girl dinner?’ I still don’t know what that is, but I guess technically I… eat it every night? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. Let’s make 2024 great again x