Little boxes

Yesterday, I got a Facebook friend request from a dog. It was inevitable, really, but seriously, dear Internet, why?

Why do you keep spitting up things such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Whrrl and more, more, more? There are so many of these stupid social-networking sites, and everyone I know seems compelled to join each and every last one and, thus, ask me to join each and every one of them to point where I feel fatigued and annoyed.

Meanwhile, somewhere my Friendster account sits, crying.

Oh, 2003, you seem like 10 million lifetimes ago—nestled back in an era during which I believed the online world could actually bring me closer to my friends instead of make sick of nearly everyone.

It’s enough to make me cling to my comfort Internet sites such as DiaryLand like a timeworn, reliable teddy bear.

Remember DiaryLand? The online journal site, along with the likes of LiveJournal, and, was part of that early 2000s wave of digital diaries that encouraged not just expression but the idea of community—the kind with a life span that exceeds the latest Tumblr fad (hello, Cute Boys With Cats). Nearly a decade later, DiaryLand not only still boasts its simple, dated purple interface but also a refreshingly archaic reliance on the kinds of conversations that aren’t limited to 140 characters or judged on the number of comments they receive.

So now, as I sit here debating whether to confirm that I’m pals with a Jack Russell terrier (well, we do have 22 mutual friends), I’m wondering where everything went wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the digital Middle Ages, that period between pure text-driven sites of yesteryear and the flash-fueled, video-embedded, comment-built universes of today.

I miss a world where most Web sites, social-networking hubs in particular, didn’t just traffic in hype and hits and hoopla; they exuded a “real life” sense of purpose, an essence that could be translated from zeros and ones into something tangible, something that breathed energy into your life.

I miss that especially because, in the last month alone, I’ve experienced at least four failed online attempts to reconnect in person with bygone friends, even as my Facebook and LinkedIn in-boxes overflow with friendship requests from people with whom my friend-of-a-friend connection is tenuous at best.

I still post on DiaryLand occasionally, but better yet I’m remaining friends with many of the people I met there so long ago. They read, they leave me funny, supportive notes and they help quiet the Internet white noise with thoughtful discourse.

One of them recently took to the site to share her feelings on this Bigger! Better! Faster! More! online culture:

“The boxes to talk in get smaller and narrower and somehow more oppressive, rather than freer,” she mused. “It’s like being on stage for thousands of people who aren’t even listening, so why are you talking?

“It’s useless, it’s pointless, I don’t exist out there the way I do in my head or the way I do in real life—but I still love DiaryLand, this little protected corner of the Internet, this pre-Web 2.0 insta-feedback machine of a place.”

Agreed and, with that in mind, I will probably turn down the canine friend request.

It’s not you, puppy, it’s me, as well as a desire to hold on to what little affection I have left for those little boxes.