I picture the internet as a surreal landscape, a place with textures and sensations, a location full of the mundane, the miraculous and the ominous. This visualization was heightened upon my discovery of Debbie Millman's embroidery project depicting the early internet, and continued when I saw maps of undersea wiring wrapped around the entire world, carrying the internet inside. So the websites we visit are glimmering electricity underneath the ocean, a living energy and geography, a terrain to navigate.
This morning, that navigation led me to a new social networking site called Ello. Ello has a manifesto, is still in beta, and is currently invite-only. It crashes a lot and is very slow. It posted a message from me to my sister three times and then wouldn't let me delete the extra two and then deleted all three. However, I love all of these qualities because they indicate something new is happening. Perhaps our post-Facebook era can really begin now. Ello faces many challenges in a playing field dominated by titans and the perennial question of how anything ad-free can be sustainable. Not to mention, there's no "like" button (how will I demonstrate I like something?). These and other concerns occur to me as I try to understand the unfamiliar interface, soak in the novelty of the lovely typewriter-esque font and waste a Facebook-ian amount of time choosing my profile picture.
But, still, there is something astir as I write this. There's a little digital rumble: articles are popping up, Facebook friends are actually defecting. It might be wishful thinking, or it might be just a slight nudge of the paradigm. I'm rooting for the latter, but only time will tell. “People who say it's impossible to create something new imagine a stagnant future," says Paul Budintz, the creator of Ello. "There's a kind of totalitarianism in that attitude. A lot of the data mining and manipulative behavior engaged in by big social networks has that flavor, a real arrogance and cynicism.” Ello was created as the antidote to that totalitarianism, and, if successful, might be able to fulfill a certain collective desire.
I have no specific hope or expectation at this point, only a curiosity and anticipation about what will happen next. Perhaps nothing will come of Ello, perhaps there will not be the magnificent exodus and revolution I dream of today as I reload my crashed home page, the pleasing minimalist design reappearing on the third try. But I appreciate the potential in this moment, how it feels to participate in a place not muddled by ads, greed and money. It feels unencumbered by the obliviousness of technology merely for technology’s sake. Maybe, just maybe, we can re-set, start over, decide what it is we’re really doing here.