Stay Quirky: The Campaign to Keep the Internet Weird

The world becomes less lonely when you realize other people are just as strange as you are.

Sam Bush / 11.6.23

When the internet was coming of age, it was a weird and wonderful place. One could explore the frontier world of the Oregon Trail or get lost in completely other dimensions like Homestar Runner. Decades later, however, the internet is in danger of losing its soul. Whether or not it ever had a soul to begin with does not negate the handful of recent articles that are mourning the loss of the weirdness that made the Web so special to begin with. Over the past twenty years, what used to be a multidimensional platform — part bulletin board, part village square, part free arcade — is now awash with automated trolls and robots strip-mining us for data. Put simply, it’s a lot less fun.

The Wild Wild West of the web is now more like an empty wasteland. In his article, Why The Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore, Klye Chayka argues that what was once a lush and fertile landscape of creativity has been picked over by overfarming. “Remember having fun online?” he asks before bemoaning Instagram’s product ads, Google’s clutter of misinformation, and Facebook investing in AI chatbots rather than human interaction. Chayka laments, “The Internet today feels emptier, like an echoing hallway, even as it is filled with more content than ever.” The reason being, of course, is that it has been stripped of the humanness that first made it so appealing.

This personal element is exactly what lies at the heart of the internet’s demise. Chayka quotes a TikTok video essayist who says that social media “used to be more of a place for conversation and reciprocity” but that, with everyone now being forced to perform as an influencer, more people are opting to simply sit back and watch rather than create. Conversation has given way to consumption. Should online dialogue one day fail to exist, the internet will no longer be considered a public space. 

And yet, every once in a while the internet reminds us of its former glory. In 2013, seemingly out of nowhere, a Norwegian comedy duo explored the ridiculous question “What Does the Fox Say?” Last year, a 7-year old boy (i.e. the “Corn Kid”) opened our eyes to the wonders of corn. Both harkened back to a time when people used to do things on the internet for the fun of it. Not as a way to get discovered or establish themselves, but as a gift to receive free of charge. In spontaneous bursts of creativity, the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. And it was glorious.

The latest installment of online nonsense is Brian Jordan Alvarez who, thanks to an absurdly silly song called “Sitting,” was recently launched into stardom. Even better than the song itself, fans across the world have contributed cover versions, ranging from hush-folk artists, to pop producers, to choir ensembles. “The whole experience with this song has been so communal,” Alvarez said in an interview with Pitchfork. “It requires that people get on board with something that appeals to a very particular sense of humor, and when you discover other people share that sense of humor, it’s a special kind of connection.” The Sitting phenomenon is similar to C.S. Lewis’ definition of friendship, when two people discover that they have a common interest that “each believed to be his own unique treasure.” Suddenly, the world becomes less lonely when you realize other people are just as strange as you are.

Sadly, “Sitting” is now an exception to the rule of weirdness. Because the almighty algorithm is designed to give us what we have asked for, we are no longer venturing outside our comfort zones. In her article in Mashable, The Internet Used to be Fun: Remember?, Elizabeth de Luna regrets that the internet is consumer-based, “thriving on niche interests and breaking down into smaller and smaller corners until we are all staring into our own highly customized feed.” The result is that the element of surprise is getting harder to find. 

The “Sitting” phenomenon was simply one of life’s surprising joys that happened to be caught on camera. Best of all, its only purpose was to spread joy. There was no brand to be advertised, no influence to be made. Brian Jordan Alvarez may get a record deal out of his newfound fame, but that was never the original intent. In a world that is hellbent on making sense, videos like “Sitting” remind us that there is a place for utter nonsense.

One quick trip around the internet is enough to see that the world is full of pain, injustice, anger, and outrage. We have made it in our own image which is why those targeted ads give the eerie feeling that the internet now knows us better than we know ourselves. And yet, it turns out that getting what we wanted isn’t good for us. In order to see reality properly, one must be able to see the ridiculous joy of life. While life’s tragedies deserve our attention, they do not negate the fact that life is funny if you tilt your head enough. Humor, in fact, is essential in order to undercut the more serious areas of life. Like Hobbes the tiger says in Bill Watterson’s timeless comic strip, “I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.” We would all do well to pay heed to the tiger’s wisdom. A healthy way to process the pain of life, is to recognize that the world is large enough to contain total tragedy and utter silliness.

Amidst the weird corners of the internet, there is a glimpse of genuine and unexpected fellowship. It’s not the kind that can come from a dating app, but that which can never be engineered, calculated, or planned. The joy of the internet’s early days was simply the fruit of feeling loved and known by people you had never thought existed. At the end of his interview with NPR, Alvarez said, “I also just have and always will love the internet and the joy it can spark.” This is what happens when God sings to us a new song that we never expected to hear. Every once in a while, God bids us to leave our own tired and familiar world behind and to step out into the abyss of his weird and wonderful world once again.

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