Note — Feb 09, 2020

The Internet Is a Toxic Hellscape—but We Can Fix It

Hard read. Because of the topic, and because Whitney Phillips spends the first half of the piece laying out the situation and sharing how she’s been feeling and dealing with all of it. But then there’s the flip, to seeing anxiety as a sign of awareness of consequences, and that we can find a way forward. (It’s also the introductory piece to her new column at WIRED, called Information Ecology, which is bound to be a must-read.)

There’s a flip side to all that anxiety, however; the story doesn’t end on a scene of me splayed out on my office floor, covered in bags of rice. That’s just the opening shot. Because, guess what: The same things that give me panic, that quite literally lay me out, also give me hope. They’re the same things that inspire me to open my eyes, stand up, and tell nihilism to go fuck itself. […]

If everything we believe about journalism is true, then why has none of it been working? The healthy response to this question is anxiety; paradigms hurt when they shift. […]

The kind of anxiety I’m describing is the north star guiding ships onward. At least it can be, when the worry itself is reframed and harnessed toward the common good. Because what is it, other than an awareness of consequence and connection? What is it, other than the recognition that things should be different? There is no yearning for a better world when there are no guiding stars. They are a necessary precondition for meaningful change. […]

The name reflects environmentalist Barry Commoner’s assertion that everything in nature is connected to everything else. The same rule holds online: Big things and small things are fundamentally entwined. Journalism, algorithms, bad actors, influencers, the everyday actions of everyday folks—each feeds into and is fed by all the rest. There are no wholly separate things.