(It used to be) a game of links.
December 30, 2015 5:10 AM   Subscribe

One year into his newly found freedom after 6 years incarceration in Tehran´s Evin prison; Mefi´s own Hossein Derakhshan gives his views on the internet and social media.
posted by adamvasco (19 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Previously: The Web We Have to Save
posted by modernserf at 5:26 AM on December 30, 2015

Hear, hear...
posted by y2karl at 5:51 AM on December 30, 2015

He speaks the truth.
posted by Jubey at 5:57 AM on December 30, 2015

I miss the old, decentralized web.
posted by COD at 6:13 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

That is really good.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:19 AM on December 30, 2015

Isn't this essentially the same article as the one modernserf posted? Or at least the same theory? I don't completely disagree with him; I think streams are addictive and capture our attention span in a way blogs did not do. There's no time to reflect on what you've read; it's onto the next thing. However, I am way more connected than I was before Twitter (made up mostly of Internet friends) and Facebook (made up of mostly real life friends, and despite its flaws, it's great for organizing events). You can immediately engage with a writer in a way people rarely did with blogs. I don't want to minimize what Derakhshan went through, prison must have been awful, but he comes off a bit like the cranky Baby Boomers complaining about Millennials.
posted by desjardins at 6:45 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've heard this same sentiment echoed a lot recently -- Hyperlinks, above all else, are what make the web special.

Hoder doesn't directly mention it in his article, but beyond the social networks that discourage or marginalize links, many others are outright hostile to the notion of hypertext (most notably Instagram).

The evolution of hypertext is also a bit paradoxical. You can make arguments that it's dying, while also arguing that it's encountering a bit of a renaissance. Both parties are right.

Wikipedia is arguably the most notable triumph of hypertext, and continues to enjoy widespread popularity and growth. Nobody is arguing for Wikipedia to go away, or be conceptually rethought. We would not have an open web in 2015 without Wikipedia.

Conversely, nobody is fighting for the bases upon which Wikipedia was founded. In many ways, it has never been more difficult for an average Joe to put free-form content on the web.

Meanwhile, the notion of the Semantic Web has been dragged through the mud, written off as a pipe-dream, and left for dead. XML was too complicated. Writing good metadata is really difficult, so nobody wants to do it. By 2010, you'd be hard pressed to find anybody arguing that structured data had a future on the web.

So, how's the Semantic Web doing in 2015? It's never been better. JSON-LD and schema.org quietly emerged as an alternative to XML metadata that is easier for humans to write, and easier for computers to parse. Google uses (and promotes) pages with these semantic links, so we're starting to see them everywhere.
posted by schmod at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also worth noting somewhere in here: The scientific community never embraced HTML.

This is particularly glaring, given HTML's origins at CERN.

Journal articles are still written to be printed on dead trees (even though few actually are). These articles are often hidden behind paywalls, and rarely use hypertext, in spite of the obvious utility that it would provide.
posted by schmod at 7:08 AM on December 30, 2015

Ironically, if he had been arrested a year later, he would have been at ground zero for the birth of twitter as a hub for activism and political discourse, and he might have a less nostagia-tinged perspective.
posted by modernserf at 7:18 AM on December 30, 2015

Also worth noting somewhere in here: The scientific community never embraced HTML.

All due respect, but this is a broad statement and does not reflect my experience of the scientific community. Yes, the journal format is staid because of oldschool people, but also because there is a great wariness toward changing a format that evolved from need. Science developed rigid systems so that humans could share complex ideas and information one to one, prior to the Internet; it will take a while to move that. But my experience of the community, outside journals, was of scientists being the only adults I knew who had personal websites (often with their reprints on it), of the enthusiastic adoption and expansion of pubmed, of people scanning historical works for online publication... it was not anti-web at all.
posted by zennie at 7:49 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic, clear-eyed view on the shift in online media consumption. Absolutely hideous that it took six years of being in jail to have this kind of time travel, but I am grateful to Hoder for writing it up so clearly.

I've had a front seat at both the rise of blogging and of Twitter. And was also very active on Usenet, the social media of the 90s. I'm particularly concerned by the trend towards media that is "linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking". Specifically coupled with becoming "much less powerful in relation to governments and corporation".

I absolutely hate the way Facebook and Google's algorithms select what you read. I don't think they're manipulated in any specifically doctrinaire way, they're both just trying to show you stuff you'll pay enough attention to that you see more ads. But not only are their selection filters opaque and mysterious, they are meager, mendacious. The Best of the Web does not float to the top at Facebook; instead viral shit with clickbait headlines does. It is an impoverished future.
posted by Nelson at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

See also hoder's followup Death of Hyperlink: The Aftermath.
posted by larrybob at 9:59 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure this is just an adaptation of the earlier Medium essay. But I don't really care, because it's a very important point. And, side note, it's one of the things that pushed me from lurking on MeFi to actually joining.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2015

You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink... But links are not objects, they are relations between objects.

My Art History teacher always had projections going, and he had two projectors. There were always two images up. Sometimes he would compare and contrast, but if the lecture touched on the left image only, there would still be a right image, left unmentioned, and it was up to us to find a relationship.

That's teaching not just Art History, but how to think about Art History.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:11 AM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think his comparison with television is very spot on.
In ye olde days pre smartphone and tablet the internet was limited to those with access to PC´s and was static in that you couldn´t take it with you when you moved. It hadn´t hit true mass in the way it has now where as John Naughton puts it the mobile internet is just the internet.
Instagram I know nothing about but what pisses me off big time is that when I find an interesting story on my FB feed with the only link´permitted, is that it does not appear in my history later so that I can´t easily find it at my leisure and never on my phone which I use for more than 50% of my online leisure time.
I used to think that the future of the novel or even some long form non fiction would incorporate links to music, pics whatever and become a full multidimensional experiance instead of the bland offering that is presently being shoved at us.
The rest of the web has not disappeared it has just been pushed into a corner by the instant gratification bullies.
I don´t mind seeming elitist about this. It makes me realize even more in this day and age what an exceptional place Metafilter is.
posted by adamvasco at 11:33 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's the AOL-ification of the Internet all over again. Who wants to learn how to set up their own blog when there are simpler options? So what if they're simpler options that are embedded in the advertising of the company running it? It's a hell of a lot less conceptual work.

Which reminds me that part of why my blogging has slowed is that the Wordpress app on my phone keeps on failing to connect to my blog to actually post, and helpfully completely deletes the post I just painstakingly pecked out on my phone keyboard when this happens.

Wordpress just made a bunch of noise about a new post uI but it's a web view and web apps on the phone still generally kinda suck but at least it seems to not carelessly discard my posts in the event of minor connection problems...
posted by egypturnash at 1:19 PM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am way more connected than I was before Twitter (made up mostly of Internet friends) and Facebook (made up of mostly real life friends, and despite its flaws, it's great for organizing events). You can immediately engage with a writer in a way people rarely did with blogs.
I don't know about this. Perhaps part of the reason "we" (Western, white-presenting types) don't find the idea of Twitter and Facebook threatening is because we're not genuinely oppositional? If we had a political or ideological background which made us vulnerable to state surveillance or lived under a genuinely authoritarian regime, would we find the enormous archive of data within social media—and the power it gives intelligence organisations to track our movements and map our social networks—a little more terrifying? Two nagging little thoughts come to mind whenever I dwell on this. We expose ourselves and our networks to view much more profoundly than we think whenever we use social media. Those fun little linking exercises that we played whenever we joined Facebook ("Find Your Friends!") seem a lot less benign and purely in the realm of entertainment post Snowden. Secondly, that exposure places us all in a position of extreme weakness should we ever be deemed to step seriously out of line ideologically, one that ramifies as the states we live in edge their way slowly towards frank authoritarianism.

I liked Derakhshan's points about the differences between blogging and social media a lot when I read the original Medium piece, and if anything they're even more relevant now. There's been a movement from content to "attitude," from thoughtful critique to the "hot take," from sustained opposition to discontinuous paroxysms of outrage that never seem to lead anywhere. We're all eating our own tails. And while Derakhshan's oppositional stance against "newness" and "popularity" might seem a little outre from within the poptimist bubble (which I guess accounts for some of the push back within this thread), he has a point. Reading this article again, I immediately thought of Jia Tolentino's recent No Offense piece for Jezebel, particularly her observations about the links between stream consumption and identity formation through what she calls "negative self-definition: the delineation of political identity by what you are not":
the internet ... revolves around brand-building and feelings of superiority and incentivizes the public, repeated, politically decorative combination of the two ... In other words, it’s easy to look around at this unappealing buffet of identity and establish who you are by deciding first who you don’t want to be.
Political discourse as expressed through social media (especially Twitter) devolves into a series of fronts and poses, performative disavowals and strategic acts of taking offense, all sustained by the stream, which offers up countless opportunities for outrage every time you refresh your feed. But where's the content, the point? It's just a Bakhtinian pressure-release valve, one that changes nothing. It's pseudo-activism. That it's become our dominant form of political discourse (as we on the Left become ever more marginalised and irrelevant) suggests its total uselessness as a tool for effecting real change.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:42 AM on December 31, 2015

I don't know if anyone here remembers it, but I miss searchlores.org (and +Fravia) so much. That site made the Web (and sorta, by extension) the Internet seem full of possibility and hope.

I haven't felt like that for a while now.

edited to link to an archive, instead of the bullshit company that took over the domain
posted by iffthen at 7:11 AM on December 31, 2015

Excellent piece, thanks for posting it, adamvasco. It's great that Hoder is free and speaking his mind once again.
posted by homunculus at 7:06 PM on January 5, 2016

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