My Internet: Hussein Kesvani

The journalist and researcher met some of his best friends on platforms they detest.

Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, from Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.🧩

Every Friday, we quiz a very cool “very online” person to get their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.

Today we welcome Hussein Kesvani, a London-based journalist, writer, and researcher who co-hosts the Trashfuture and Ten Thousand Posts podcasts and the BBC Sounds radio show Human Error. In 2020, his debut nonfiction book Follow Me Akhi: The Online World of British Muslims was longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. He is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Digital Anthropology at University College London, supported by an Aziz Foundation scholarship.

Hussein once precipitated a minor international crisis with a satirical tweet, watches long-form therapy sessions with gamers on Twitch, and believes the metaverse is a cogent example of tech companies knowing that they are more powerful than nation states. —Nick

What's a recent meme or other post that cracked you up?

Everything Greg Kelly posts on Twitter leaves me speechless. He does perfect, perfect tweets. Like this relatively recent one, where he uses the term “woke coke” before lamenting his sugar rush on account of drinking a six pack of Pepsi too fast, and also says that he’s holding in a big fart. Greg Kelly is 52 years old! He’s done so many posts about overindulging in sweet treats and fast food, or being really impressed by his own colorful pants. Plus, the way he writes—the all caps on random words, the bizarre anecdotes about winning an eating contest at Hooters. He’s one of Twitter’s best posters, and, dare I say it, one of this generation’s greatest writers.

Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?

I don’t! I deleted Instagram from my phone recently so I haven’t posted much, and I think when you scroll through, you can see I go through phases. So it begins in 2014 when I first start working in London, and I have those basic photos of Big Ben and Westminster Palace with the default Instagram over-granulated filters. Then I took horrible pictures of food, then classic guys who take pics of buildings because they say a lot about society etc. Then I tried to be like other writers on Instagram and posted photos of landscapes, along with long, confessional writing, although i stopped that because I hate writing on a phone. My most recent photos are promos of my BBC Radio show, and an engagement announcement—so it’s all boomer posting from this point. 

What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?

This is such a good question because I don’t know if i actively “watch” stuff, or whether it exists largely as background in a tab. So I would say I actively watch music videos and live performances, some old BBC documentaries that you can’t get on the BBC iPlayer in the UK, and anime that I can’t bootleg because there aren’t enough torrent seeds. During the pandemic, I watched a lot of video essays too—so things like Patrick Willem’s film essays, “Better Than Food”, a channel that reviews classic literature, “Middle 8” and “Volksgeist” for music-related essays, “The Take” for general pop culture critique. I also sub to a lot of YouTubers who have smart and interesting observations of contemporary pop culture and digital culture—“Broey Deschanel” recently put out an excellent video on Love Island and the surveillance state, “Hbomberguy” is brilliant, as are Abi Thorn (Philosophytube) and Tiffany Ferguson, the latter of whom really gets digital culture in a way that so many observers of online culture don’t. Oh, also Kidology—a channel I was recommended recently, which recently put out a really interesting video on the idea of meritocracy, something that so many British people are obsessed with, even though they don’t know what it is. I sub to a bunch of internet culture analysis channels, but one I keep coming back to is Meme Analysis, a channel that treats memes as regenerative, recontextualising text, rather than finite, observable objects.

Finally, I tend to “watch” a lot of music streams—I currently live on my own, and my flat can be eerily quiet as I live in a suburb. So during the day, I’ll usually have a Lo Fi Beats mix, or a mix from the “My Analogue Journal” channel, in which a DJ will play selections of music from all around the world, and where you can actually watch the DJ choose vinyls, set them on the turntable, carefully place the needle etc. It’s like (and some people will get so mad at me for saying this) a very very very chilled out Boiler Room session.

Do you use TikTok? If so, how would you describe what shows up on your For You Page?

I don’t really use tiktok! I’ll tell you a story—I once made a tiktok. It was a very easy and dumb one, where I was just replicating a pointing-to-text meme to some generic music. Anyway, an hour later, some kid somewhere found it, and called me an old guy. Since that happened, I deleted my account, and TikTok sits on my phone as probably the least used app I have.

I am interested in tiktok as a platform—my friend Chris Stokel-Walker wrote an excellent book on it recently, and I’m fascinated with it as a platform technology, and one that operates in the shadow of a degrading, morphing Facebook. I think it’s really reconstituted the way we think about platforms and content, what “having fun” on the internet means in the 2020s, and what sophisticated algorithmic technology can (and can’t) do on a platform that doesn’t carry as much baggage as facebook and google. Now that I have more time, I might start lurking again. 

Do you ever tweet? Why?

GOD. Yes this is a question. Ok so I tweet too much and my relationship to the platform has actually been at the centre of a lot of my actual therapy sessions, so apologies if this is just offloading.

I joined twitter in 2012 when a journalist from a broadsheet came to my university to give a careers talk, and said that every journalist should be on twitter because “it is a way to get noticed” and “can help you get through the door by showing you already know how to write and read the news.” At around the time I was thinking about pursuing a career in journalism, having no real contacts or insights into the news industry other than selling and delivering newspapers at my family shop, it seemed like something worth doing. At the beginning, I was really just retweeting a bunch and repeating whatever columnists at The Guardian were saying in order to appear smart (pro tip: this is still the best way of landing a news job. Journalists love being told they’re really clever). Later on, as twitter developed and it became part and parcel of doing news, I used it to provide extended commentary on stories I was working on, or cultivating sources, but still in a very serious and sincere way. My relationship with twitter changed when, in 2015, I was covering the European refugee crisis, and I had been mistaken as a refugee multiple times throughout the trip. I was live tweeting about being interviewed by a Spanish TV journalist who refused to accept I lived in England, and then I got locked inside a refugee holding center in Hungary because I was trying to get some interviews and didn’t have my passport with me. People observing found it somewhat amusing, and the takeaway was that combining reporting with personalised, benign and absurd anecdotes was able to attract a lot more attention.

My relationship with twitter has changed a lot though—I think that in the past few years, I got a lot more attention on account of being more of a public-facing personality and a bit more established in the small media circles that get to determine the discourse on the platform. As a result, I am in this place where, while I really don’t like Twitter as a platform, I am way too accustomed to the immediacy it demands, and the ephemerality of the writing it incentivises. So these days, I tweet a mixture of jokes, political satire, some sincere commentary, and more recently, observations on aspects of internet culture I find interesting. Sometimes I tweet because I’m bored. Other times—especially during the lockdown—I tweet because it’s a kind of communication that elicits immediate social interactions, which offsets the inevitable loneliness of the current moment. More recently, I think a lot of my tweets come out of a feeling of despair and fatigue. It’s hard to see what feels like much of the UK disintegrating at a rapid place, heading toward a really ugly (though arguably, inevitable) place, and knowing that there’s very little one can do to communicate that, especially when journalists with access to politicians and power don’t even accept the premise. So in this really sad way, posting these thoughts on twitter—and realising I’m not the only person thinking like this—can be oddly comforting. Not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but more that our means of collective communication are so concentrated in Platforms that it’s one of the very few available reminders that other people understand the world as you do.

Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?

Yeah lol, this story has been told to death, but for readers who don’t know, in 2018 I caused a minor international crisis by posting a satirical tweet in which I pretended I was a doctor who secretly converted newborn babies to Islam by whispering in their ear, and that crucially local hospitals couldn’t do anything about it because of political correctness. I thought it was a bizarre, dumb and funny post that satirised the moral panics of MAGA people who kept getting mad that Starbucks employees were rude to them, but the next morning I got a load of angry messages, death threats (!) and someone told me they reported me to Interpol. Also someone at a London hospital got in touch to say that while they found the tweet funny, the hospital was also getting calls demanding that I be immediately fired, so I took down the tweet because I didn’t realise how quickly it would go out of control.

So while nothing major happened other than a few articles from right wing websites condemning me and calling for my immediate deportation, every so often, right-wing reactionaries in other countries—especially India—will circulate screenshots and spread Islamophobic messages with it. It’s weird because even in the worst case scenario I thought of in 2018—that it would somehow give more ammo to the Proud Boys, or reignite some of the far-right protest movements in the UK—I didn’t expect it to actually be the most influential among the Hindutva Nationalists, who already have a lot of power in India and have a reputation for rampant vigilantism. Since that tweet, I’ve done some more variations of it—but I try to make them as stupid as possible so that even those who want to entertain bizarre culture war fantasies in their head find it too confusing to deal with. 

Who's the coolest person who follows you?

So many cool people have to read my embarrassing and horrific posts (I’m sorry). But, look, I don’t get to flex often, so I will. The coolest person who follows me (on twitter) is Mitski. I only hope she’s too busy touring and making music to read my dumb posts.

Who's someone more people should follow?

Going to cheat by giving a few out, so apologies in advance.

Ayesha Siddiqi, who is just consistently smart about everything. I’ve been a fan of her writing for years, and her substack is brilliant. Olga Koch, a brilliant comedian who I co-host a BBC podcast with. I think she’s one of this generation’s best posters—the kind where you might have to just get up and take a walk after reading some of her posts. Sophie (@Theymersophie) is such a smart person and their Youtube channel is really great. I’d highly recommend the Matrix sequels series, which is probably the only video essay that actually understands the films. Erin Taylor’s art (@atmfiend on instagram) really captures the effect of existing online, and how it can be both disorienting, but also clarifying. I think it’s one of the best examples of digital art really providing a language in which to understand an augmented living that’s neither online or offline. 

Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?

ICE T, by far. I just love how much Ice T genuinely loves Twitter, his ramblings about the edit button, his slice of life observations, how he’ll casually quote tweet people and call them clowns and dumb fucks. He has such a way with words that very few people can really emulate or master. Kind of like Donald Trump, and how no one has really been able to authentically emulate him in a way that’s impactful. What I also love about ICE T is that he consciously chooses not to do any culture war nonsense, even though he’s primed for it. He just wants to have fun online, and is one of the few people who, I think, actually likes being on twitter. 

Do you ever comment on or reply to posts? Which platforms? Why?

I do—again mostly on twitter and instagram, though because I’m private on the latter, I tend to just talk to friends and family. On twitter, I reply to posts that I find interesting and I think I can add to in some meaningful way (although I would also argue that replies tend to be more like projection), or if someone asks a good faith question, or comments on something I’ve written/a podcast I’ve been on etc. I used to quote tweet trolls a lot, but i’ve dialed that back a lot—partly because I think one aspect of being hostile online is an already entrenched perception of someone feeling victimised and wanting to affirm that, and the other is that pile ons, generally, are horrible. While I was researching my book, I spoke to a few Islamophobic “trolls” who had said that the twitter pile-ons were more likely to confirm their worldviews and positions, so they would often provoke with the intention of getting dunked on. So while I do quote tweet from time to time, I almost immediately regret it, but I also try to tell a joke or something, at least in an attempt to not escalate the hostility further. 

Where do you tend to get your news?

Now that I don’t work in news, I read The Guardian and the Financial Times most days. Other news sources come from various twitter and reddit lists I have—usually about technology or arts. The rest of it comes from a disorganised twitter feed, although I keep tabs on specific writers who I always make time for. More often than not, those writers tend to either publish on Substack, or in Vice, i-D, Input, The Outline (RIP), or Wired

What's your favorite non-social media app?

I don’t really use apps much, but I guess Notion. I’m a super disorganised person who keeps paper notes and functions via a series of paper notebooks. At the same time, I’ve struggled with digital organising systems, that in my view tend to present optimisation as “give us access to more electronic devices.” Notion isn’t perfect, but it’s a fairly user-friendly platform that lets me organise projects in a more erratic way, and it doesn’t constantly ping me. If anyone has any better recommendations though, do let me know. 

What are you willing to pay for online?

I pay for a couple of substack newsletters and a couple of podcasts, all of which touch on several interest areas (internet culture, politics and anthropology) so purchasing them is conducive to the work I am trying to do. I pay a sub to The New Inquiry, which I’ve had for several years, and is one of my favourite magazines, with consistently smart writing. I used to have an online sub to The Paris Review because I loved reading the interviews with writers, and just finding stuff in the archive. I’d be keen to resubscribe at some point in the future if I have more money—or, at least, some kind of literature magazine. I also subscribe to Evgeny Morozov’s The Syllabus, which curates the best academic and journalistic writing on internet culture, politics and geographies in an easy to find place. I’d recommend it to anyone seriously studying the internet today.

In terms of non-writing stuff, I pay for two digital services; one is Sleepcycle pro; I’ve always struggled to sleep, and having spent the past few years working on california time from london, that problem was exacerbated. The second is a premium sub to Tweetdeleter because, well, some of my posts get more attention than I’d like. I think once you get above a certain number on twitter—perhaps 10k—some kind of tweetdeleter is absolutely necessary if you want to try have a normal time online. 

Are you a fan of any NFT art or artists? Do you have strong feelings about blockchain tech or cryptocurrencies?

I actually minted an NFT! Olga and I made one for Human Error, which was designed by the great artist Dylan Woodley. You can right click and save it here.

I don’t have strong feelings about crypto or blockchain, but I am somewhat sympathetic to some of the communities there—not least because in some circles, they are actually trying to imagine what a better future could look like, and what collective forms of commerce, integrating technology, could function as. It’s a shame that this part of crypto culture has been overshadowed by cryptocurrency influencers and tech guys running scams to try pump up the value of their existing tech companies, because at some point, we’ll need to really think about what a post-nation state world would look like. 

Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?

I sub to way too many substacks although I don’t subscribe to many. The ones I will check out weekly are Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day,  Dirt, The Goods from Rebecca Jennings, Cameron Wilson’s newsletter on Australian Internet Culture. Admittedly, I also hate-read a bunch of newsletters I won’t name. Oh, and one I will always open immediately is Popbitch, which I think is one of the best newsletters ever produced. 

Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?

One thing about making podcasts for part of a living is not wanting to listen to many! I listen to Masters Of Our Own Domain podcast, hosted by my friends Milo Edwards and Phoebe Roy, and it’s just so chaotic and unpredictable. I subscribe to Yeah, But Still, E1, Asset Arrest, QAnon Anonymous and This Machine Kills.

I tend to listen to podcasts in the car or while doing weights sessions at the gym, and sometimes when I go for walks. Oh, and also the commuter train. I live in outer London, so commutes are usually around 40 minutes to an hour—so prime podcast listening time. 

Do you have an opinion on Clubhouse or its clones, like Twitter Spaces?

I wasn’t a fan of clubhouse. I don’t know if its because I have a low attention span, or it just felt too chaotic. Ultimately i think clubhouse couldn’t decide what it wanted to be—like was it supposed to be Raya for podcasts? Or Audio Twitter? Spaces works because the audience is sort of already there—it’s built into the twitter experience—but with Clubhouse, they were trying to build an audience, an exclusive platform, and an audio experience at once, ignoring the social structures that actually inform how these technologies work and grow. Which is to say, I think that it is a fad that, though won’t disappear, is more likely to find a home as a teleconferencing service for professional networking. 

Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Around what age?

Not really—snapchat came out while I was at university, and from what I saw back in 2010ish, it wasn’t really used by that many people? And by the time it became popular again (my teenage cousin uses it all the time) I was way too old for it to be relevant to my life. 

When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?

I used to use pinterest as an inspiration board for fitness and fashion, but I hated the layout and found it so difficult to use. My partner is moving in with me soon though, so pinterest is now being used to figure out how to turn a sparsely decorated bachelor pad into an actual living space. 

Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr? Why?

I was never a vine person, but I was on tumblr for a bit in my late teens and early 20s. I mostly spent time reposting anime screens on tumblr, and it was the main way i discovered new anime. I think I miss that mode of discoverability—this idea that rather than an algorithm deciding what series you might binge watch or  passively watch, finding a screen someone you followed had posted felt like a more personalised and intimate form of recommendation, that rather than “you’ll like this based on what you’ve watched before that’s similar” its a “this series will make you feel and think about the world in a different way.” 

Do you consider yourself part of any specific online communities?

Not these days- though perhaps that’s because the concept of an “online community” seems too vague and almost impossible. I guess the closest I’ve come to being part of an “online community” is a facebook group of fountain pen enthusiasts, though I’m really just a lurker on there.

Are you regularly in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What are they about?

I joined a lot of facebook groups during my reporting days, and still get updates from them—topics ranging from local music groups to the facebook black market for reusable cooking oil (a fun fact—there’s been a huge surge in demand for UCOs as a result of the global fuel crisis). On Reddit, I follow a lot of subreddits though I don’t check in on very many, although during the lockdown I was part of a writer’s group that came out of r/writingprompts. I don’t really use Slack, and while I do have a Discord and was part of various anime related discord servers, I also haven’t used that very much. 

Are you playing any games right now? Do you watch any gamers live stream on Twitch or another platform?

So I do watch some twitch streams when I can. One of my favourites to check in on is Healthy Gamer, a stream run by a U.S. psychiatrist named Alok Kanojia, who has long-form therapy sessions with Twitch personalities. Though I think that recent sessions have been a bit performative, what I like about Kanojia is how he understands the internet and video games as social phenomena that require a understanding of social life. In a lot of ways, his channel was one of the first I’ve seen that talks about living online as a human experience, rather than a technological exterior. I also watch Sinan Kose’s twitch stream  and Hasan Piker’s twitch streams when I have time. My podcast, Trashfuture, also has a twitch stream where we watch bizarre youtube videos. I haven’t been on it very much due to my studies, but I’ll be getting back to it soon.

How excited—or apprehensive—are you about the metaverse?

Tell me what the metaverse is!!! I have a lot of cynical thoughts about it that are still half baked, but I’ll give it a shot. I think the metaverse materialises one of the ‘90s utopian fantasies of the internet—in which a body is rendered unnecessary to cultivate and evolve the mind—but in this mundane, crass and inhuman way, which is bizarre VR conference rooms where you can trade goods and services with Facebook crypto currency. In some ways, Metaverse is a cynical imagining of the future, wherein Tech billionaires by and large accept that the material world can’t be improved in any way, that they have no intention of using their wealth to make the world a better place, and their solution to a degrading Earth is to create another, simulated world where they get to define all modes of exchange and relations. I don’t think Metaverse will be the dominant form of this, but I do think it's a big step toward normalising a bleaker, corporate-defined future. And one reason why a lot of western governments haven’t said anything about it is that the Metaverse comes at a time when Western states, savaged by decades of austerity and neoliberalism, are no longer considered to be institutions that can actively change society. So, I would also say that the Metaverse is a cogent example of tech companies knowing that they are more powerful than nation states, and much more influential in shaping society than them. 

Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?

The only person I voice note is my two-year-old nephew, who loves phones and knows exactly how to send a voice note and facetime—he can even unlock people’s phones, which is quite incredible. It’s really nice to hear voice notes from him, especially as he’s learning so many new words. 

Do any of your group chats have a name that you're willing to share? What's something that recently inspired debate in the chat?

The Trashfuture Whatsapp group is called Brian Emo, which I always find very funny. 

What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?

My favourite emoji is the weary face emoji because it describes my disposition so well. I use it when I'm embarrassed, tired, overwhelmed with work, or when someone compliments or praises me. I guess it reflects a constant state of personal unease, which, as an immigrant in England, is constantly instilled in you anyway.

What's a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve streamed a lot lately?

Recently I found a bunch of ‘70s pop records in a dump yard, so I’ve been listening to a lot of that for the first time. Shocking Blue, Lobo, Mungo Jerry, T-Rex etc. My partner got me a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan LP for my birthday, and I play that most mornings, as well as Ravi Shankar. In terms of Spotify, it depends on mood. I have a nostalgia playlist I made during lockdown, which is filled with the worst British landfill indie music you can imagine—Fratellis, Ting Tings, The Wombats—all the music I pretended to like in high school. That said, I am trying to listen to some new music when I can, so I am listening to bands like Dogleg and The Spirit of the Beehive, The Ophelias etc. This morning, I listened to Joy Crookes’ new album, Skin, which is probably one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. 

If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?

I live in Britain I sadly don’t get HBO max unless I switch my tv to an expensive provider. Not really a fan of most streaming services to be honest, but I think on balance, I’d probably stick to the BBC’s iPlayer. 

What's the most basic thing that you love online?

Probably AO3 (Archive of our own)? I was really into fanfics when I was younger, and even wrote a couple of Digimon ones that I never published. I think fanfic forums are still really great, creative spaces where boundaries are pushed and the performative demands are far less intense. Plus, I still think the most unhinged things you can find online are in those fanfic communities. 

Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?

OK, so when i was younger, I’m pretty sure there was a cartoon on Nickelodeon—a short cartoon—that was horrifyingly disgusting to the eight-year-old me. The cartoon was of a boy who basically ate his own snot, drank his own spit, was just really gross and disgusting. It was animated like a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, or like, in Cow and Chicken or Dexter’s Lab where one of the characters would have a mental breakdown or something. Anyway, I just remember the scenes where this cartoon boy drank a bucket of his own spit and snot, and didn’t speak for several days. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to find it, and there seems to be no trace of it every existing - yet, I remember this so vividly that I’m 100% sure it was real. I would just love to find out who animated it and why—or whether other people had seen it too.

Besides answers to my childhood trauma, I’m not sure. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to restructure the internet as a creative environment but one thing the monopolisation of online has done is make it really difficult to imagine what a better internet could look like. So I’m not really sure what i would “want” as far as I’m not actually sure what is “possible” by the standards of platforms. 

Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?

I sold my old Macbook a few months ago on Ebay—the first time I sold anything. I reckon I could have sold it for more, but who knows. 

Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?

Recently, RS Benedict’s “Everyone Is Beautiful and Nobody Is Horny” essay. It isn’t so much about the internet than it is about the Body—body modding, instagram filters, the Marvel buff guy program etc. I’ve been fascinated with how we talk about and think about bodies in the past couple of years—perhaps because so much of British culture is filled with “debate” about trans people, and in doing so, asserting biological essentialism as a prerequisite of gender definition and categorisation. At the same time, I think a lot of conversations happening on the internet—the future of work, childbirth, mental health, fitness culture etc.—reflect anxiety of the body and the uncertainty of what bodies actually are and what they actually do. And it intersects with the Metaverse stuff, wherein you are given a pre-designed digital body designed for a corporatised world, or in videogames, where there’s a whole culture around body modification and transcending the definitions of the body as it exists within late capitalism. So yeah, I think that the essay is probably one of my favourites produced this year, and is really insightful in terms of how we actually engage with online environments. 

What's one thing you recommend for maintaining a healthy relationship with the internet?

I am such a bad person to ask, but it’s a question I ask myself all the time, and even more so now that I’ve finished a masters in Digital Anthropology—a field that explores how people actually interact with digital cultures and environments. So while I don’t have an answer, I do have some thoughts.

I think we should think about the internet as a social structure, and not a technological one. So recognising that internet culture bleeds into real life and vice versa, it’s important to know when you’re “engaging with online” even when you’re offline, if that makes sense. In my case, it means not measuring myself or my value against others through platform metrics, or even checking out of conversations (eg. about wokeness and cancel culture) that clearly come from online, and require the same sorts of logics to participate.

I don’t think we can really have a “healthy relationship” with the internet as it exists, and where platforms get to define its functions. Platforms chase scale, attention, user bases and will always demand more to function. I think what we can do is recognise that, and make conscious decisions to reject those demands in any way we can. So perhaps that means valuing time with other people, or carving out moments of quiet and silence in order to slow things down. Recently, I’ve been trying to get myself to sit outside for at least 20 minutes and sort of just watch as people get on with their day and their lives—a reminder that even as online accelerates social life (and thus, accelerates the antagonisms), people still exist in a material world and desire material relationships that no online environment can replicate. I know that’s a bit wishy washy, but I recently just finished watching the last Evangelion film, and it makes that point far more concisely. 

What's the worst thing about the internet in 2021? How about the best thing?

The worst thing, I think, is that the internet as it exists is just incredibly restrictive for human expression and relationship building. Platform dominance and pursuit of scale at all costs has meant that for the past decade, the way we interact with each other has been in accordance with the whims and beliefs of technology companies who care very little about human relationships, cultures and communities and the art that emerges from that. It’s a shame that the critique about platforms is that “they don't keep us safe from terrorists” or moral panics about non-cisgendered identities—because in reality the damage they have caused is far more reaching and ingrained. I don’t even think we have a public language to describe how tech platforms have fundamentally changed the way we conceptualise and relate to each other, the ways that they have limited how we express ourselves and identities, and, crucially, how they aren’t built to foster communities of sharing and giving. Yet, because they have so much power and dominance, there is no incentive for them to do any of this—and because politicians don’t understand how the internet works, or even *what* the internet is—tech companies know they can continue to monopolise public discourse, and by extension, shape human behaviour to build both an online, and offline world, in their image.

But you asked for a positive too, and I’m not wholly cynical! I do think one of the blessings of the internet, as it exists, are the people on it. One reason I became so fascinated with the internet was because I was drawn to very smart, endearing and talented people, who were also caring, empathetic and supportive. I met some of my best friends on platforms we detest, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have not only been able to make a living with them, but also pursue niche hobbies and interests with people just as obsessive as I am. I think there’s also something in being around people who recognise the same problems as you do, or have the same kinds of questions, and feeling comforted by that knowledge that you aren’t sitting alone with those anxieties. I imagine that’s a fairly universal feeling.

Thanks Hussein! Buy his book, listen to his podcasts, and follow him on Twitter. 😩

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