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Neil Gaiman’s Radical Vision for the Future of the Internet


Earlier this week, Neil Gaiman was interviewed on Icelandic television. Around the twenty-five minute mark of the program, the topic turned to the author’s thoughts about the internet. “I love blogging. I blog less now in the era of microblogging,” Gaiman explained, referring to his famously long-running online journal hosted at “I miss the days of just sort of feeling like you could create a community by talking in a sane and cheerful way to the world.”

As he continues, it becomes clear that Gaiman’s affection for this more personal and independent version of online communication is more than nostalgia. As he goes on to predict:

“But it’s interesting because people are leaving (social media). You know, Twitter is over, yeah Twitter is done, Twitter’s… you stick a fork in, it’s definitely overdone. The new Twitters, like Threads and Blue sky… nothing is going to do what that thing once did. Facebook works but it doesn’t really work. So I think probably the era of blogging may return and maybe people will come and find you and find me again.”

In these quips, Gaiman is reinforcing a vision of the internet that I have been predicting and promoting in my recent writing for The New Yorker (e.g., this and this and this). Between 2012 to 2022, we came to believe that the natural structure for online interaction was for billions of people to all use the same small number of privately-owned social platforms. We’re increasingly realizing now that it was this centralization idea itself that was unnatural. The underlying architecture of the internet already provides a universal platform on which anyone can talk to anyone else about any topic. We didn’t additionally need all of these conversations to be consolidated into the same interfaces and curated by the same algorithms.

The future of the internet that most excites me is also, in many ways, a snapshot of its past. It’s a place where the Neil Gaimans of the world don’t need to feed their thoughts into an engagement engine, but can instead put out a virtual shingle on their own small patch of cyberspace and attract and build a more intimate community of like-minded travelers. This doesn’t necessitate a blog — podcasts, newsletters, and video series have emerged as equally engaging mediums for independent media production. The key is a communication landscape that is much more diverse and distributed and interesting than what we see when everyone is using the same two or three social apps.

This vision is not without its issues. The number one concern I hear about a post-social media online world is the difficulty of attracting large audiences. For content creators, by far the biggest draw to a service like Twitter or Instagram is that their algorithms could, if you played things just right, grant you viral audience growth.

Take myself as an example. Over the past fifteen years I’ve slowly built this newsletter to around 80,000 loyal subscribers who really seem to connect with what I have to say. If I had instead directed my energy during this period toward a social platform (which I somewhat infamously refused to do), I probably could have gathered ten times more followers.

I’m not sure, however, that I care. What exactly is a social media follower anyway? A couple years ago, for example, publishing houses began signing major social media influencers to book deals under the assumption that their huge follower counts would yield automatic sales. Things didn’t work out as planned. I think I’m happy with my 80,000 subscribers, many of whom I know by name, and who have been reading and commenting on my work for many years. It feels like a family while the social media influencers I know often experience their audiences more like an unruly mob that they’re struggling to pacify.

An online world in which it’s hard to be a superstar, but easier to find a real sense of community, sounds like a good tradeoff to me. I’m hoping Neil Gaiman is right that the Age of Twitter really is coming to an end, and that a return the quieter, deeper pleasures of a more homegrown social internet will soon return. I remember fondly read Gaiman’s blog during the early 2000s. There were no likes or virality, but I did feel connected to an author I liked. Can’t that be good enough?


In Other News: On the latest episode of my podcast, Deep Questions, I take a critical look at the idea of “laziness,” exploring more effective ways of thinking about struggles to get important things done. (watch | listen)

The post Neil Gaiman’s Radical Vision for the Future of the Internet appeared first on Cal Newport.

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7 days ago
Louisville, KY
8 days ago
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Quest Feedback

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I recently asked on Mastodon about favorite quests. I've collected some of the responses here. I apologize that I can't credit the individuals who posted, but you can find them there. I need to update grumpygamer so I can post rich Mastodon links.

I you have a favorite, post it on Mastodon and @ me.

  • Baldur's Gate 3 quest to safe Arabella on the druid's grove is a turning point for me. (1) You have options on how to act and what to do after you acted, (2) these choices impact the game and future choices, both in the near future and far future; and (3) when playing for the first time I didn't feel like I had a choice, there was only thing my character would have done.
  • I like sidequest with "treasure hunt" like the maps in Red Dead Redemption
  • I like tiny quests about interpersonal relationships, like resolving a conflict between a mortician and his gravedigger employee in Ultima 6, or babysitting a dock worker's daughter in Citizen Sleeper.
  • the Tarrey Town quest arc from Zelda Breath of the Wild is one of my all time favorites. It's really just a series of supply fetch quests and "find yet another character whose name rhymes with 'son' (in this big huge open world)" but it feels like you are helping establish an entire new town in the wilderness - leaves you with a genuine "I helped people" feeling. After which it becomes a real town that is quite a useful outpost with lots of new quests it opens up in turn.
  • I like quests where you have to run around between a few characters, doing small tasks for them or delivering messages between them to get them to work together eventually. Like with getting Olga and Boris to make up in Quest for Glory 4, or the Chinese hitmen quest in VtM: Bloodlines.
  • quests that leave lasting impact on the game world (like rebuilding a village, changing the landscape, that sort of thing)
  • one that comes to mind is having to sneakily follow someone to find out what they're up to without them noticing
  • I'll have to come back to this, but I think scenarios are important. Why you are doing the quest isn't always as important as what you do during the quest.
  • I'm currently playing through Baldurs Gate 3 and in one instance i began fighting one group of enemies, only for another to show up that distracted them. Essentially you have to use this distraction effectively to win the fight because it collects the enemies in a group and the interjecting enemy eventually leaves. If you didn't do enough with it, you are left with an army of enemies.
  • I also like murder mysteries. Locked in a house or something, talk to people, figure out who is the killer.
  • There was another game where during a fight a fire is spreading, so you have to manage the fight while getting distance from the fire. If you move too quick the enemies are able to surround you, too slow or let someone get knocked down, the fire gets them.
  • I don't think it's super important for a game to be incredibly hard or easy or whatever. I think the sweet spot for video games is 'hard enough that I need to pay attention, and no harder.'
  • different outcomes for people or places. For example, depending on your efficiency on solving the quest (or on decisions), you save a family or they get killed; or someone gets in debt with you and will help you later or he will hire killers to slay you; you may save a town from evil wizards or it may be cursed with fatal consequences
  • I like quests with options. Say I need to get inside the castle. Is my only option stealth? Or could I bribe the guard, or seduce the guard, or distract the guard, or find an old tunnel from the monastery?
  • Quests that do world building. I loved all the side quests in The Witcher 3 for example. They were all unique little stories in the Witcher universe, making the game more immersive as you played it.
  • There was one in Neverwinter Nights with a glass sphere that contained a parallel world? And One in Dragon Age with a mouse hole. - Can´t remember exactly.Generally ones that are less predictable but logical to solve.
  • I always liked questions where I brought NPCs back together or highly political strategic ones ;)
  • I love it when quests are smaller pieces of bigger quests. For example in GTA when you do heists, a few missions set up the heist then you perform the actual heist which makes use of the earlier things you did.
  • I love ones that involve mystery. The Dark Brotherhood questline in TES: Oblivion comes to mind. Specifically "Whodunit", where you participate in a murder mystery party where you are the murderer.
  • first thing that came to mind was the spell book in King's Quest 6. Travel around gathering ingredients (which didn't feel tedious as you needed to Island-hop for other story & puzzle reasons) then cast spells that advance the story. Not all spells were required due to different ways to win the game.
  • Helping a NPC gets you a pet/sidekick
  • may I chime in? I like quests which turn out to be something completely different than you expect, and where the good writing/setup makes you forget that its a scripted event. RPG or adventure, makes no difference. Most memorable quest: Warhead on Amiga, where you eatch Constrictor annihilate the entire Sirius fleet with single missile (while going la-de-da), and then you get mission from your headquarters to go and attack it
  • I'm fine with them being tiny impacts on the world. if I'm fetching an hat for the person, the person wears it after. If I fetch an item for a shopkeeper, it increases stock
  • If there's a side quest where I need to make medicine because someone is sick, I need to do it immediately
  • The quests where we need to make choices (maybe moral ones) with consequences hard to predict. Hag quest in Baldur's Gate 3 is one of my favourite quests, for example.
  • Legend of Mana, the lamp selling quest:'_Light You had to learn the Dudbears' language and answer their questions.
  • I like the help korok to reach his friend in Tears of the Kingdom. (Although many seem to prefer to torture them) Most of it because of the sound. The koroks really sound sad and distressed but when you put them together you hear the sound of relief. "Helping them" is a good theme by itself but the sound really adds to the feeling and role play.
  • I like quest for adding new team members That was old chaps from the original once
  • quests that affect the ending for sure, even if it's an extra sprite in the lineup. It blew my child mind they you can save Luca's mom from losing her legs in Chrono Trigger and it affected that particular line of endings (game has over a dozen). It's a thing you end up having to do regardless, a little action sequence, but it's hard enough to not telegraph in any way that it's actually possible to win and save your mom. Like it seems as if you're supposed to simply relive trauma.
  • i like the ones that get initiated by the player - technically, it's you who just walked up to a random person and tried to ask what's up.
  • one I did yesterday while playing Mario rpg. The quest triggers when you arrive in a town and you meet a trio of characters that tell you they hid something around the world, and they give you clues like "it's genuine a wooden flower" or "under a green bed". You have to revisit and find these things. I liked it, solving the clues made me feel smart, and the places I revisited felt deeper now.
  • The "small favor" ones, where you start with a very simple task but it slowly unfurls into an endless quest.
  • I really like the quests that seem simple at first but reveal a lot of world behind them. Like, the initial quest is "get me some widgets" but you start looking into why there's a widget shortage and you discover the frobnicator is down due to sabotage because there are warring factions of frobnicator builders and their disagreements are deep-seated, sensible, and not trivially solvable. Then the wish fulfillment part is that you solve them.
  • The ones where, just when you have everything ready to turn in for a reward, you suddenly get new information casting doubt on whether you should do so, and have to make a choice about which side to take. It's that moment of player agency right after a stretch of non-agency, doing stuff because someone else told you to.
  • I like quests where you've been manipulated to side with someone. You do their quest, and then they destroy the town, kill the king, release the kraken etc..setting you up for quests to undo what you did.
  • The ones that stick with me involve making choices that seem unconnected until later (e.g. the treatment of specific monsters in Witcher 3 affecting the fates of characters you may or may not meet) or that build connections with people and places (like how completing a fetch quest or taking care of a problem aids in reconstructing a colony in Xenoblade Chronicles).
  • Mass Effect 2 - been a while but I recall caring enough about the party members that doing their personal quests seemed like an intrinsically motivated thing to do. Basically either give me a good enough motivation to do the quest, or keep the downside/extra effort low. And please don't try to abuse my FOMO.
  • Witcher 3 - Practicum quest. Funny, and builds NPC character (which they don't do much with after). I also enjoy the simpler contracts as "go there, kill huge thing" fits the game.
  • The hunted hotel from Vampire Bloodlines is one quest I will always remember. Not because is a brilliant quest, but because the twist of the mood of the game. Suddenly, I'm in a horror game and still it uses the mechanics from the general game. I love that quest.
  • I just did a quest* in GuildWars2 where I collected bits of a renowned family's tapestry from all over the world, starting in the previous big expac. Like the Snargle Goldclaw achievements (look him up), I liked how this connected to the changing world of the story, but on the fringes. It connected to NPCs I'd heard arguing about mass-producing artisan blankets now that borders were open and...
  • "signs of the sojourner" has beautifully done quests. there's an overarching quest to learn about your mom, and progress comes naturally through conversation games (the game's main mechanic). you receive additional tasks, like to bring back vinegar or a musical instrument, and if you don't complete these, the outcome of your game is changed. then there are fetch quests for individual characters and exit ramps through certain characters. it's very artfully put together, to me.
  • Some memorable quests: In "Dragon's Dogma," breaking into the Duke's castle to rescue a princess. Also, stealing a ring for the Duke, forging it, giving him the forgery, and using the original to rob him dry.
  • Anything which has a lasting effect on the Gameworld. Megaton in Fallout 3 being an easy example.
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7 days ago
I love lore quests. Minimal rewords, but further wrapping you into the fold of the game world. (unless the lore is dumb)

Like in WOW, I always want to do dungeons as slowly as possible. Those artists and writers did a lot of work for us to rush past over and over and over again.
Louisville, KY
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A Temporary Skywatching Target

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[Not all space accomplishments are worthy of praise]

If you have a pair of binoculars and you’re looking for a fun weekend activity, you might try to spot the tool bag astronauts recently dropped by accident.

A lost toolbag floating in space, with the Earth in the background

Don’t wait too long though, as within a few months, the tool bag will re-enter our atmosphere and burn up.


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19 days ago
Louisville, KY
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Certain Songs #2729: ’til tuesday – “Voices Carry”

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Album: Voices Carry
Year: 1985

. . .

Well, I’m not even sure where to start with the utterly titanic “Voices Carry,” a song that actually changed me. Or at least helped me change one of my key philosophies about how I enjoy art.

Because here’s the thing: with its “chunka-chunka-chunka” rhythm guitar, utterly colorless synths, and a conceptual music video — that actually had dialog that wasn’t in the song — which got played approximately 47,000 times a day on MTV, I should have utterly despised “Voices Carry.” On the surface, it was every single thing I hated about music in 1985: a perfectly-coiffed “new wave” band — with the lead singer sporting a highly ostensible rattail — making utterly pedestrian pop that was precision-tooled to top the charts, whilst my beloved R.E.M. and Replacements and Hüsker Dü were struggling to get heard outside of college radio.

Well, fuck that. Case closed. Next!

Except, except. That fucking ridiculous video — featuring that abusive greaseball trying to keep the lead singer chick with the 80s hair and super intense eyes from making or at least enjoying her music — got the chorus of “Voices Carry” under my skin, and suddenly, I was singing it to myself.


Hush, hush, even downtown
Voices carry
Hush, hush, even downtown
Voices carry

Or at least, that’s what I thought the chorus was.

Why did I think it was “even downtown?” I’m not sure: maybe it’s noisier downtown, so voices don’t carry as much? Or maybe it was because the climatic action of the video when the rat-tailed chick and her abusive greaseball boyfriend are at (I assumed) the opera at Carnegie Hall which (I assumed) is in downtown Manhattan. So when she stands up and fully belts out the chorus embarrassing the fuck out of him, they were actually downtown. Or something. I wasn’t supposed to care enough to even care what the actual lyrics were.

And you know that I know that you know that I’m being disingenuous here: we all know that “Voices Carry” was the first flowering of Aimee Mann, one of the great songwriters of our generation, and someone whom I totally underserved at the beginning of Certain Songs, but promise to round out during my second pass at this insanity.

And so “Voices Carry” opens with that “chunka-chunka-chunka” rhythm guitar from Robert Holmes, the post-Cars synths from Joey Pesce while bassist Mann and drummer Michael Hausman play as straight of a beat as is humanly possible, Mann’s impossibly big voice sets the scene.

I’m in the dark, I’d like to read his mind
But I’m frightened of the things I might find
There must be something he’s thinking of to tear him away
When I tell him that I’m falling in love, why does he say?

Interestingly enough, the original lyrics were Mann singing it to another woman — or from a man to a woman, depending on the source — which was eventually nixed by the big bad major label. That, of course, would have been cooler, but it also would have probably meant the song wouldn’t have been a hit, because they couldn’t have made the video with the abusive greaseball boyfriend that climaxed with the girlfriend standing up for herself by throwing his words back at him. And so while the guy in the song is not quite as much of a dick as the guy in the video, he’s also not not quite as much of a dick as the guy in the video.

Hush hush, keep it down now
Voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now
Voices carry

Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you, dude. Have some respect.

On the second time around with the chorus, they — and by “they,” I’m sure it was producer Mike Thorne — adds an incredibly interesting and weird touch: a massed choir of deep-voiced male singers coming in on “voices carry.” The only other time in my life I’ve heard something like this was on a Black Sabbath record, like for example, when Ozzy sings “Feel it slipping away / Slipping into sorrow” on the eternally awesome “Megalomania” from my favorite Sabbath album, Sabotage. (I’ll also do more Sabbath when I go back around, cos I also underserved them.) (In fact, I really didn’t properly go deep on an artist until I got to The Clash.)

After that second chorus, there’s also a short a synth solo which sets up the bridge where she puts the final nail into her relationship coffin.

Oh, he wants me
But only part of the time
He wants me
If he can keep me in line

But you know she’s done being kept in line, and if you didn’t, the final glorious third of “Voices Carry” — even without the visual of Mann nuking the abusive greaseball by making a public spectacle in Carnegie Hall, or “Carnegie Hall” as the case may be — makes it clear on where she stands, as she replays his telling her to shut up, to keep it down now over and over again, getting angrier and angrier over a vocal arrangement for the ages.

First off, the satanic choir — now which is chanting “voices carry voices carry voices carry” like it was their sentence in Hell — is now joined by a angelic chorus cooing “hush hush”, all of which over Mann starts monologuing about what kind of shit he is, starting with “Oh no, voices carry,” and climaxing with:

He said “shut up!”
He said “shut up!”
“Oh God, can’t you keep it dowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwn?”

and following it up with a very long, and utterly devastating “voiiiii-cceeeees carrrrrrrr-ryyyyyyyyyyyy”

On one hand, “Voices Carry” is the Eightiest song the Eighties ever Eightied, but the other hand, it’s utterly timeless and transcendent, even if you can’t — or maybe especially if you can’t — completely divest it from the equally timeless transcendent and totally Eighties video. Which, 2012, Mann did a near-shot-for-shot parody of it for her — also great — “Labrador,” which featured Jons Wurster and Hamm among others.

“Voices Carry” was a massive smash, topping out at #8 in 1985, and helping Voices Carry make it to #19 on the albums chart, which of course they never repeated. That said, ’til tuesday” wasn’t exactly a one-hit wonder, as a song called “What About Love” made it to #26 on the pop charts, even if their second album, Welcome Home, stalled out at #49 on the album charts. Which was better than how the third album — 1988’s Everything’s Different Now — did, topping out at #124, despite a couple of legit great songs: the Elvis Costello co-write “The Other End (Of The Telescope)” and the name-naming proto-Taylor Swift “‘J’ For Jules.”

After that, ’til tuesday broke up, and Aimee Mann languished in the wilderness for a few years with record company issues before launching her solo career with 1993’s Whatever and 1995’s I’m With Stupid. Nearly two decades later, that solo career is going strong.

After I started following Mann’s solo career, I bought a ’til tuesday compilation, and while the Eighties production was sill annoying, I had a realization: as a song, “Voices Carry” was equally on a par with my favorite of her solo songs like “I Should Have Known” and “Par For The Course,” and as such, wasn’t so much a guilty pleasure as much as a pleasure with no qualifications.

Which got me to thinking about the whole concept of “guilty pleasures” — you know, the whole bit about being afraid to fully own liking something, because you think it’s inferior to all of the cool (or “cool”) things that makes up your public identity — and I realized that it was something that stopped making sense to me. I liked what I liked, full stop, no qualifiers need. After which I decided that I would never again call a song, artist or album a “guilty pleasure.” From now on, I would fully own the things I enjoy. Like the forever awesome “Voices Carry,” a song I will eternally enjoy without any guilt at all.

“Voices Carry” Official Music Video

“Voices Carry” live in New York, 1986

“Voices Carry” performed by Aimee Mann, Ted Leo & John Roderick, Portland 2016

Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim, or Bluesky @barefootjim any of the other 4,876,987 social media platforms that exist.

The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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20 days ago
Louisville, KY
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Web browsers kind of suck

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The other day, it occurred to me that I enjoyed my web browser a lot more 15 years ago than I do today.

Don’t get me wrong, modern web browsers are amazing pieces of technology, far more capable than anything that existed over a decade ago.

But they’ve also all succumb to capitalism-driven rot.

When Firefox launched, it was the antithesis to IE, which had become stagnant. Firefox was fresh and modern, had features, offered an overall better UX.

When Chrome launched, it was the antithesis to Firefox, which had become bloated with features over time. Chrome was fast, minimal, and sleek. Now, Chrome is bloated and effectively serves as spyware so Google can sell you more ads.

There are lots of Chromium-based alternatives that try to give you that Chrome flavor, with a twist.

MS Edge was great for a while, but now it’s been overrun by Bing marketing folks, AI nonsense, and terrible features you can’t turn off. Brave is a sketchy browser run by a terrible person, and was never good.

Arc, which a lot of folks love, is too opinionated for my tastes. I don’t want my browser making choices for me. Vivaldi is alright, I guess, but made some weird UI updates just for the hell of it? Opera is now a predatory loan company.

I just want a good browser that works well, doesn’t shove lots of features down my throat, and gets the hell out of the way.

Is there a JavaScript or web development topic you'd like to learn more about? Send me an email and let me know.

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20 days ago
Louisville, KY
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Up storyboards → Final film

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Up storyboards → Final film

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21 days ago
Louisville, KY
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