The Web's Grain

by Frank Chimero

This essay is an interpretation of my talk from Webstock, 2015. It is a companion to What Screens Want, a previous essay on designing natively for screens.

Can I play something for you?

Trust me: it’s totally worth it. Oh, and while you’re listening, pay attention to your chest. You may feel a growing warmth, kind of like the firey trickle after a shot of whiskey.

All right, here we go:

Wasn’t that great? I’ve listened to those irritating bing-bongs 30 or 40 times in the process of making this page, and while you can’t see it, I’m typing this with a big, stupid smile on my face. If you came online in the ’90s like me, you’re probably smiling too.

That sound, of course, is the audio handshake of a modem connecting to the internet. And the fiery feeling in the chest it creates is the warm pang of nostalgia. I’ve managed to tether that grating sound to all the wonder and magic I felt my first years on the internet. Back then, if you told me that I’d get to spend the next decade or so making things for the web—well, that would be just about the best news I could be told.

But things have changed, as they always do. I’m writing this fifteen years after the bing-bongs, and the fascination has faded. What happened is what always happens: the wonder I felt was diminished by experience.

The awe goes—time takes it.

There’s a quote from the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. He says:

“We begin in admiration and end by organizing our disappointment.”

Now, this is a bit pessimistic—he is a French philosopher, after all—but right now the statement does ring true for the technology industry. Think about the weight we’ve added to the world: attention-greedy devices and services, new business structures that turn out to reinforce existing inequalities instead of working against them, technocratic blowhards, never mind the surveillance shit storm we all now must navigate.d services, new business structures that turn out to reinforce existing inequalities instead of working against them, technocratic blowhards, never mind the surveillance shit storm we all now must navigate.

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