The internet we want is up to us

For years, we’ve been doomscrolling. World events have intersected with the maturation of large social platforms, shifting the way we relate in real-time. Very real collective trauma stacks up ever-higher. We’re all together, but we still feel isolated.

I’ve built my career on the conviction that it does not need to be this way.

We can still have a good time together.

We can still rally around a shared goal.

We can still teach and learn from each other.

We can encourage one another.

We can build relationships and find common ground.

We can set all of the above in service to all kinds of problem solving.

Facilitating new experiences of and with each other is still possible. We just need to decide we want that.

How to have a community experience

Last week I organized and facilitated an invite-only, short-term community exploring the future we want as technologists. It was called Where do we go from here?

I began by defining an experience I myself wanted to have. I was weary from the sense of heartbreak and foreshortened future my industry peers and I have been living with since at least 2020. I wanted to gather like-minded folks to remember what animated us as technology practitioners in the first place, and to imagine a future where computing better serves human connection, prosperity, and creativity. I wanted a place where we could be real about what’s been hard for us, but ultimately help each other move into a place of constructive experimentation.

So I threw up a landing page, and invited other people to participate.

My first clue I was onto something came when signups began stacking up. I’d asked applicants to answer the question “What kind of future do you want for technology?” When the answers began expanding my own imagination, I knew it was time to do this.

I designed Where do we go from here? to be a lightweight commitment, with structured prompts for discussion and reflection. Interaction took place mostly asynchronously, via Discord. Participants dug into a different theme each day, with people encouraged to participate as their schedules and interest allowed. Toward the end of the week, our time culminated in a live component where I interviewed experts with deep experience on the topics the group had previously explored together.

Folks showed up and engaged so earnestly. We discussed what we wanted for ourselves, for the internet, for this industry. Connections and shared context began to form, ideas were refined. I watched people develop clarity, and encourage one another. In just a couple days, I observed beginnings of group social norms. The conversations were insightful, and I personally had a lot of fun. By the end of our time together, I felt better about the scope of possibility for the future.

The thanks and feedback I received suggested I wasn’t the only one.

What this means

Just because we expect technology, and engagement with the wider internet, to bring ever-worsening disappointment doesn’t mean better outcomes aren’t possible. It just means we need more deliberate community design than we’re accustomed to.

It’s possible to create the communities we want, based on the goals and parameters that are important to us. This exercise also proved to me that with good inputs and thoughtful preparation, you can get great outcomes, even with something as emergent as an internet community.

The original promise of the web isn’t out of reach, it just needs to be deliberately cultivated. You start by imagining the conversations you badly need to have, then design the encounters that could spark them.

Whatever your goals: the internet we need is waiting for us to create it. Years of mega-scale social platforms have trained us to accept a one-size fits all approach to community, and it doesn’t work that well.

It’s exciting to remember that, at any time, we can try something completely different and completely our own.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Where do we go from here?

Your energy and enthusiasm means so much to me.

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