Why Are You Here?

If you’re reading this, I can make certain assumptions about you.
I can assume that you work on the Web, or at the very least have
an interest in it. I can assume that both your livelihood and
your recreation come from the Web, that the stakes for you are
not merely commercial considerations but are reflective of
something deeper.

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Why are you here? Why do you surf, create, argue, love, attack,
defend this medium called the World Wide Web? This hobbled
mishmash of badly implemented near-languages? This convoluted
ocean, endless and formless, overflowing with so much useless
flotsam and jetsam, as well as the occasional island paradise?
This vast outpouring of energy, time, sweat? This funhouse mirror
that reflects our world while simultaneously distorting it?

Why do you do it?#section1

You started from somewhere. You did, you just didn’t make the
leap and become a designer or a programmer or a CEO. No, someone
showed you this neat thing they found, this place where people
were posting all kinds of stuff, throwing it out there, and you
could find almost anything you wanted, from the sublime to the
ridiculous. And it caught your interest when you realized that
these works were made by people. Regular people, just like you.

So you gave it a try. You learned HTML, or enough of it to be
dangerous, and you put something out there. And you were hooked.
And suddenly, you had a stake in what happened out here. You cared.

Why are you here?#section2

When you are online, you are not active within normal physical
reality. Being online demands a tremendous amount of discipline.
You must shut out the world around you and focus exclusively on a
glowing screen. You must sit in a chair for hours on end and will
your body to remain still. You are at an altar, but you are both
priest and supplicant.

When you are online, you are not doing anything else. You are not
going to a bar, or watching a movie, or playing ball, or talking
to other people.  You may be chatting with someone across the
aether, but the strange words that appear have more to do with
messages on the wind than conversation. You can be a passive
observer, or you can leave your mark for others to see, but you
are not going to a gallery opening or studying at the library or
walking with your loved one on the beach.

Why are you here?#section3

You are here because there is something online that is missing
from real life.

In this post-industrial Western capitalist middle-to-upper class
civilization that – another assumption – most of us live in, the
situation is both wonderful and appalling. Materially, we have
never been better off. Basic needs are met, with plenty of
leftover resources to indulge ourselves. We do not worry about
predators, or starvation, or shelter, and our society is advanced
enough to afford basic help for those who lack a home or food. We
have money in our pocket that is waiting to be spent, and we have
hundreds and thousands of corporations all eager to help us spend
it. We are offered everything from technology to entertainment to
transportation to luxury. We live with an embarrassment of riches.

No wonder we can’t stand them.#section4

Now, however, it’s no longer geeks and early adopters who are
preaching the word. People all over the world who have no
interest in Web standards or SQL are flocking here, looking for
something that they can no longer find in physical reality. Look
at Diaryland, for example. Yes, yes, a lot of the
writing in Diaryland is crap, but 99% of everything is crap. And
even if the authors of Diaryland aren’t penning the Iliad,
they’re writing. They’re out here. They’ve been given the
opportunity to make their voices heard. They’ve peeked through
the veil, and they’ve seen that there is possibility here in the
online world, that there might be something that can answer the
questions we’ve all had.

This is a huge shift from the tech-happy libertarian/anarchic
ethos that gets all the hype. However, people don’t want the Next
Big Thing; they want a space where they can get away from modern
life. Instead of getting on their knees and asking someone for
the answers, they’re trying to determine the answers for
themselves. They want a space, a cave, a retreat, a wall they can
mark on so that others can see and share.

One of the most uncanny things I’ve ever seen on the Web began
simply: “I ache for storms.” Not a review of the latest
tech thing, not a navelgazing rant, not an entertaining meme. No,
a simple primal, elemental yearning for the natural mystery of
the skies. We are still magical creatures, despite our toys, and
we want more than a simple hand-out existence.

Why are you here?#section5

You are among the few, the very few who understand just how
intricate this entire network is, just how fragile and beautiful
it can be. You are the creators of destinations. Your sites,
whether they are commercial or personal, are beacons and oases to
the world. For better or worse, you are the ones pushing the
boundaries and creating the high-profile sites that we hope that
people will come to.

Recent arguments about “content” on the Web (full disclosure: I
have been a participant – and an instigator – in said arguments)
have led some to ask what the big deal is. It’s a big Web, they
say, and there’s room for all sorts of stuff. And there are
people still doing stuff, so what’s your problem?

Is it a big Web? How will people find their way around the
corporate sites, which might be the only Web they’ve ever known?
Personal sites don’t have million-dollar marketing budgets. How
will they avoid the fast-food hooks to reach the banquet they
need?

And is what we’re creating even worth coming to? Our Flash movies
and our Metallica parodies and our endless links to Salon
articles – are these what people are looking for? Is this what
they’ve been seeking all this time? Or is it something you took
time and effort to create, where you pushed yourself beyond what
you thought you could do and ended up creating a work that
illuminated the boundaries of the human soul?

We are not mere technicians. We are not throwing words around for
our health. We are not out here to make a buck, because there are
surely easier ways to do it.

We came here looking for something.

Will you find it?

Or will you build it?

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