Digital nostalgia

Pixel art, geocities chic, cyberpunk retrofuturism

May 15, 2020 — November 9, 2021

Various snippets of digital nostalgia, and do-overs of futures that happened. Vaporwave, classic console emulations. The transformation of plastic glitching commodity aesthetic into art chic. Unfortunate prescience. Preemptive obsolescence.

Explicitly not included: classic synthesizers. Synth nerds have that in hand.

1 Retro gaming

Not your grandpappy’s gaming console.

Start with Elkus on Doom, the 1993 game, as a metaphor for contemporary existence (includes installation instructions).

Figure 1: Image courtesy Kinsie’s It Runs Doom blog

There is some less philosophically tortured stuff out there.

  • ENFORCE: Seek and destroy content in violation of Hypnospace law by exploring a massive, detailed, fictional internet.

  • CUSTOMIZE: Earn HypnoCoin to spend on weird software, desktop themes, stickers, games, music, screensavers, virtual pets, and more.

  • SURVIVE: Deal with viruses, adware, hackers, secret pages, and all manner of unsavory or otherwise strange internet shenanigans.

  • MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Observe your impact on the lives of the Hypnospace ‘Citizens’ under your watch as the year 2000 draws nearer.

  • CREATE: Use the Hypnospace Page Builder and Hypnospace Tune Sequencer dev tools to create your own content and share it with the world!

2 Digital luddites

Back-to-digital-nature minimalist boutique internet hipsters.

2.1 twtxt

2.2 Gemini

3 The internet but old

Figure 2: Hackers, 1995

Here try these retro homages to the internet of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0:

4 Netiquette

Critical reality check: Tressie McMillan Cottom on internet safe spaces and inclusion and wasn’t it nice when we did not need to hear inconvenient voices?:

I am very resistant to nostalgia as a thing because usually what we are nostalgic for is a time that just was not that great for a lot of people. And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table. So when I talk to friends, and especially younger people coming up behind us either in the internet or in writing spaces, we’re like, that time was horrible for young queer people.

They talk about looking for little safe pockets of space in web 2.0 world where it was still very OK to be homophobic, for example, in those spaces and our casual language and how we structured that kind of thing. And they love being able to leave that part behind in this new world of whatever the web is now, both a consolidated and a disaggregated new web.

In the same interview they credit Jennifer Richardson with calling this the democratization of discomfort.

She also summarises a moment that some of us miss when the internet was a hobbyist space in the early blogosphere:

There was a class of thinkers, a class of writers who came up in that web 2.0 that does feel like, yeah, we lost something there.

There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.

Looking at the designs of various DIY socials in the light of her summary makes me feel that urge to safe spaces is an important parameter to watch in understanding the internet unfold. Scuttlebutt and twtxt and so on are all exclusionary, by design, I presume, since they are tedious to set up. It is a costly gesture to adopt these platforms with their principled but also painful designs.

5 Ono-sendai chic

Figure 3: Paul Button’s 2010 digital nostalgia piece, appropriately enough now offline, but available through the archive or behance

6 Internet as a site of fun

See the fun web

7 Screensavers

See screensavers.