The Whiplash Decade

The Decade the Internet Lost Its Joy

What began as cheerful anarchy was devoured by vulture capital and ruthless consolidation

Clio Chang
Published in
5 min readDec 10, 2019

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Illustration: Brennon Leman

This piece is part of the The Whiplash Decade, a package on the wild ride that was the 2010s.

AtAt the beginning of 2015, Alex Balk, then-editor of the now-defunct website the Awl, wrote a post of advice for young people in which he supplied three laws about the internet. The first: “Everything you hate about The Internet is actually everything you hate about people.” The second: “The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything.” But Balk’s third law was most prescient, especially as we end this miserable decade: “If you think The Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.” He went on: “The moment you were just in was as good as it got. The stuff you shake your head about now will seem like fucking Shakespeare in 2016.” Reader, we’ve waited a while, and today it seems indisputable that Balk’s law has held: The 2010s is the decade when the internet lost its joy.

The internet was always bad, but at least it used to be fun. At the start of this decade, being online still had less of the feeling of chaotic good than the years preceding it, but it wasn’t yet consumed by the monolithic forces that rule today’s web. Since the turn of the millennium, we’ve been used to the flood of emerging platforms — Myspace, Xanga, Friendster, Napster, Flickr, Tumblr, Neopets — each vying to be a better version of the last.

As user experience became more seamless, we began to miss the internet’s seams

By 2010, personal blogs were thriving, Tumblr was still in its prime, and meme-makers were revolutionizing with form. Snapchat was created in 2011 and Vine, the beloved six-second video app, was born in 2012. People still spent time posting to forums, reading daily entries on sites like FML, and watching Shiba Inus grow up on 24-hour puppy cams. On February 26, 2015—a day that now feels like an iconic marker of the decade — millions of people on the internet argued about whether a dress was blue or gold, and watched live video of two llamas on the lam in suburban Arizona. Sites like Gawker, the Awl, Rookie, the…

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