By the time I got my first computer, connecting to the world wide web was a quiet affair. No longer was it screeching boops and beeps; a process I watched but had only later come to understand as computers talking to each other on the lines we humans built to talk to each other. Now, a simple switch toggled on, and I was in. And how much there was to explore. I took my first steps out into the yard.

I got my first email address, from Yahoo. My dad told me about this site Google that helped you find things. My next couple years were spent in the worlds of Club Penguin and flash games. I was exploring solar systems, even though the internet was a small country compared to what it is today. I discovered forums. IRC chat. Wikipedia. RSS. Minecraft, and through it - the ability to tinker with, alter, and eventually spawn my own little islands on the sea that is the internet. The internet became bigger.

The many internets express their separations and boundaries in different ways. Language serves as a natural border between large swaths of the internet. How many others are there wondering about the same things as me, reading materials and writing reflections in their native tongue; the same interfaces but localized to their language? Other borders follow geographic ones; the internets of different countries and laws, evolving on similar paths to ours, the movement of information across them mediated by governments.

The culture of the forums and IRC rooms I hung out on high school are not the culture of Discord and Tiktok the kids of today experience. Twitter today is a vastly different place from the comments section of Youtube. Wikipedia and Reddit are both expressed predominantly through text, yet the culture of what is salient, what is humor, what is offensive are vastly different in each galaxy. When something is copy-pasted from one universe to another, although it renders in the font and styling of the local one - it remains starkly obvious it comes from another one.

Then came the Discords. Each little circle in the sidebar a portal to other people’s attention, their minds, their questions and exclamations. Yet all impervious to people who don’t know about it. The ability to say this is our corner, and this is how we do things here. A distinct difference to earlier where an army of well-funded robots could conceivably make a map of maps of everything - of the whole universe. It’s too vast now, too far apart; traveling across it an impossible affair. And in that distance emerges room for privacy; differentiation, and quiet.

And then, AI: a way to speak to the entire corpus of all the internets, or an echo of them? A matrix of numbers; or a rosetta stone of who we are and how we think? A traveler, hailing from distant places. Please tell me about this thing. How is this thing like that other thing? Can you draw it for me? A single player experience weaved from decades of shared multiplayer experiences. A digital experience that, when treated with care, helps me understand the analog, organic, messy self that is me.

The internet’s universes, in all their vastness, helped me find myself. They led me to find others. To create, to share, to learn and understand and feel those precious things that others have thought of and shared. There are countless galaxies to be born here, of imagination and knowledge and curiosity. An impossibly narrow slice of them is all I’ll get to explore, but it will be made well that I get to meet so many wanderers along the way.

prompt #

Joy shared a chart in the Bloop presentation illustrating files/folders -> super highway -> web -> universes. How do you envision this: what is your experience of the internet of universes and the evolution of how we got here? Do you prefer another metaphor for navigating / organizing information online?