The Internet as Playground

When I was a kid, my family didn’t own a television, and we didn’t own a computer until I was twelve. My parents were afraid I would spend every waking moment of my childhood staring at a screen, watching movies or playing video games. They wanted me to experience modern technology in moderation.

Still, I was able to use TV’s and computers occasionally. I would watch Dragon Ball Z or play video games at friends houses, and I could use the computers at the local library. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve going to the local library and using the early internet. My favorite websites were Geocities and Neopets. Both websites gave me a way to participate in the burgeoning technology, rather than merely searching or consuming what other people had created. Like many people in that era, I learned the basics of HTML and CSS, and lovingly crafted my own corner of the internet, filled with the things that I thought were cool. In some ways, even though both I and the internet have developed and matured over the years, that’s still what my website is, at its heart.

The internet is one of the most significant inventions humanity has yet created. It is as significant as discoveries and inventions like fire, agriculture, the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, antiseptics, antibiotics, the nuclear bomb, the personal computer, and the smartphone. 

The internet is historically considered to have been invented on January 1, 1983. On the scale of human history, it’s still a very new invention. As of 2023, there are an estimated 4.9 billion active internet users worldwide—approximately 62% of the world’s total population. As time goes on, more and more of humanity will use the internet. More importantly, our understanding of what the internet is, and how to interact with it, will also evolve and grow.

It’s easy to see the internet as a tool, a means to an end. In the same way that fire can be used to cook food, the internet can be used to gather information, do research, or find a job. You can entertain yourself with videos, or learn to do something new. You can even communicate with other people.

It’s also easy to see the internet as something potentially harmful. There is plenty of pornography, gambling, and other unsavory or even criminal activities you can find on the internet. 

The internet is also often viewed as a bottomless pit of potential distractions. You can go down deep rabbit holes of watching videos recommended to you by an algorithm, and scroll past endless feeds of pictures or news headlines. From this perspective, the internet is seen as addictive, time-wasting, and damaging.

You can certainly see the internet as a tool to use, or as an addictive, destructive force to avoid. There’s plenty of evidence for either perspective. But here’s are some other perspectives you can try on for how to view the internet:

The Internet as Playground: As children, we had playgrounds to play in—to run in the fields, climb jungle gyms, slide down slides, play make believe with our friends. It was a place where we could explore, and learn, and grow, and play. We learned to use our bodies, how to share, who we wanted to spend time with, and how. And above all, we had fun!

They don’t make playgrounds for adults, but there is the internet. To me, the internet is the coolest place ever invented, a playground-library-school-workplace that’s open 24/7. You can spend time there whenever you want, doing projects and learning and playing with really cool people from all over the world!

twitter: an online playground for adults


The Internet as Glass Bead Game: In Hermann Hesse’s novel “The Glass Bead Game” (also known as “Magister Ludi”), the intellectuals of a fictional society play a highly abstract game called the Glass Bead Game, which combines elements of mathematics, music, literature, and philosophy. The game is played with glass beads that represent various concepts and ideas, and players use these beads to create intricate patterns and relationships between different disciplines.

While Hesse was somewhat vague in his descriptions about what the glass bead game specifically entailed, the internet is like a real world glass bead game. The internet is a vast and complex network of interconnected ideas and information. It connects a wide range of disciplines, from science and technology to art and culture. Importantly, people can use the internet to create their own connections and relationships between different ideas and concepts, just as the players in the glass bead game do. 

when you sign up for tpot you should get handed a copy of hesse’s glass bead game in your onboarding and orientation process


The Internet as Global Consciousness: 

Science fiction authors have written for decades about scenarios where humans develop global coordination capacities analogous to the hivemind of an insect colony. While ubiquitous, powerful human-brain interfaces are still a thing of the future, the internet is currently acting as a minimum viable version of a collective consciousness.

they don’t tell you when you sign up for the internet that you’re learning to notice, harmonize with, and participate constructively in a self-organizing, emergent collective consciousness at the very edge of humanity’s shared capabilities


The Internet as Virtuous Cycle: 

Recently, Cate Hall tweeted “it’s wild that we’re at the point now where everyone basically agrees that social media rots your brain, and we all just keep using it.” 

I playfully disagreed, posting: “it’s wild that we’re at the point now where everyone basically agrees that using social media skillfully has the power to dramatically improve your life, and we are all still underutilizing it.”

Visa describes having taken a life strategy of “just trust fall into the internet bro.” Posting on the internet, putting yourself out there, and taking risks makes it possible for amazing things you never planned to happen. As our friend Qiaochu Yuan recently put it, “we believe the internet can change your life.” 

Functionally, the internet is a virtuous cycle, or positive positive feedback loop: if you set multiple such feedback loops up so that they feed each other, they will compound at an unexpectedly fast rate and support each other in ways that will surprise you. The internet is arguably the most powerful positive positive feedback loop humanity has ever invented. 

Hyperstition is introducing an idea or concept to a system of feedback loops which includes a group or society of people, such that that idea becomes real. In other words, memeing an idea into existence, or the art of intentionally creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you take the time to clearly articulate what you want to see in the world, and tell people on the internet about it. Maybe not immediately, maybe not soon—but if you are consistent and persistent in what you desire and how you share it with the world, it will come to pass. 

One of my favorite testimonies to the power of hyperstition is this tweet from selentelechia

can’t believe I managed to significantly elevate my material conditions, find a fantastic group of close friends, lose weight, meet my husband, and overall position myself better than my parents did at my age…mainly by incessantly posting online about my internal state

On June 2, 2021, I tweeted

some day I want to get a GoPro and work with an incredible animator to make a rotoscoped version of what it looks like in my mind’s eye when I do metta while out and about, walking or running or dancing or doing Tai Chi

Writing that tweet was very intentionally an act of hyperstition. I assumed it would take years before I would be in a position to film, animate, and launch such a video. However, within days, one person had offered me a GoPro, another person had offered me initial funding for the project, and I’d met Zachary Hundley, the collaborator who would end up animating the project. With the help of several others, we launched you’re tasshin, loving the whole universe just under nine months later. 

If you plant your feet firmly in the ground for something good, help will arrive. Planting your feet firmly in the ground means being clear about what you are doing and why it is good. It means committing to doing that thing with steadfast dedication. And above all, it means telling the world what you’re standing for.

People need to know what you are doing in order to help you with it. And if what you are doing is self-evidently a good thing, people will actively want to help you with it.

The internet is a very powerful field in which to do magick. If you are a powerful wizard or witch, you can cast a spell that changes your life and the world for the better.

simply being connected to a dense network of highly agentic people acting in good faith is a source of tremendous power. respect the network, choose kindness together, discover unimagined glory for the benefit of all


How should one use the internet?

Having a web presence is a really important foundation for presenting oneself in the digital age. It helps us to connect to the people that want to come into our lives, to manifest the projects that want to happen.

My biggest recommendation for people building a personal website is to do it iteratively. There’s a tendency to try to get it right or perfect immediately, but that will only slow you down. Instead, launch the smallest possible website as soon as possible, and build it out from there.

Here are some simple ingredients to start with: your name, a picture of yourself, a brief bio, and an email newsletter sign-up list. Start collecting emails of people who are interested in you and your projects as soon as possible. You don’t have to send them something immediately, or for a long time—but you’ll want to have that email list ready when it’s time to launch a project!

Who you are is always changing, so your website should evolve and grow, too. As you evolve your website over time, steer towards what’s cool and exciting for you. I think my website is the coolest website on the internet, and your website can be your own personal favorite, too. If you think your website is cool, your present and future friends and collaborators will think so, too.

In my experience, anyone who uses social media extensively needs to wrestle with and discover their boundaries around it. There aren’t very many good public precedents for how to do that, and the affordances for doing so are pretty limited. On Twitter, the main affordances are unfollowing, muting, and blocking.

Public websites like Twitter and Reddit are great, but it’s also helpful to be connected to a number of smaller, more private and intimate settings to hang out on the internet—to what Venkatesh Rao calls the cozyweb, or Yancey Strickler calls the Dark Forest. This includes Slacks, Discords, group chats, and other private venues where you can connect safely and deeply with trusted friends or acquaintances with shared interests and values.

The internet is filled with real people, with their own lives, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, backgrounds, hopes, and dreams.

Although you probably met many of your friends in person, and some of your friends online, they don’t have to stay mutually exclusive. You can meet your online friends in person, or introduce your in person friends to your online community. Online and offline contexts enrich each other. 

I love meeting my online friends in person. I meet them in person whenever possible. I’ve met hundreds of my internet friends in real life at this point. Some are mere acquaintances, others will be life-long friends. 

The more context you have with people, the more rich and meaningful your relationships with them will be. 

May you encounter the internet as a playground. May you play with your friends, discover new facets of yourself and the world, and may you deeply enjoy your time there as an exciting game and a grand adventure. ❤️

This post is an excerpt of The Path of Empowerment, the book I wrote with Mary Bajorek on Empowerment.

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