By the time many writers were ready to seriously engage with surveillance capitalism, it had already redescribed their profession, along with the world. Journalists, editors, and publishers have been proclaimed obsolete by the men wearing hoodies who made them so. What a user says on a platform matters less than how other users engage with it; platforms can sell ads next to conspiracy theories just as well as, or even better than, they can sell them next to book reviews.
It’s no wonder, then, that in the long shadow of Facebook, Myspace has come to seem to many longtime users like a quaint relic. McNeil speculates that this may be because “early social networks never quite made the leap from defining identity to commodifying it.” No engineer at Facebook has been able to write a program to recapture the organic sense of solidarity and empathy once abundant on these smaller networks. Care work that exists “in intimate community settings,” she writes, “is a form of labor that does not scale.”
Yet though McNeil’s account is largely elegiac in tone, she guards against the lure of nostalgia. “When I think I feel nostalgic for the internet before social media consolidation,” she writes, “what I am actually experiencing is a longing for an internet that is better, for internet communities that haven’t come into being yet—certainly not on a mass scale, and even then, nothing lasting.”