Consider the earliest and, arguably, most prevalent way that we use the internet to connect with other people: the chat room.
Networked talking predates the invention of the internet; there may not be a more natural thing to do with two computers that are linked to each other. After its release in 1988, the initial version of the Internet Relay Chat (also known as IRC) introduced the world to a new yet immediately recognisable way of communication: groups of individuals selecting one another and then typing together in real time.
The joy and the evil of online conversation has always been that it has been difficult to commercialise since it seems much more like an interruption than an ad in a news feed. AOL, Gmail, Facebook, the features locked inside your game of choice, and the rest of the market has been forced to specialise (Campfire, Slack, Signal) or scrape our most critical and comprehensive interactions into one giant sponsored context. However, they were left to fight. There are a plethora of services available, most of which are incompatible with one another, and they come and go, leaving our collective backchannel in a state of ever-shifting fragmentation and disarray. Chatting is also a challenging skill to master. Services may perform better than others, or they may provide additional features that others do not. However, the finest chat service is still the same as it has always been in that you don’t even have to think about using it.
Our conversation was taking place prior to the feeds taking over; it was continuing after they were gone. Meanwhile, making your online experience more pleasurable might be as easy as sending fewer messages and conversing more often.
Chatting takes on a more significant role in a new vision for online socialisation. Those who are younger readers, and gamers in particular, may be aware with Discord, an app that has attracted a quarter-billion users to servers that they have created and split into channels that may range in size from a few individuals to thousands, depending on the situation. (It is particularly well-liked for its voice-chat function, which is particularly useful when players are playing together.)
As an IRC user since 1988, the dispute may be interpreted as an effort to construct a social media platform that is ultimately prone to chit-chat and discussion. It is typical to see online communities, fandoms, and whole websites refer viewers to a Discord server affiliated with them; although Reddit may be the starting point for many new online groups, subreddit Discord is often where the actual action takes place. The bitcoin and non-financial-transactions (NFT) communities, in particular, have welcomed Discord, which helps to give their decentralised activities a feeling of home and belonging.
Chatting isn’t the only manner in which it seems like we’re living in the future. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg strode around an immersive virtual environment, speaking about how the future Internet would allow us to connect closely with the world in a manner that is immersive and direct, rather than isolated and uncomfortable, rather than isolated and awkward. It had a personal feel to it. Although his presentation was futuristic in nature, the portrayal of this idealised future society seemed eerily similar to the one I was acquainted with. The metaverse isn’t publishing anything spiritually. This is a conversation.