the web revival is not just about nostalgia

Mar 12th 2023

In the past few years social media has left me feeling stressed out and isolated.

It was always a constant barrage of bad news, people arguing, and me just shouting things into the void. There were good things too, funny memes and amazing artwork that kept bringing me back every day, but even then things felt carefully curated instead of truly genuine. It left me feeling like I wasn’t really connecting with anyone on the platform, even people I consider my friends. I was left wanting something more out of my web experience.

I have always been interested in making personal websites ever since I was a little kid learning HTML to code an awesome page for my Neopet’s petpage. At some point though, I fell away from coding webpages as the mainstream web moved towards social media and it no longer seemed like people were making personal sites. (I know people still had personal sites, but after Geocities and the like died the only options for personal sites were sitebuilders that were limited in features, or paying for a server to self-host a site, neither of which were very appealing to me and neither seemed to foster a community.)

It wasn’t until I played some of alienmelon’s games and watched playthroughs of Hypnospace Outlaw that I remembered “oh yeah, that’s how the web used to be!” It really made me want to brush up on my HTML and learn how to code pages again! I started playing around with HTML in a Notepad document, but without a place to host my code I lost interest pretty quickly. Then, a few years later I saw a friend on twitter post a link to their Neocities site and first I was like “oh! what a cool website!” and then I was like “oh! a place to host my own site!”

So after making my Neocities site I decided to explore other people’s sites (which Neocities makes very easy to do with its site directory), and I discovered the web revival movement: a whole world of old web enthusiasts who were just as tired as I was of social media toxicity. It felt so awesome to freely express myself in my own space and to see others’ creative spaces as well! As I spent more time online exploring personal sites and less time on social media, I felt my mental health improve.

There have been studies done on social media’s impact on mental health, which I won’t get into too much here. I’ll just say that one of the reasons the web revival is going so strong right now is because people know that too much social media is bad for their mental health. The constant need for validation, the comparing yourself to others’ carefully curated selves, the everyday exposure to bad news and negativity, and the corporations trying all they can to shove targeted ads in your face are all very draining. People want to get away from all that, but still want to enjoy being online.

A lot of older folks remember a time when being online was new and fun and exciting. Surfing the web was an actual term that people used because we weren’t just spending all our time on one site, we were exploring all kinds of different sites. I remember exploring petsites like Neopets, sites with weird flash games, and fansites for anything I was interested in at the time, like Beanie Babies or Dragon Ball Z, and I wasn’t bombarded with corporations trying to steal my data.

Of course, the old web does get romanticized a lot. There definitely were ads, some of them being really obnoxious pop up ads with autoplay sounds or downloadable viruses that you needed a program to prevent. There were toxic people who thought it was fun to be edgy and would sneak jump scares into flash games or seemingly innocent videos. It was also too easy to stumble upon actually dangerous parts of the web. I luckily hadn’t come across any explicit gore videos like other people had, and I knew enough about internet safety to keep my identity hidden, but I did accidently see porn as a young child. But I think a major part of the web revival is considering what we can do better.

The web revival, despite being very much inspired by the old web, is about moving towards a better future. It is driven a lot by nostalgia, but it’s also a response to what the internet is today. There is a whole community around the web revival; people on Neocities linking to each other’s sites or chatting on forums like the Yesterweb forum and the MelonLand forum, and it’s through this community that people are having conversations about how we can make the internet a better place. In my time on the MelonLand forum, I have seen and participated in discussions about accessibility and modern internet features we like and want to include on our sites.

So to sum everything up, making my own personal site and interacting with people outside of social media has been the best thing to happen to me in recent years. I’ve been sleeping better, feeling more inspired, and getting into new hobbies both on and off the internet. I would encourage anyone who’s feeling drained from social media to take a step back and explore this side of the web!

tags: web