Earlier this week I spoke with the writer Nadia Asparahouva, author of the great book Working in Public

In our conversation, Nadia mentioned the classic piece “Status as a service” by Eugene Wei that details how Twitter functions (or functioned) as a giant status-seeking engine. This piece, Nadia proposed, crystalized the era of the internet when people were optimizing for likes and cultural cache in a game that felt novel and exciting. Something essentially all ambitious people felt compelled to do.

Nadia described the Dark Forest as representing the next era of the internet — where we are now. Where instead of seeking to maximize status — which some of us still do — more of us find ourselves seeking safety and context online instead.

The changing web 

Eugene’s piece was published in February 2019. The Dark Forest piece was written in May 2019. Did something major happen in those three months? Not that I can remember, but this is the nature of culture: the same moment someone is crowning something as hitting an apex, someone else is ready to move on. 

That shift from one social order and the emergence of a new one with new rules, new physics, and even new goals is the topic that the collected pieces in The Dark Forest Anthology of the Internet give voice to. They track the realization that we were moving away from “Status as a service” and towards something more like “Status as a context.” The worlds where we could create status rapidly expanded, but none were as towering as the status cathedrals from before. This confusing post-Babel time is where we stand now.

Dark Forests are real life

Looking back five years after the initial Dark Forest essay and pangs of concern, what most stands out is something that those of us who are drawn to Dark Forests have felt longer than most: that the internet is real life. What we do “in here” matters just as much as — and for some of us, problematically, even more than — what happens “out there.” 

What happens in here is real life. Our experiences online are adding up to something bigger than any of us. It’s so early in this geological-like process it’s hard to tell where it’s going, but the changes aren’t going to stop. What lays ahead is a future defined by the web. 

The mesaverse

In recent years we’ve gotten tied up in this infantile vision of the metaverse where we port over our physical embodiments onto screens. A vision based on a 20th century imagination of what computers would do. 

What’s actually happening is even more incredible: the internet is a mesaverse. It’s concerned with what’s within (mesa = ~within). The internet isn’t meant to give a graphical representation of our bodies. The internet is what allows what’s inside — our minds, our souls, our many selves — to interact with the insides of others. The internet is where our alts come alive, our internal monologues become dialogues, and a stray thought becomes a globally resonant meme. This is its miracle.

The Post-Individual

For the past five years I’ve been working on a deeply researched history of this journey called “The Post-Individual” — a term meant to encompass a state of being in which people seek new forms of identity. What we’re going through now feels unprecedented, but weirdly enough 1,000 years ago some of our ancestors went through changes that echo what we feel today. 

“The Post-Individual” appears as the final piece in The Dark Forest Anthology, but the work has yet to go online. In the coming weeks I’m planning to send out the proper essay to Ideaspace subscribers, but today I want to try an experiment by releasing an early look at the work in a new way.

The Post Individual: First Edition” is a bundle that collects much of my research and output around the post-individual into one downloadable package. The zip file includes:

  • A video of me introducing the work
  • “The Post-Individual” essay as a PDF
  • An audio recording of me reading the piece
  • Slides from a talk I gave at the University of Michigan on the post-individual
  • Early drafts and research notes

I’ve made 250 of these First Editions available to collect with a suggested price of $5, but people can pay what they want (including $0). Collectors get an early read of the essay, credit as a patron of the work, and a digital first edition. 

If you’re interested in exploring “The Post-Individual” and participating in an experiment, collect it here.

More from the Dark Forest Collective

  • The Dark Forest Collective released a second printing of the sold-out Dark Forest Anthology of the Internet this week. Pick up a copy here.
  • Ten members of the Dark Forest Collective came together for a Roundtable discussion this week. It was our first time all meeting without avatars. The whole experience was so warm and fun. Felt like the moment we as a group became truly alive. Watch the video here.