Source: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet | Medium, by Yancey Strickler
Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.
This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest. In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.
These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.
Milestones for me and my family were left unshared beyond our internet dark forests, even though many more friends and members of our families would’ve been happy to hear about them. Not sharing was my choice, of course, and I didn’t question it. My alienation from the mainstream was their loss, not mine. But did this choice also deprive me of some greater reward?
It’s possible, I suppose, that a shift away from the mainstream internet and into the dark forests could permanently limit the mainstream’s influence. It could delegitimize it. In some ways that’s the story of the internet’s effect on broadcast television. But we forget how powerful television still is. And those of us building dark forests risk underestimating how powerful the mainstream channels will continue to be, and how minor our havens are compared to their immensity.
The influence of Facebook, Twitter, and others is enormous and not going away. There’s a reason why Russian military focused on these platforms when they wanted to manipulate public opinion: they have a real impact. The meaning and tone of these platforms changes with who uses them. What kind of bowling alley it is depends on who goes there.
Should a significant percentage of the population abandon these spaces, that will leave nearly as many eyeballs for those who are left to influence, and limit the influence of those who departed on the larger world they still live in.