If I stage-dove normally instead of jumping into the void feet first we wouldn’t be having this discussion, at least not in this form.

This is my fault, in a way. Always jump hands out, head first. Make it easier on the person catching you. Union Transfer, Nails, sometime in the early spring of 2017 — a whirlwind of limbs and sweat, ear-ringing sonic spasms choreographed to the obscene humanity of Philly’s finest collection of angsty hardcore kids (including yours truly) and beer-swilling metalhead headbangers. Union Transfer is a brilliant venue, acoustics rivaling concert halls twice its size, but its one terminal flaw is that there is a barrier separating performer and crowd. For 99% of bands playing that’s not really an issue or concern. But I was seeing Nails, not so much a band as a triumvirate of pure anger given human form and access to a Boss HM-2 guitar distortion pedal. This was less of a concert and more of a heavy metal pilgrimage, with a support bill full of bands with names like Full of Hell and Gatecreeper — what I’m saying is, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly watching opera. Under low, crimson lights, Philadelphia’s coalition of punks, moshers, and longhairs were taking the physical idea of a barrier and turning it into, at best, a suggestion. Kids flew. You had to get a good running start to clear the barrier from the stage, but once you crossed the gap, flying through the air felt like freedom.

Of course I tried to stage dive. I’d done it many times before at the venue (and many more since, because I’m still in my twenties as of this writing and don’t know when my body will finally say “you’re too old, enough of this”). I wasn’t stylish with it like others or known for carrying airtime, but I knew it was an exhilarating part of the experience all the same. I remember very stealthily walking past the sole overworked and underpaid security guard and scrambling onstage briefly while Nails was ripping through “Unsilent Death”. I looked up and saw where I would leap. I plotted my course around the band playing, taking extra care not to accidentally step on any pedals or unplugging any cords (because, rationally, pissing off this band of all people was the one thing more dangerous than jumping off the stage.) Emboldened, I took a step and leapt into the void. Somewhere around the apex of my jump,

I very clearly realized that I had done something very stupid in leading with my feet — the upward arc of my swinging sneakers had scared away the potential landing pad of people willing to catch me. Less clearly but no less obviously, I was going to bust my ass.

No one caught me. I landed flat on my back — miraculously, with no injury to me, surrounded mostly by a cohort of battle-jacket wearing hooligans peering down on me and pausing from their hoarse yelling to sheepishly ask in their best day job voice: “Dude, are you alright?”

I’m bringing up my live concert crash-and-burn not as a throwback to pre-COVID times or a lament about crowdsurfing form. You may be wondering why I’m bringing up my experience at a random concert at all in an essay nominally about communities on the internet. Grindcore is about as far as tech as you can get (Discordance Axis and Gridlink notwithstanding) — Nails’ fleshy, angry, vein-bulging aural assault is all brawn — guitar, bass, drums, no frills — coalescing into a snarling statement, song, album title: “You Will Never Be One of Us.” A statement, a line drawn in the sand.

The connections I’m about to make did not click at the time — the only thing that clicked at the time was the sound of my bones crumbling ever-so-slightly against the liquor-stained floor of the venue, strikingly hollow against the tinnitus I’d developed from hanging so close to the amplifiers. If nothing else, heavy genre mosh pits are polite. I was helped to my feet before I could evenrecollect my senses let alone fear the prospect of trampling. The crowd let out a little cheer as I gave a thumbs up as to signal “I’m fine, please keep the show running.”

After all that, all I felt was — joy. Happiness. Thrill. Belonging. We all got it.


Belonging is a sort of commodity online now. Not even a “sort of”, it is literally commodified, tokenized, marketed and sold. As societies grapple with the paradigm shift of digital primacy and all that it entails, its so-called digital natives are trading on the margins of fraternity for any sense of unity. This shakes down in a lot of ways. Some enter into fandom — a broad stroke for which I could describe football ultras, YA Lit readers, Sci-Fi evangelists, neo-otaku, fan fiction writers, pop music stans, film buffs, D&D players, or the type of people who are really into Marvel. Some identify with digital mass movements that, rather than hit the streets, exist mostly digitally through posting (like the wave of sentiment on Reddit that fueled 2021’s Gamestop stock fiasco or the r/antiwork community that gained momentum through the earliest part of 2022 before an ill-advised interview from a subreddit administrator on Fox News turned the community against itself). It is clear that in the wake of the supposed End of History, there are still new crises to emerge and stories to tell, and the internet is creating new ways for people to create their own sort of narrative worlds, their own reference points for belonging. Symbols for dreams.

It’s all symbols, signaling, either for ourselves or each other. Many have been wireheaded into social media engagement farming under the guise of arguing over profile pictures or NFT schemes or crypto or web3. Having an NFT is beside the point. Being crypto-skeptical or Bitcoin-maxi or adding a .eth to your twitter name or calling yourself a nocoiner or right clicking badly drawn apes are beside the point. These in themselves are all communities to belong to, subcultures with no main street to showcase their aesthetic language. Street cultures without Shibuya. Digital tribes, virtual nomads— as if the entire digital moment has become the staging ground for something else, hologram projections of a jungle for which - in the Hiroki Azuma sense - database animals may rule.

From the cutting edge to the banal, the internet traffics in kinship. This is why Meta (previously Facebook) is working overtime to make a metaverse. I say a, not the, because I understand the Facebookian Metaverse is a shopping mall first and foremost and others have different visions of making the digital world, or digital worlds, plural. Like the pluriverse as suggested by Arturo Escobar and championed by internet collective Verses: Escobar argues for autonomous design, constantly collaborating, reorganizing itself based on the contents within rather than creating the theme park and expecting people to come through. Pluriversal design two-steps across design thinking and assumes a new stance. The first provocation of Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse starts in the chapter titles. Design for the Real World: But Which “World”? What “Design?” And what’s “Real?”

Real is what you make it. The oft-used Tyler, The Creator missive of “walk away from the screen, close your eyes” is incredible, enjoyable, and still a flippant response to people who have taken the worst parts of being Terminally Online and made it their reality — but the fact is, we live in a different world than when Tyler tweeted his theory of internet divestiture. We are barreling towards digital primacy (as phrased most publicly by designer David Rudnick) in a way that we were not in 2012.

You can spin up a business entirely via your keyboard now with the right keystrokes. Your public reputation sits on a knife’s edge buoyed by an endless sea ofcontent. We are currently parsing a major geopolitical conflict through the context of phone screens over in Ukraine. In the same way that teens in 2007 wearing heavy eyeliner outside Spencer’s said that this is the real me, this is the Real. Those kids then are kids today having wars on twitter for their favorite TV shows for suggesting one character would make for a better couple with character B than character C. The energy is still there, it transforms. From the outside, it looks ridiculous, but from the inside, it’s your livelihood, your life. It becomes your mosh pit, an endless ebb and flow of energy that you can influence or enter or exit or get harmed by or get trampled by or get picked up by but never truly stop.

When I began writing this piece before giving up and placing it in cold storage temporarily,, one of the bands pushing the edges of the genre to its limit, found themselves embroiled in feud that could only exist via the power of the internet. It’s extremely sketchy, and it has spread like the world’s worst game of telephone. Facebook comments, IG story posts, TikTok reels, twitter timelines - all of it has subsumed whatever niche fine-grain details of the story, and we are left with this — a cloud of subtweeting, unimpressed asides posted askance into the void. There are breathless, scandalized retellings of the situation: ‘Vein jumped us, a member of one of the opening bands may or may not have had a gun”… It is deeply and utterly neurotic, pointless, and inconsequential. All of this stems mostly from the band breaking a mic stand at a venue in Albuquerque.

The band didn’t want to cover paying for a new one, the venue got upset, and the train leaves the station into hyperreality. And yet, this mic stand, through the power of the internet and its groupings, has a chance to accelerate itself beyond its wildest dreams. This is real. The mic stand, the pro-shipping/anti-shipping: when you are in the torrent of the internet, both could be your life, so you have no reason not to treat it like the most important thing in the world.

The internet is a kind of a mosh pit. Not a good one. A crowd at Woodstock. Not even down in the mud like Nine Inch Nails at

Woodstock ’94. Right now it looks like Woodstock ’99.

Everyone is looking not really for the next big thing or sense of belonging rather than a way to understand their place in the crowd in relation to how to best make money off it. The platforms are selling belonging even though what actually comes from belonging is platform agnostic. Switching platforms should feel like crowd surfing — it’s exciting, sure, but I still know what concert I’m at when my feet touch the ground again. It doesn’t feel like that now. It doesn’t even feel like that now within the same site.

What I am beginning to realize is that is the point, and arguably for the better. It shouldn’t feel like the same site. You shouldn’t feel restricted to platforms at all. In the future when your group chats are fully interoperable from platform to platform, losing only maybe the emojis and the reacts, you will realize the network isn’t so much the point as the networking is. When there is no internet, or when there are small, super-local, city-based meshnets, integrated cultural systems per Dr D. Fox Harrell & Danielle Olson — that is the point.

But before that, there is this, and this is all there is.

Let’s talk about the cybernetics of belonging.Cybernetics, at its core, deals with communication and control. Computing, networking, and the world wide web and all of its descendants have built themselves out from this understanding. The internet as we know it has been constructed in such a way that a digital sensorium arises. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp have transformed into a kind of golem for the public commons, warping the shape of all social interaction online underneath its crushing weight, bound to its network effects. .


Sometimes the archeological expedition of diving deep, deep into the far reaches of twitter communities I’ve never heard of is exciting (and often frightening), but it is increasingly hard to hold your entire product on the prospect of these incredibly separate communities existing without enmeshing.

The platforms have thrown us in the blender, so to speak. What are we to do? What can we do, if anything? Our agency in all of this, whether it be face to face or mediated through a screen, is up in the air.

When I go back to the concert metaphor, and talk about users — I realize something. The enduser, throughout time, has been treated mostly as an afterthought or annoyance. Now, the time comes to see the enduser as audience. Us. It’s us.

I don’t know why we ever tried to separate the developer or the designer from the user when we end up having to use our stuff, but that’s for a different essay.

Be cool. Start the dance. Find your people.

[platforms and Group chats —> exit to community]

[oceanic feeling — > the community catching the vibe and giving it back to you in waves/affirming]

I think back to the stage dive. I think back to jumping into the void. I’m thinking of an internet that has our back when we leap into the unknown.