In his excellent internet culture newsletter Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick argues that the US internet simply may be in its twilight years, that we haven’t seen very much new from there in quite some time (highlights mine):

Chinese e-commerce app Temu is now the most-downloaded app on iOS two months running. And it only launched in 2022. While America’s biggest app, Facebook, turns 20 this year. Because American tech monopolies have essentially been unable to come up with anything new for over a decade. And because they can’t, they’ve settled on a two-prong approach for managing their twilight years: lock in users with AI services and pressure legislators for an American version of China’s Great Firewall.

As far as I see it, at least the the social internet is dead. (Undead, maybe — still shuffling along, but decidedly lifeless.) The big wave of social/mobile/location-based internet services of the early 2010s was a real game changer, but since then it all felt pretty iterative. By now it feels dusty and stale.

Enter China, which has been pushing hard into the global market by aggressively scaling e-commerce platforms like Temu and TikTok. Nothing new either, but quite straightforward. One important footnote: Those apps, especially Temu, are heavily subsidized to grow while also squeezing suppliers on price. This is not sustainable in any way (WIRED). So if they succeed in any major way, prices will bounce right up, turning their USP moot. (Enshittification, anyone?)

So I agree with Ryan Broderick on this: The US internet seems a little old. Still spry maybe, but potentially aging into irrelevance. What China is bringing to the table doesn’t seem to be fresh either, though. It’s just… boring business? Slightly different mechanics to sell the same trash that Amazon is flowing over with?

Where does the interesting culture and subculture online originate these days? (Side note: Writer and historian W. David Marx offers a well-structured way to think about culture as an ecosystem.) It doesn’t seem to be the US; it doesn’t seem to be China. I’d wager it won’t be Europe, either. So… East Asia? The Baltics? Central America or East Africa?

Personally I could see online culture featuring prominently South Korea and Japan and Taiwan and Estonia and Mexico and Kenya to make for an excellent and exciting mix. If they can be the power houses it takes to not just produce the culture side but also the tech ecosystems to carry the culture into the world’s smartphones, we’ll see.