In an excerpt from his new book, Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture, Kyle Chayka recalls growing up on the early social internet, describing with his first brush with the online world as a teenager through AOL Instant Messenger, and the formative experience of expressing himself online via LiveJournal, an early publishing platform. It was an escape, and an exciting time that sparked creativity and possibility. Chayka then takes us on a tour of the first social networks he joined, from MySpace to Facebook, up to the very different web that we navigate today—one of monopolies and algorithms and ads that reinforces existing power structures.

I didn’t understand yet in middle school, but in the years that followed I began to think of my online presence as a shadow self. Those aware of it could see it, and I could see theirs—the reflection of their avatars and icons and away messages, the tone of their instant-message chats or L.J. posts. But, for other people who were not so online, it was still invisible, insignificant. I’ve been thinking a lot about this early version of my online self lately as I’ve been writing about latter-day digital culture and taking stock of just how much the landscape has changed.

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.