The State of “Social” (Redux)

This post, back in 2018, mused a little about the general state of social networking, and the failure of Mastadon to gain any traction. Despite the obvious and ongoing twin clusterfucks of Facebook and Twitter, little seems to have changed.

Since 2018 i’ve (not for the first time) deleted my Twitter account, and will not be going back. They don’t seem to have noticed…

Both Facebook and Twitter appear to have doubled down on the strategy of “outrage generates engagement. engagement generates profits”, despite the obvious and one might say catastrophic impact it has had on civil society. Even the mainstream press is driven by the vagaries of tweet storms. Facebook looks (from the outside) to be an high stakes version of the Stanford Prison Experiment being run as a profit centre. WhatsApp and Instagram? Please don’t look behind the curtain!

The group of humans with whom i’ve been luck enough to become acquainted are, to varying degrees: intelligent, socially liberal, technically savvy, literate, politically aware, beautiful, artistic, and, er… lovely. That’s why i try to stay in touch with them despite them being spread out over multiple continents.

Unfortunately keeping in touch is not easy. This is, mea maxima culpa, entirely a problem of my own making. Currently there are sets of friends or individuals spread across a large number of … systems. These range from Email (it should be called GMail at this point), XMPP and SMS to iMessage, Signal, and even Discord. Not including Mastadon as nobody ever even remembers it exists.

A large majority of those people are active on Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, others on Facebook. The path of least resistance would definitely be to surrender to the herd, and i completely understand that it’s me that makes all this difficult… and yet, i’m not going back.

Everything has a price. Some aspect of the performative / promotional / social engagement with traditional public social networks makes it worthwhile for my friends to continue that relationship. The balance of power has definitely shifted, but people who profited from the early phase largesse are struggling to move on now the situation has become borderline abusive. The societal damage is spread thin enough, especially for those of us who have the free time to waste worrying about it, that it makes sense to try wait it out. Maybe the balance will shift again? It won’t, at least not back from whence it came!

The idea that a new form of social networking, one that reflects and respects the real life boundaries of our actual friendships, will evolve or emerge from the current mess of highly commercialized exploitation now seems ridiculous to me. Prior transitions (MySpace to Facebook, etc) feel like poor guides to the future as the context in which they happened is entirely different. Sure the kids are gravitating to different venues, away from their parents, but the owners of new venues are that same predatory ad tech creeps, with a bag full of “How do you do, Fellow Kids” memes slung over their shoulder.

[As an aside, i’m really intrigued by the concept of posting being in some way “performative”, the micro-doses of attention coming from posting to something like Twitter has become meaningful enough to be habit forming. Future studies of this phenomenom are going to be a rough read…]

A system like Secure Scuttlebutt seems like it would be a far more “human” venue in which to interact. I still love the idea of staying in touch with a geographically dispersed circle of friends, with the possibility of serendipitous encounters of friends-of-friends, having friends help friends… but not all happening under the Unblinking Algorithmic Eye.