I posted towards the end of last year about my early explorations of the fediverse (the federated universe – seriously it’s awesome check it out) of apps and websites that can talk to each other but cover a vast range outside of the walled gardens of the corporate controlled internet. Like many people who were (probably far too) intensely online, the changes at Twitter were forcing me away from that platform, which I had been on for a decade. And on which I had more than 10,000 followers
After a few weeks I was completely enraptured by the community on mastodon, far more independently minded, creative and yes, that awful tech bro cliche, disruptive. It was, as is also now fast becoming a bit of cliche, like going back to 2011 Twitter.
On mastodon, as of February 2023 I now have 3600 followers and follow about 2000 accounts. I get far far more interesting interaction and discussion than on my old twitter account with three times as many followers. I’m not the only one noticing this. To be clear it’s taken some “work” to get there. Finding new accounts, dealing with a less than intuitive UX and working out what is of general interest has taken some time. If htis post makes you curious, I recommend the feditips page as a good starting point.
I’m now a fully signed up active member of the fediverse with a pixelfed account (think instagram before the annoying tiktok immitation and with a lot fewer “influencers”), 2 mastodon accounts (probably soon to be amalgamated to one tbh) and some tentative explorations of friendica (a bit like facebook when it still seemd like a cool way to keep in touch with friends and family abroad, jury is still out on this one tbh, I’m trying to keep it for personal friends and family only).
Blogging also seems to have come back into my purview. And it’s fun, thinking about writing and science in quite a different way to the one imposed by the 280 character limit (some of us remember when it was 140).
A few months down the line and while activity on mastodon has subsided since the first waves in 2022, the hard core who are still here are REALLY cool. I feel refreshed and revitalised after checking the stream in a way I have not experienced for a long time on twitter.
It’s also made me reflect on the way I had used social media in the past (probably far too much time spent there if I’m honest with myself). I had accumulated a lot of followers and could quite happily spend hours browsing the algorithmic feed, but especially recently, a lot of that browsing was like snacking on cookies, it was time that would have been more fufilling going in depth on a project or enjoying my leisure time without thjat SoMe filter. At some point twitter helped to find good stuff too, but even before the Musk takeover and mass departures it wass getting harder and harder to find genuinely interesting stuff amid the flood of witty oneliners and outrage driven algorithmically pushed tweets.
After the takeover there has been poisonous floodtide of misinformation and anti-science drivel, not to mention anti-semitism, racism and general bigotry. The climate denial that has arisen since Elon Musk bought the platform wasn’t even this bad during climategate. I have no idea why it has got this awful again recently. I assume the same state actors and misinformation manipulators and their bot armies. Either way, even though I missed some accounts and friends, I no longer want to be supporting a billionaire’s hobby project. SO in the best social democratic tradition, I’m withdrawing my (free) labour.
I moved over towards the end of last year and while I kept an eye on the birdsite, I didn’t feel the need to engage there anymore. I was cross-posting exclusively from Mastodon to Twitter until the crossposter service was ended at the end of January. The end of the open API this week is probably the final end for me. I may post links to my blog for a little while longer, but probably that’s just prolonging the inevitable.
So now it’s time to take stock. I will hold on to my account, though probably locked to new followers, I may drop in from time to time but I don’t plan to engage over there at all. I have downloaded my archive (while I still could) and started deleting my tweets. As of today there is a year’s worth left. I’ll probably scrap that at some point too.
So, do I miss it? Yes, a bit. More than I missed the swamp of facebook when I left there in 2016. But not as much as I thought I would. Possibly because the discovery of the fediverse is leading me to becoming a far more active netizen again, rather than a passive consumer of snack food. I do miss some accounts and friends who have not moved over, though I hope they will one day.
And the ever wise Danish genre and Grundtvig expert Sune Auken expressed it pretty well in one of his daily reminders: “I know why I left, and I know what I lost, but I’m not going back and I don’t miss the experience of twitter even as I miss excellent friends”
And where from here? Well the cool thing about the fediverse is we are in control, we get to decide (at least to some limited extent) what it should look like in the future. It is not a corporate walled garden, we get to work on and improve it and make it after our own image. The same was once true to some extent of twitter and in fact many of it’s best features were user-driven originally.
More to the point, this whole sorry saga has made me realise two things:
I don’t want to build stuff on someone else’s platform anymore.
I need to be much more mindful of the way I use social media and the internet. I have too many responsibilities to family, friends and work to fritter away a mindless hour on social media snack food. But there is nonetheless value and entertainment in creating and sharing:
The bottom line of this general thinking is that a simple, carefully curated, minimalist digital life is not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism