Roll up, Roll out

I ended up going down a bit of a rabbit hole via Warren Ellis, who linked to Jay Springett, who linked to Matt Mullenweg, who linked to some nifty projects, and it got me thinking about what the state of the art these days even really is, as far as blogging and forums and online spaces are concerned.

I’d rather murder myself than ever go near any kind of online forum again. But a return to forum life for people who actually want to think and talk would fit with the current tone of the dark-forest-y online discourse I’ve seen.

Warren Ellis

I’m personally with Warren on this: I’m not inclined to create, manage, moderate, or even participate in a forum again any time soon. But I appreciate that forums are useful, may scratch a need for some people, and that the tools for forums are in dire need of some attention.

I must admit, I’ve not really been following the Dark Forest discourse as much as perhaps I should. It doesn’t quite fit for me, as a metaphor. I feel like a lot of the folks I see talking about that particular metaphor for online interaction are people who already built an audience, found their tribe, and then opted to withdraw to their enclaves, taking their tribe with them. That’s not a dark forest, that’s a raiding party.

Don’t get me wrong, I see what they’re talking about, and how devastating it can be to become that day’s Main Character, and that there is value in keeping a lower profile. But I feel like the metaphor falls down. So much of the online discourse they’re theoretically shying away from is centered around a desire to draw attention to yourself, to build an audience — in short, a popularity contest. So does that guardedness and wariness to share yourself more openly come from a dark forest where you could be destroyed, or does it come from a desire to control your narrative with the audience you’re trying to grow? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

As a side note, I decided to start putting together a Glossary of the New Web, to try and capture various terms, concepts, systems, and tools that are part of the “internet discourse” these days. It’s not exhaustive, slightly opinionated, and generally brief, but I do try to link to where you might find out more. It’s a start.

Orbital Operations and other thoughts

So, if you’re not already subscribed to Orbital Operations yet, you really should sign up. Warren Ellis finds some pretty interesting stuff to share on a pretty regular basis, and it gives you something to read in your inbox that isn’t just more marketing spam.

In this past week’s edition, someone asked about his daily routine (and how he manages to keep up with current affairs while still making deadlines). The advice is pretty solid, but I particularly liked this:

You can see my considerable advantages here. I spend a lot of time on my own, and mostly in my office. You can emulate these obvious role-model traits by excavating yourself a cave in your back garden or taking over a room in your apartment, fitting it with uncomfortably bright lights and way too many screens, filling all the spaces with books and skulls, playing nothing but music that sounds like it’s emanating from a dead moon, and waiting for everyone to leave you alone forever, and then dying in seclusion and being eaten by cats.

I hope that helped.

Living the dream, sir.

In a similar vein, in the same missive, there’s something I think is worth calling out:

You don’t have to live in public on the internet if you don’t want to. Even if you’re a public figure, or micro-famous like me. I don’t follow anyone on my public Instagram account. No shade on those who follow me there, I’m glad you give me your time – but I need to be in my own space to get my shit done. You want a “hack” for handling the internet? Create private social media accounts, follow who you want and sit back and let your bespoke media channels flow to you.

These are tools, not requirements. Don’t let them make you miserable. Tune them until they bring you pleasure.

I think that’s something we often miss: we’re so stuck into the “social media” groove, where everything is performative and virtue signaling and signal boosting and broadcasting to your readers, that we forget that it’s still a choice. We can opt out, or use the services how we want to use them (and discard them when that is no longer viable). Even if presence feels mandatory nowadays, participation is not.

I don’t think I personally need a series of private accounts — I’m not even “micro-famous” (though I’m still tickled when something I say or do pops up in a larger space). It does give some food for thought about how I have and use the accounts I do have, though. It’s sort of where I’ve already been heading — giving less of a shit about building a readership and more about sharing brief thoughts and things I think are interesting. Paring down or tuning out the rage machine (that’s not to say ignoring current affairs, but I really don’t need 57 hot takes on the same situation), and filling my time with stuff that feeds me in some way. Something to work towards, I’d say.

The Silence of the Algorithm

While I doubt that my own Twitter and Facebook experiences were/are general, I have periods of fascination with the way social media systems eventually failed me. I keep trying to look ahead to the near-future of digital social connection (without separating it out into an other thing from general social connection, even while I develop the creeping feeling that digital duality may not be a thing in cities but may be in sleepy seaside towns) — and I wonder if attempts at inclusion by algorithm aren’t just locking people in soundproofed boxes.

These are all part-formed thoughts I’m working through, but it strikes me this morning that Twitter going algo would break a (perhaps unspoken) promise made in an earlier age of the internet: that, like FB, it would become a heavily managed means of communication, with arcane rules of entry, that would have its own opinions on whether you get to speak or listen. Warren Ellis, The Silence of the Algorithm