I’ve been a participant in the ever-evolving rodeo that is the internet since the late 1980s. For a fair portion of those years, I’ve been a blogger, too. In redesigning and relaunching this website to be primarily a blog, I’ve found that my approach has shifted significantly.
Social media is the biggest change. I don’t view it as unabashed evil, as some seem to… but it has changed the nature of online interactions substantially. Plenty of experts have analyzed how online discourse has changed over the decades, and again, I don’t necessarily agree with all their negative conclusions. What’s most interesting to me is how my attitudes have changed over the years.
When I created my first website, it was for a cause. The internet was seen as a way for like-minded people across the world to find and connect with each other, and we did… and it was wonderful. When I created my first blogging site, things were similar, and I was pleasantly surprised to fairly quickly get a decent-sized, thoughtful audience.
Online privacy was then and remains important to me, so the only social media I joined in those early days was Twitter. The sole reason was to connect with a very dear friend from high school… but I fell into a music-oriented community and began to be swayed by the allure of likes on my posts and the small but steady growth in followers. I didn’t like that I was feeling competitive about those metrics, yet I was torn: I wanted community, but “community” seemed to be framed in a shallower way. Followers, likes, and retweets didn’t help me find meaningful engagement. Branding and monetization were where it was at… and I wasn’t there at all.
For a short time, I used Facebook via my business partner’s account, in support of our organization. I noticed that much of the content I found as I explored didn’t seem very genuine: it felt performative—skewed toward either a carefully curated beautiful life or one of misfortune and/or drama. I did find a social media home that felt like a more genuine community, as it’s built around fiber arts. Over its 15 years, I’ve seen forums shift to varying degrees from deep community to ghost towns, and more posters going for drama, if not outright trolling.
My participation in social media shrank as I observed these shifts. The idea of monetizing as many aspects of my life as possible is abhorrent to me. Stuffing my content into certain niches in order to gain increased traffic is the opposite of what I want to accomplish here. Yet even the WordPress backend pushes the performative elements of social media on me: as I type, I’m being nagged about SEO optimization, my sentence length, lack of subheaders and links, etc.
Today, the most accurate word to describe my social media usage is “lurker.” It’s hard for me to even commiserate with an online friend’s difficulties or triumphs, because it feels so performative to add my thoughts to a page full of similar sentiments.
So I find myself in a weird predicament: I have many things I want to share here; I would like to build a community of like-minded people who enjoy exploring ideas for the sake of learning more and understanding better rather than scoring points and winning arguments. I have a list—a physical list that I wrote out and add to fairly regularly—of titles and themes to explore here.
Yet whenever I sit down to actually create an essay, I freeze up. My ever-present inner critic convinces me whatever I want to ramble on about won’t be valued by anyone else who might come across my little outpost here… because I’m sure not promoting nor marketing this site, nor my YouTube channel, as I’m exhorted to.
As I see it, creating content (massive eyeroll) as I want to would be my pushback against the performative commodification of our thoughts, feelings, ideas, lives… and it may well resonate with others. But I won’t get any data for the study if I implicitly embrace the marketeers’ advice and value judgments.
The internet rodeo has changed a lot, and it will continue to change. My attitudes toward it and my use of it has clearly changed over the years too. My blather above has revealed that one thing hasn’t changed, though: I can still overanalyze my analysis paralysis like nobody’s business.