Remember when Twitter was a place where people shared what they had for breakfast? Yeah, simpler times. I’ve always liked being able to write without having it to be something. The simple act of organizing thoughts into words and putting them out there like a message in a bottle was a low pressure way to maintain a writing habit.
Twitter in 2010 was interesting because it had a cocktail party vibe and, since I had so few followers at the time, it was an easy way to digitally jot down whatever came to mind. For me, it was the equivalent of a digital sketchpad. If someone found it interesting enough to interact, that was great, but I never feared that something I tweeted would make the internet fall on me.
Needless to say, the online world now is very different than it was in 2010. Going viral is a threat, not a blessing, and the repercussions can bleed into real life with devastating effects, especially for people in marginalized groups.
Tiptoeing back into the social media pool (and identifying what sucks about it for me)
I haven’t had a social media account since 2015. I’ve never gotten on with Facebook specifically because it’s designed to keep tabs on people you know (which I’d rather avoid), and none of the more image/video based platforms like Instagram and TikTok have remotely tempted me.
But I missed microblogging, and since Twitter is even crappier now than it was when I quit 8 years ago, I checked out a few alternatives, such as Spoutible and Mastodon (I didn’t even consider Post because Twitter taught me that the last place I want to be is somewhere full of journalists).
I soon realized that it wasn’t the algorithms, the ads, or even the trolls that I didn’t like — as anti-social as it sounds, it was the interaction. Or rather, the expectation of interaction. When a site is set up so interaction is easy, it feels bad when you post something and no one responds. On the flip side, when someone does respond, you feel obligated to respond back because it feels impolite not to.
In a worst case scenario, you might even feel obligated to react to the outrage of the moment even though no one asked for your opinion — on Twitter, not reacting equals not caring. How dare you not have an opinion, or worse yet, not even know about X?
All of those social expectations are just too exhausting for me. Being served up stuff I never signed up to see in my feed is exhausting too. When I peeked at Spoutible, the dynamics were similar, just on a smaller scale (and like Twitter, it’s essentially run by one person, which is a no-go for me). When I checked out a few of the larger Mastodon servers, it was the same thing.
On Mastodon, my own way
I realized that if a site is designed for easy social interaction (which most people want), then it derails my brain to the point where it’s difficult to do anything creative. This is why I don’t have comments on my blog, and it’s now why I have my own Mastodon server. People can still contact me through my website contact form, and they can follow and reply to me on Mastodon, but it takes a little effort. That’s a feature, not a bug.
I love having control over my own server, much like having control over my own website. Also, by having my own Mastodon server, I see only exactly what I want to see, which is not much. I follow three bot accounts: one that shows how much of the year has passed, one that links to Calvin and Hobbes comics, and one that links to XKCD comics. On my feed, there are no trending hashtags to pique my curiosity and no people on soapboxes. It’s the equivalent of not bringing junk food into my home.
The result? I’m writing more like I used to 20 years ago, before I knew anything about the “right” way to write and interact online. It’s fun again. I’m sure most “experts” in the writing world would recoil at the boundaries I’ve set up, but following their advice played a big role in what made me quit a few years back. I know “they” say that creative people can’t be reclusive anymore, but if I have to be reclusive to continue doing creative work at all, then it’s a choice I’ll happily make.
05/01/2023 edit: Well, after exploring Mastodon for a while, I decided to delete my account. There wasn’t anything wrong with Mastodon per se, but I didn’t have a good enough reason to continue using it. I’d like to find a better way to share my writing while minimizing the downsides to my brain. The search continues….