1 comment: click to readComments

A love/hate relationship

I installed a broken link checker plugin then spent the better part of two hours going through my blog because I realised that some older links had broken after changing my permalinks format. I'd obviously done a similar thing previously but didn't remember.

When going through old posts I noticed a pattern: I would get excited by a new service or network, dive in head first but become jaded, but there was a deeper, more troubling trend.

It may currently seem fashionable to blame online life for the ills of society, and people are stepping away (myself included) but, looking back, I see just how much of a love/hate relationship I've actually had with social media over the years.

This certainly isn't me trying to say that I'm better than anyone else for highlighting issues early on, merely a realisation of the chequered history I have had with online life and, perhaps, a reflection on why I am currently questioning what I'm doing with my blog and, by extension, with the engagement on micro.blog.

Note: I'm not going to link to all my old posts as there would be too many.

The history

As far back as 2008 I started writing posts about how social media impacted us or changed our identity, and questioned whether we were getting too social.

This prompted me to take my first hiatus from blogging and social. I returned about a month later for a couple of posts, assessed the situation and disappeared for another 11 months. Three more posts were followed by another 6 month break.

Mid 2010 saw me get excited about the pre-Google+ rumours but also ask if social networks were the next Microsoft, by which I meant that they were becoming too large and too powerful so could be next up for some attention from anti-competition authorities like the DoJ.

Facebook and Twitter were constantly being accused of stealing the lifeblood of startups, taking their ideas and turning them into native features. The developer community was shut out as the advertising model really took off prompting me to write that the big social networks could no longer be open.

The walled gardens were firmly in place and those walls were getting higher by the day.

Fast forward to 2011 where the launch of Google+ in beta was tempered by my again asking how social media was affecting our identities, and the importance of just being ourselves.

The end of 2011 saw me question the future of social networks in light of their pervasiveness and I stated that users had become conditioned in a typically Pavlovian way before the current talks of dopamine hits.

The start of 2012 had me ask if social networks were a threat to the internet itself with their continuing growth and power now seeping out into the "normal web" as social saturation ensued. I also felt that the networks were focusing too much on the mechanics rather than the connections.

Metrics were all important and how many "friends" you had far outweighed what you actually did with them. So I pleaded to forget the gamification and just put the social back into social media.

Sensing things were only getting worse I later asked if social networks were restricted by our vanity and need for instant gratification, advocating a desire to see users forgo the needs of the self for the greater good.

2013 saw the first real discussions on ownership, authorship and choice in light of the increasingly algorithmic nature of the social web and how the paradox of choice, being flooded with so many voices, actually led us to retreat into a safe haven. The power of social was becoming its own worst enemy.

A war was being fought, not just for our attention but for our online identities, and I succumbed to the desire for audience moving my writing away from my blog.

It's a war the networks, more specifically Facebook, think they have won but a growing backlash offers some resistance.

Shutting down my Google+ account in 2015 was a watershed moment; discarding the large audience I had gathered there was a first step in reclaiming who I was on the web. It took another year, however, for me to return to the blog, and even longer to disconnect it from Medium.

The why

I've written a couple of times about finding your "why" of doing things, that reason specific to you as opposed to blindly adopting a herd mentality.

Going back and seeing things in a wider context makes me realise that my why is more deep seated than I thought.

Perhaps I just needed to lay the past out like this to draw a line under it and better enable me to see what's next.

Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog