Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me, Mastodon)

I do want to go back to social media

February 28 2023

Back in November I wrote a blog post titled I don't want to go back to social media. In retrospect, I realize that I do want to go back to social media, in fact did go back to social media (to Mastodon, that is, not to Twitter, which I definitely don't regret leaving). So this blog post is a kind of mea culpa. I wasn't wrong about everything I said earlier, perhaps not even about the majority of things I said earlier, but I do want to talk about where exactly I went wrong. I think more than anything, I misjudged myself, my feelings, my character.

My earlier blog post talked about Slack as a substitute for social media. This turned out to be a misjudgment. I had a honeymoon period with Slack, but eventually my relationship with it soured. I've decided to disengage from the invitation-only developer Slack that I had joined. There were two main problems: (1) the Slack has a large number of topic-specific chat rooms, and I got tired of jumping back and forth between them to follow the conversations; (2) I came to feel that I couldn't be myself in the Slack. I was a guest in someone else's house, expected to follow their rules and get along with their crowd, who were mostly strangers to me.

My lament about Twitter was that it "brought out the worst in me. I struggled to be my best self on Twitter." If I'm honest with myself, though, maybe I have no best self. What if this is as good as it gets, Melvin Udall asked in the film named after that very quote. I don't intend to be a jerk, but I can be… jerky. While I think it's usually for a good cause, I acknowledge that the ends don't justify the means. I tend to be rather opinionated, outspoken, unyielding, and sarcastic. I'm not proud of that fact. I don't celebrate it. Yet I can't deny it, nor can I deny my inner demons. Or as Doctor Griswold would put it: my inner crapola, inner debris, garbage, loose wires. As Detective Callahan (better known by his nickname) said in another film—not a comedic film, but not without comedy—a man's got to know his limitations. I'm not getting any younger, and I don't appear to be getting a lot better either, so mathematics suggests that it's likely I've approached or even reached my peak on the personality scale.

On social media I have more freedom to be myself, for better or worse. Without intending to revel in ranting, I sometimes let myself get carried away and let the feeling overtake me. I may regret it afterward, but that's more about my own self-conception and internal struggle than it is about committing a faux pas, because social norms are very different (nonexistent?) on social media as compared to a hosted chat room. Ironically, it may be better to embarrass oneself in public than in private. On social media, you choose your own crowd, your own following, and your followers choose you. You're not stuck in a room together. If you don't like what someone says on social media, you can always unfollow, mute, or block them. In effect, you get to set your own social norms and rules of engagement. To me, this feels much more comfortable, knowing that my hot takes are seen (aside from boosts, which you can also disable) only by those who signed up to do so.

Something else I misjudged about leaving social media was my desire for free time. I wrote, "What I've found after quitting Twitter is that in some sense I have my life back. I feel less hurried. I can spend hours focusing on some activity without needing a break to check Twitter. I set my own agenda, according to my own interests, as opposed to my Twitter feed setting my agenda, according to the interests of my following." To be fair (to myself), I did have a nice vacation from Twitter. Maybe I needed the break. Inevitably, however, I get bored with vacations and need to get back to work. Without social media, I ended up with too much time on my hands. It's hard to believe such a calamity! Admittedly, this calamity may reveal certain gaps in my social life, an entirely different topic that I have no desire to blog. Anyway, didn't we all acquire gaps in our social lives during the pandemic?

I previously likened social media to an unhealthy addiction. Was I wrong about that? I don't know. It certainly appears that I'm addicted. I tried quitting, then I backtracked. Moreover, I still think that social media is problematic in a number of ways. Along with some new problems, Mastodon suffers from many of the same old problems that Twitter did, since people are people wherever they go. I characterized social media as "seductive because it gives the illusion of friendship. It's the ultimate in low maintenance, no effort friendship." I think I misjudged my relationship with my followers, though. After all, I never had the expectation to become close personal friends with Jack Nicholson, Rene Russo, or Clint Eastwood. (The last might need a real friend, because we've seen him talk to an invisible friend in an empty chair, but that's not my problem.) They are performers, we are the audience. I've come to realize that I have the need to perform before an audience too. My blog is a stage for me, and so is social media. My audience is my RSS subscribers and social media followers. I found that I missed my followers when they were gone (twice gone, if you count the aforementioned problem with my old Mastodon instance). I didn't necessarily miss them in the exactly same way I miss long lost friends, but I missed them nonetheless. I missed having an audience, I missed the performance, I missed hamming it up. I guess I'm addicted to ham?

This is my current opinion. I reserve the right to change my mind again in the future.

Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me, Mastodon)