Less Social Media, More Open Web

Cal Newport continues writing about the distinction between social media and the social internet:

Perhaps more pernicious than the ability of these “walled industrial sites” to exploit your labor, however, is their ability to control your behavior — nudging you toward certain ways of describing yourself and encountering the world that make you more profitable to the social media barons, but might alienate you from your humanity.

(This is the chief concern voiced by Jaron Lanier, who first warned us about these issues over twenty years ago.)

What’s the solution? Here’s Jacobs:

“We need to revivify the open Web and teach others—especially those who have never known the open Web—to learn to live extramurally: outside the walls. What do I mean by ‘the open Web’? I mean the World Wide Web as created by Tim Berners-Lee and extended by later coders.”

To be more concrete, he’s suggesting that if you want to connect and express yourself online, the best way to do so is to own your own website.

Buy a domain. Setup a web hosting account […]. Install WordPress or hand code a web site for this account. Let people follow you directly by checking your site, or subscribing to an RSS feed or email newsletter.

In other words, acquire your own damn digital land on which you can do whatever you want without anyone else trying to exploit you or influence your behavior.

My new home page is exactly a step in this direction. (It was funny that a day after setting up this new site, I came across this post by Christian Heilmann which seemed to be hitting all the right nails.)

It’s also, however, humbling.

As I wrote in  Deep Work , part of the power of the social media business model is that it  introduces a type of  attention collectivism , where I’ll promise to pretend to care what you have to say (by clicking “like” or leaving a quick comment), if you do the same for me. This is incredibly seductive, though ultimately hollow.

When you run your own site, reality is harsher. If people don’t truly care about what you have to say, or don’t truly care about you, they’re not going to stick around. You have to earn their attention. Which can be really, really hard.

I am currently struggling with this change myself: I have not shared any post from this new site on any social media, nor do I intend to do so, which means there are not a whole lot of people who even know that this site exists. Lack of feedback feels discouraging.

But I don’t think that this is a bad thing.

For those who want recognition, this reality provides a useful forcing function for helping them through the deliberate work of cultivating thoughts worth sharing.

I often wonder whether these link type posts are useful to anyone else. But the way I look at them is they are same as how I used to share a link on Facebook and add some commentary on it. This actually seems like a better way to do it with quoted context in line.

For those who don’t crave recognition, it induces a digital life that’s more localized to closer friends and family — a state that’s more congruent with our fundamental human instincts.

This is how I have used the site so far, sending a link to a particular post to a friend or family when I had already written about what we were discussing. This was so hard to do on social media, searching your own content is made so hard there. This change has sometimes led to better discourse and follow ups.

But probably I crave some recognition too, so I might consider announcing this new site to people who have cared in the past or my newer friends. I still do not want to start managing (or automating) a newsletter, so I will need to write a HowTo on easily reading this site using RSS.

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