I thought I knew the web

Like many others recently, I am questioning my use of social media. The whole scandal around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is systemic and hardly surprising, but what is surprising me now is the amount of data I've signed over to Facebook in my youth while at the same time balking at the idea of using 3rd party Facebook apps. It goes to show how much trust I had in the platform.

I definitely took for granted the "free" online products such as Facebook, Youtube, Hotmail, LinkedIn, Skype, Google, and so on. Over the past year I've inventoried my online accounts and I'm shocked to find I have over 100, and it's by no means complete. Each recovered account and rotated password was a reminder that my data was eaglerly handed over in exchange for a service I can now barely remember off the top of my head, and which I've abandoned in favour of a few larger sites.

Tunnel vision

The virtual smogasboard of content has trained me, and so many others, to seek out "junk food" content which is easily consumed but which offers little value. Long articles became exercises in skimming, and I often jumped to Reddit's comments section to get a summary of an article and opinions without even reading the article beyond its headline. The excuse was that there's always too much to read, and too little time to do it.

As my tunnel vision further shrank over time, I became frustrated by the predictable echo chamber of communities like Reddit, and the reinforcement of algorithmic identity in suggested content:

If Facebook content is tailored to suit the company’s construction of who we are, then consuming it is like consuming a coherent version of ourselves

The lack of diverse perspectives and meaningful discourse becme very fatiguing.

What's old is new

All the while, I didn't think there were many alternatives. All my friends were using the same sites as me, and outside of search engines and aggregators I just wasn't sure where to find other content. My idea of an online social presence went hand in hand with the major social media sites.

Ironically, it was another link aggregator, Hacker News, that started to change my view of things. Many of the links posted there are to independent bloggers, and there's a theme of privacy and decentralization topics.

Technologies like scuttlebutt, Mastodon and social UNIX servers proved to me that a social presence doesn't have the fit the models I used, and that the models underlying them are as viable as ever. I am excited to see renewed interest in self-hosting, federated services, and independent blogging. So much interesting content can be found just by randomly following blogroll link. Importantly, this content is outside my usual bubble. I realize now that I can't rely on an algorithm to suggest content to me, and that I need to put in the effort and time to explore.

My place online

This blog is my way of participating in the web as I think it's meant to be, and a reaction against unhealthy centralization. I also know that I still don't know the web--that there is boundless content out there beyond the reach of search engines and aggregators. It extends beyond HTTP to other protocols and overlay networks, and I will never see most of it, but the point is: keep exploring.