Reacting to the unexpected announcement last week about Elon Musk buying Twitter, I have been working on a near-seamless transition away from Twitter to Mastodon, an open-source, federated system of microblogging servers. Just as any Twitter user can follow, mute, and block any other Twitter user, any Mastodon user can follow, mute, and block any other user on any other Mastodon server (called an instance). Here’s a handy seven-minus YouTube video which explains Mastodon and this federated system, called a “fediverse” (please note this video is three years old, so the stats given are out of date):
I have unfollowed hundreds of people on Twitter, sending out messages explaining what I was doing, and I was met with positive responses overall. And I was surprised and delighted that 20-30 people have actually followed me over to Mastodon, setting up new accounts! (If you’re interested in joining us on this adventure, please go to joinmastodon.org, pick an instance to create an account on, and follow me at @ryanschultz. I will follow you back!)
I’m not leaving Twitter entirely; I know that many of my over 1,500 Twitter followers will not make the switch. Therefore, I will be (automatically) cross-posting new posts to my blog (like this one!), and I have set up a system where public “toots” (what Mastodon calls tweets) will also automatically be cross-posted to my Twitter account. I just tested it out this evening, and it works like a charm!
So, over the next few months, I will be spending less and less time on Twitter, and more and more time on Mastodon. Mastodon is actually part of a whole suite of interconnected, open-source federated software programs; for more info, please go to https://fediverse.info.
One thing I already love about Mastodon is NO ADVERTISING! Most Mastodon instance owners have a Patreon or Ko-Fi page where you can provide one-time or monthly financial support if you use and like the service. Another thing I like is the community! There are some really interesting people doing some wonderful things on Mastodon, and already I am following my first hundred people!
I have feeling that many other people will also be exploring their options, now that Twitter is owned by a rather capricious billionaire!
I have a frankly lamentable history of jumping feet-first into new social networks ever since the early days of Friendster, circa 2003 (more details here and here). So it was with similar reckless abandon that, yesterday evening, I:
Set up an account on one Mastodon server, http://mastodon.online (which is run by the founder, CEO, and lead developer of Mastodon himself, Eugen Rochko), and then I was told that all the cool kids 😎 were hanging over at http://mastodon.social, so I set up an account there, too, and then set up a redirect from the former to the latter; and
Blasted out to most of my Twitter contacts that I was moving from Twitter to Mastodon:
After all this activity, I got myself so wound up last night that I could not fall asleep until quite late, and when I finally dragged myself out of bed this morning, suffering from you could call a social media hangover, I tweeted:
In other words, I went and did with Mastodon what I have done with every other new social network I have ever encountered: went hog-wild with the possibilities of making often-tenuous connections with other people, and operating under the delusion that my personal worth is somehow defined by the size, shape, and activity of my social graph! I am, however, getting much better at diagnosing the problem when it happens, and this time around, I figured it out within 24 hours, which is actually an achievement! So I will chalk this up as a win. 😉
Regardless of the impact of Elon Musk’s acquisition of and control over Twitter as a platform, I’ve decided that it’s as good a time as any to rethink my relationship with social media in general, and Twitter in particular.
For now, I’m going to keep one foot in Twitter, and plant my second foot in Mastodon (as my Plan B, in case I need to flee Twitter completely), then just wait, see what transpires, and act accordingly.
If you are curious and you want to kick the tires yourself on Mastodon, start here. You can also watch this two-minute YouTube introduction video:
We recommend using joinmastodon.org or our official iOS and Android apps to choose a Mastodon server to sign-up on, and to tell others to do the same when talking about Mastodon, instead of promoting our own servers directly. All Mastodon servers interoperate, allowing you to follow and be followed by other users from other servers seamlessly. And if you don’t like your choice afterwards, you can create another account and move all your followers to it. Distributing users across different servers is what makes Mastodon more scalable, socially and technologically.
One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same thing as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common.
Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said, “We’re gonna give each person a different customized definition, and we’re gonna be paid by people for that.” So, Wikipedia would be spying on you. Wikipedia would calculate, “What’s the thing I can do to get this person to change a little bit on behalf of some commercial interest?” Right? And then it would change the entry.
Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to, because that’s exactly what’s happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.
—Jaron Lanier, from the documentary The Social Dilemma
This is not the blogpost I originally started writing.
The first draft of my blogpost is quoted below:
As I lie on the sofa in my darkened apartment, listening to an LGBTQ “Queeraoke” room in Clubhouse (and wondering if I have the audacity to inflict my pitchy tenor voice on the assembly), it occurs to me that my relationship with social media has evolved significantly since I started this blog, a little over four years ago.
I don’t kid myself; my divorce from Facebook (not so much a single event as a series of steps), led not to a reduction in my use of social media, but an overall increase, something about which I have strong mixed feelings about. (It would appear that I am not alone in this: I have noticed a significant uptick in recent views of a blogpost I wrote about Jaron Lanier’s 10 reasons to quit social media, according to my WordPress blog statistics.)
Spending so much of my time in social isolation since the pandemic started 20 months ago, I find myself spending varying amounts of time every day on five wildly disparate social media platforms: Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Discord, and (the newcomer) Clubhouse. I tell myself that it helps me stay connected to other people, but I also
And then, like so many other blogposts I write, I set it aside, literally mid-sentence, to complete on another day, when the muse struck.
Well, today is another day.
And it is a day that I started watching a one-and-a-half hour documentary on Netflix, which is also available to watch for free on YouTube: The Social Dilemma. And, as it happens, Jaron Lanier also appears in this particular documentary—along with two dozen other experts, many of them executives who formerly held high-ranking positions at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
I full well realize the irony in asking you to watch a YouTube video on social media addiction (given the platform’s at-times-scarily accurate recommendation engine, algorithmically designed to keep you viewing long past your bedtime), but I would urge you to set aside 93 minutes and 42 seconds of your time, and watch this documentary. It is eye-opening, it is disturbing, and it is a wake-up call.
One shocking thing I learned from this documentary is that even the people who designed, created, and tweaked the algorithms that glue us to our cellphones, are addicted to social media and its attendant ills (for example, a more divisive society and increasingly polarized politics).
According to the video description on YouTube, The Social Dilemma was only supposed to be on YouTube until September 30th, 2021, but it’s still up as of today. I don’t know how long it will be available on YouTube, so if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please don’t delay in watching this.
As I said up top, while I might be proud of my emancipation from Facebook, I have landed up spending more time—a lot more time—on other social media, notably Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Clubhouse, and Discord. The pandemic (and its lockdowns and social distancing requirements) have only exacerbated the problem over the past 20 months. And I suspect that I am not alone in this.
I might be free of Facebook (which I consider the most egregious culprit), but I am still addicted to social media.
You know you’re bored when you take a Second Life avatar and park her in front of the lucky boards at Scandalize and just sit there, waiting for your letter to show up:
I mean, yes, it is minimally productive in that I am adding to that particular alt’s inventory, but I already endlessly shop for fabulous freebies for all my alts, so it’s not like they’re going to be running around the grid naked. (Although there are sims where that is perfectly acceptable. This is Second Life; you do you, boo.)
Lately I have been hanging out at three different (virtual) places in much the same way as bored, pre-pandemic teenagers used to hang out in front of my local Seven-Eleven convenience store:
Second Life (my old reliable standby);
Clubhouse (the hot new drop-in audio app); and
Twitter (another old reliable standby).
I’m not sure what I think I am going to find by constantly going online and checking these three places. I have the attention span of a gerbil on benzedrine; I pop in and out of rooms on Clubhouse with alarming alacrity lately, barely listening to a sentence or two before I decide to bail and move on to the next room. What am I searching for? God knows. But I am certainly not finding it lately.
I have no shortage of practical tasks that need doing: a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom that need cleaning; pharmacy receipts to enter into my insurance portal; a workbook with cognitive behavioural therapy exercises to complete (one of the many tools in my ever-expanding arsenal to combat my chronic clinical depression).
Speaking of depression, yes, I am going to lose my psychiatrist, who is leaving Winnipeg to accept a position in British Columbia. I am happy for her, but I am going to miss her, and it will be extremely difficult to find a new psychiatrist to take me on as a patient. She promises to try and find me somebody, but she is going to have to call in all her favours, and use every bit of her persuasion. The pandemic has caused a tsunami of mental health issues in Manitoba, as it has globally, which has led to a shortage of professionals to diagnose and treat people who are struggling and suffering, It is the worst possible time to lose a psychiatrist. It wasn’t good before, but now the situation is even worse. If all else fails, I will have to rely on my family doctor for treatment, a prospect neither of us particularly relishes.
I am restless. I putter around the apartment, go sit out on the patio next to the woods behind my apartment, and watch the budding trees and listen to the birds, but then I get restless again and park myself in front of my computer, reload Second Life for the umpteenth time, restyle an avatar for the umpteenth time. Then I log off, and go lie on the sofa with my trusty iPhone, scrolling through my hallway on Clubhouse to find an interesting room. Sometimes I even listen to a room on Clubhouse while scrolling through my Twitter feed!
People, I am stuck in a well-worn rut. I am bored, bored, BORED.
And yes, I know that I could put on my Valve Index VR headset, crank up Tilt Brush or load NeosVR, and get creative, but I don’t feel creative.
God, I wish this pandemic were over already.
UPDATE 9:13 p.m.: Well, I did land this wonderful outfit from one of the lucky boards at Scandalize, however, while listening to a Clubhouse room about unconditional love and gratitude which is lifting my spirits this evening:
So, I might be bored, but I can still find some peace, grace, beauty, and solace in the middle of a pandemic, in my rather unconventional virtual spaces and my rather quirky Ryan Schultz ways! May you also find your moments during this pandemic.