Kuma in Sellwood Park, late afternoon, hazy orange sunshine

Negativity in, negativity out

Published 2023-08-17

I’m struggling to recall the last time engaging on social media made me feel (on balance) positive, hopeful, or connected to a community; and on which platform.

TLDR: 2014, on Flickr

Certainly never on Twitter, my most active social media platform from perhaps 2013ish until last year. It was always fun but (at best) in a horror-movie kind of way: watching the day’s Main Character get eviscerated. It was also the only place I routinely connected with My Bike People, although now that I think about it, most of the time it was in that tiresome social signaling fashion: who hates cars the most?

I used Tumblr as a blog substitute from 2010 to 2012 but never clicked with any group there. It was a publishing platform, never a community.

I loved Instagram almost from its launch, until literally the day it was acquired by Facebook. But as with Tumblr: a publishing platform. I didn’t care who “liked” my photos and I didn’t spend much time commenting.

There was a long stretch on Facebook, from 2007 to 2014 or so, where it was great to reconnect with old coworkers, friends, relatives, and classmates. I had (still have, I guess) a strict “IRL only” policy for befriending people on Facebook. So these were all connections with people I actually knew and had some affinity toward. It was also the last platform where I had actual substantive conversations with people I disagree with, politically or culturally, up until 2016.

LinkedIn continues to be helpful — and I have occasionally paid for it — but it is a business tool. I almost never post there and don’t spend much time reading my contacts’ posts, unless some business reason compels me to. As with Facebook, I have a real-world contacts only policy, which is probably helpful.

Strava is also a tool (and worth the subscription price). I don’t have much of a “community” there but we all have endurance sports in common.

Metafilter was nice but I never spent much time there. It was too verbose perhaps?

Ditto Slashdot (now we are really going back in time).

Reddit always felt like a cesspool, as does Nextdoor. Although each of these have their specific uses: r/Portland as a place to get a trickle of hyperlocal news, and Nextdoor as a place to buy/sell furniture.

The last time I felt net-positive emotions engaging with strangers on the Internet was on Flickr (poor Flickr 😢) where I was active from 2005 to 2010ish

Since last fall I’ve been trying out Mastodon. Its model is much less inherently abusive, and the people drawn to the instance (pdx.social) where I spend my time are genial. Lots of weather talk, geek talk, bike talk. It’s…ok.

I’ve written about how publishing on social media has been damaging to my soul. I worry about the negativity I pour into a space more than the negativity I receive. I figure I can take it better than I can dish it out.

But the plain truth is that, even on cuddly ol’ Mastodon, the majority of what I read or receive in replies and DMs is (low-grade) negative and abusive. It’s either doomscrolling-lite or hall monitor scolding.Which is loads better than the nightmare of Twitter, sure, but is that our bar now? I barely know anyone there IRL and the people I do know, I have only the scantest of relationships with. They all seem nice but still…mostly low-grade doom and scolding. And this is as a person with a full stack of privileges! Is it worse or better for people without those privileges? I honestly can’t say.

On no platform have I ever had much of a “following.” I don’t care who reads my stuff (I can’t care because no one reads it) And I don’t much care what they reply with when they do, because it is usually the same mishmash of misunderstanding, social signaling, and doom-mongering. I get a wee serotonin boost when I see a notification, but it is almost immaterial (from a blood chemistry standpoint) whether the interaction is good or bad!

This, I suppose, explains why all these spaces are so hurtful — even when it feels bad, it’s addictive: someone noticed me.