The other day John Scalzi wrote some musings on how the personal blog works in the current internet ecosystem. Seeing as I am one of those people who maintains a personal blog (for three years now, folks!), I found his thoughts interesting and worthwhile. If you happen to also be one of those people who likes to carve out a personal space on the internet that’s not hosted on social media, you may find them interesting too.
For the folks who prefer not to click through (that’s okay; I don’t click through on random stuff outside of link roundups very often either), the basic gist of Scalzi’s post is that the personal blog has shifted from being an outlet for regular conversation on various topics to being more a permanent anchor point in a person’s overall online presence (you know how pretty much every place on the internet that requires an account has a section where you can list your website? There you go). The things that we want to discuss with the people who take the time to keep up with us have been displaced to social media sites (think about every site you frequent; they all have embedded functionality to share with people via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.). The good news here is that social media isn’t yet a fully closed ecosystem that wants to host your content so you never leave; the bad news is that it’s moving in that direction, especially on Facebook, where they’ve been optimizing the site for years to deliver content to your stream without requiring you to click through (think of all the videos you see in your feed that load automatically when they’re in frame; think of how the trend now is to include subtitles on those videos so you can engage them without even having to click on the sound). More time on Facebook is more money for Facebook via ad revenue; it’s important to note that it’s not the only social media site that does this so much as it’s simply the most visible (See, for example, this article discussing the proposed Twitter character limit increase from the beginning of this year; Twitter backed off of that idea, but they’re still playing with ways to achieve a similar effect).
And all of this got me thinking about the way I use Facebook, which isn’t that dissimilar from many other people. I have my personal account, and I use it to see what’s going on with friends and family, and to see what kind of things they’re interested in via the content they link to. I don’t interact much beyond liking things that I find agreeable (I’m indifferent to the range of response buttons recently implemented; I only use anything other than the ‘like’ very rarely). Occasionally I’ll engage in conversation through the comments; this is usually a fraught exercise that has more than once resulted in me getting into an argument with a stranger instead of actually sharing thoughts with my friends. Then there’s the passive cultivation that Facebook does with content. I do think that there’s a place for weeding your feed of content that you know you’ll find annoying, offensive, or distressing, but I think that should be a decision I get to make with my feed rather than something that an algorithm inexpertly and invisibly manages.
I’ve recently toyed around with the idea of leaving Facebook, but I don’t think anything would realistically come of it. It’s so heavily embedded in the social infrastructure of the internet these days (my family and many of my friends are only connected to me online through Facebook) that leaving the site behind feels like a self-imposed exile from my social sphere.
I don’t know what to do with these thoughts, by the way. So often in writing essays you feel like you have to finish with some kind of culminating point, but on this subject I don’t have any strong conclusions. I don’t enjoy having so much of my online life embedded in Facebook, but at this point I can’t imagine how I’d go about shifting away from it.