In Praise of Posting
I think I'm done with Instagram—again. As a photographer, you're often told you need an Instagram account. Maybe I've just internalized this to a certain degree, but it feels true, too. Instagram has declared itself the photo social network, so if photos are important to you, you've got to be there... right?
But it's never clicked with me. I was a late-comer to Instagram; the early limitations on aspect ratio and emphasis on filters didn't mesh with my photographic sensibilities. But of course, I caved. I've had my ups and downs with the platform, periods of disillusionment and "commitment" (social media demands your time and engagement and sort of promises to reward you for it, in my eyes) Really, most of all I want my photos to be seen. I like the dopamine kick of engagement as much as the rest of us, but I've reached a confidence in my own work, my own aims, and where I'm headed that for photos, the sharing is the point (I have notifications turned off on everything aside from texts and emails, too). I think you can be a totally solitary artist, but I personally want to connect with others, and share in that connection.
But it's all too much. On Instagram, and on Facebook before it, I feel like I'm being jerked around. I've got a very modest number of "followers" (I wrote recently on how vocabulary affects your worldview [among other things], and this is another prime term that sends a shiver up my spine): about 800 or so. I'm loathe to dive into the metrics, but among those 800ish people, a recent post reached less than 250 accounts, and less than 100 of those were people who actually followed me. If the people who have opted-in to seeing my photos aren't, what's the point? I felt similarly off-put a few years ago when Facebook started to manufacture notifications, pinging you for things well beyond your purview. We all know these sites to be manipulative, but even so there has to be a limit.
I'm starting to get the same vibes about Twitter. Twitter has always been my social media platform of choice; you won't see me call it a hellsite. For me, it's always felt like a home. I've met some of my closest friends there, some of whom I've only later met IRL, if I have at all. My profile, maybe more than any other website connected to me, is sort of like a scrapbook collection of my passing thoughts, things I like, things I'm curious about. I think looking through my page gives a good sense of my tastes and sensibilities; it's a snapshot of me, told in 280 character / photo / video vignettes.
Yet it's hard not to feel pessimistic about it's future. I figured intentionally or by accident the site would fizzle out after the acquisition by Elon Musk, which only feels more pressing. Increasing server outages, rampant spam, things actually breaking on the site in a way that feels unprecedented for a company of that size and scale. These are all incidental to the inane changes seemingly ushered in by Musk himself, such as throttling links, and blocking Substack altogether for a short while. Perhaps we were premature in noting the time-of-death (I already made my epitaph post), but doesn't it feel like something's slipping away?
So I'm looking to the horizon. I don't want my work, my thoughts, my connections, to be filtered and mediated by a company whose aims I don't share. My feelings about social media are a big part of the reason I've come back to the blog, to the newsletter, as a way of sharing my thoughts, showing my work, and hoping to find people and build connections who share something in common with me. While the blog and newsletter are great, holistic tools, they lack something that Twitter first and foremost got really right: the post.
To me, a post feels like a perfect encapsulation of something ephemeral. A snippet of text, a few photos or a video, a link to something you liked. It can be thoughtful; it can be stupid; both are totally okay. The brevity is the point. There's something inherently fleeting about it. You can't replicate that with a blog, not alone. Like the short story to the novel, it feels like it's own form, with it's own considerations; and something worth keeping around.
I recently learned the Japanese word for "live broadcast": 生中継 (nama-chuu-kei). The first character means "life" or "fresh" Nothing out of the ordinary, but it's the next two characters that I think are spectacular: they mean something like "relay" or "joint" or "connection." The image it calls to my mind is like a vast network spreading out, the signal for the broadcast connecting each home to one another, a golden thread spreading across the night sky. I remember trading Pokémon online as a kid, connecting via IRC, then sending off my little monster for another; two points discreetly connected by a straight line.
There are, of course, other people concerned about this. A few "alternative" sites have already spun up and wound down. Mastodon already exists as an alternative, but the culture there is already formed. Maybe I'm in a slightly too narrow server (though that's the one my friends are in), but it's just a different beast rather than a replacement. Substack made it's own posting feature, but I don't see the platform for long-form, newsletter writing from largely-established names offering the same sort of free expanse that Twitter offered. I've started to see Bluesky bandied about in my circles; I guess this seems the most promising to me at this moment, but time will tell.
What I want is this: some sort of open standard for making posts. A protocol, instead of a platform. A short bit of text—it'll always be arbitrary—but under 300 characters feels right (I'm generally against "threading," too). Five or fewer photos. Videos under five minutes. Of course, it needs a default platform; something basic that's user-friendly (don't start asking people what instance they're on). You can host them yourself, and feed them into any number of clients. And if someone feels so inclined, they can connect their relay to yours, tuning them in to whatever it is you're broadcasting. Holistic. Direct. Networks as big or small as you'd like. A way to send a little thumbs up, a heart, a sign of approval. A way to add posts from others into your own timeline.
I'd love a feed on the side of Monochromatic. Things that made me think, I wonder, or this is beautiful, or here's something I made. Little statuses, little moments, little thoughts, available for anyone's perusal.
What I want is this: some sort of open standard for making posts. A protocol, instead of a platform.
Is this Mastodon? Am I just reinventing Mastodon? If so, that's very Silicon Valley of me. There's a delicate balance here between giving something enough user-control to be truly resilient in a way that a centralized platform isn't, without losing people in the tech barrier to entry; something I think Mastodon has already lost the war on. I've enjoyed my time there, too; met new people, and reconnected with old friends—but it's forever a different lane for me.
For now, I'll keep posting; I guess I've already decided to go down with the ship. I've started to reach out to the people I want to keep in contact with, either in smaller, more focused communities, or directly. Maybe another platform will emerge at the right time to scoop all the stragglers out of the sea, and we'll hardly know the difference. But the things that float away are worth saving, too. Hopefully, the post lives on.
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