Monday, January 06, 2020

Hovering at the Edge of Social Media - thoughts after a month away




Been off Twitter and Mastodon for a month now, as planned. I was expecting to re-join the throng about now, but haven't quite made it back. I've not returned to work yet, and am still relaxing, watching some TV, playing games, looking after kids, and even indulging in some little projects like fixing my old, original Gameboy.

Of more interest than leaving digital media is the question of re-entering the fray, and how that makes me feel. Have I missed it all? Not really. I've been spending less time online in general, but that time has been more focused on emails, RSS, and XMPP chats. In all three cases, I get more out of my engagement than the random, half-formed fragments that microblogging encourages.

With email, I have a huge amount of flexibility, and can easily sort out newsletters and personal messages from other admin stuff. A medium isn't just about the format and technical protocols involved, but all the support tools, organisational structures and cultural expectations that go with it.

I think email - and/or the people I communicate with - has moved away from the overly oppressive practices that burdened email within corporate contexts. My inbox is still overflowing significantly, but it feels... Fun.

RSS is my relaxing read, my newspaper. I've sorted out some email-to-RSS feeds for any longer format email newsletters which don't have feeds, but the main aim with my feed reader is to enjoy more thoughtful and expansive missives from people whose writing I enjoy. If I had some things to focus on with my RSS setup this year, it would be to:
  1. make it easier to reply to posts - maybe I'll add some sort of mailto link on my own posts automatically somehow
  2. encourage more people I know to set up blogs and post, without it being too much hassle
On that last point, I'm now writing a lot of my posts in a Markdown editor on my phone, and posting them to blogs via email (Edison's Email app is the only Android app I've found that lets me embed an image properly, but still working on formatting issues). Same with my newsletters.

I like this approach - the phone keeps the editing process shorter and more focused, and I can write anywhere, while Markdown gives me some basic formatting. (This post is currently being written in Markor, a FLOSS app on F-Droid.) Still, it's obviously not everyone's cuppa. ☕

XMPP, for me, picks up where I left IRC behind. It's the flipside of the promise of microblogging - short chatter with random, weak-link people. But there's not the half-on half-off limbo approach or microblogging, and nor is there a contorted bastardisation of themed conversations. Rooms are so much better than hashtags or groups - it's funny how subject matter sets the scope of a space, and therein one's own reason for participating.

On the whole, the question is not which social media apps one likes using, but how does one want to engage with the world. Are we looking for deeply fulfilling conversation? Distraction and diversion? Intimate conversation? Q&A sessions and useful info?

In practice, it's probably all of these. The danger is that we get sucked into trying to do all of them at the same time, rather than consciously choosing our mode of thought depending on what we want to focus on, what we want to achieve. It's like trying to buy water from a supermarket - you'll always come out with batteries and mince pies in September, just because there's too much tempting diversity.

So my approach from here is not to just jump back in, but to think about why I'm engaging more, and what I want to get out of my usage. I'll start checking sites again, but am going to hold off installing apps for instant attention. It needs to tie in with how I want to use my time more generally, with my longer term plans and goals for the year.

And that's a whole different post.

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