My therapist asks And does this serve you? when I’ve been complaining about something and he’s trying to gently ask me to consider that ‘stop’ might be an easy way to improve the situation. It creates space to feel honest feelings about the things that we hate doing but we have to because it serves a purpose in our lives, and a way of double checking that the purposes they serve actually exist.
I joined Mastodon. This is the 3rd time. The first time was after some kind of Twitter corporate outrage. The second was after reading How to Do Nothing and hungering for richer online experiences.
This time around, Mastodon feels much more mature as a platform. There are still huge holes in the user experience that need attention. It’s hard to find people. It’s even harder to find people based on keywords and hashtags. The only way to build an audience is through word of mouth, like Follow Fridays. This time, I am questioning whether the habit of publishing anything online is serving me.
Out of the many dreams of what social media can do, two have been seductive to me. The first vision is social media as a public channel for keeping friends and family updated on big life events etc. That’s Instagram. The second is as a forum to get attention in a way that is difficult to get offline.
I read many bloggers in the period between the founding of Daily Kos and Huffington Post to the end of Google Reader. They were smart people, but not journalists or paid writers and sometimes from a marginalized group or young or from an unimportant place. The internet allowed them to compete for their share of the internet audience. Same with niche subjects or hobbies. All it took was four or five writers and their audiences on a beat to create an idea ecosystem. Generous attention to each other’s writing created that feeling of group cohesion.
The writing that I’ve shared on blogs on Twitter are the closest I come to asking for online attention. I struggle with that. The version of me that emerges from that body of work has less of my sense of humor, less of my sense of delight. He tends to emerge more often in anxiety and alienation than in joy or connectedness. He doesn’t share as much as he’s learned, and the only subject he has endless time for is himself.
My favorite online writers either focus on a narrow range of topics or they write in their own voice. Idiomatic blogs are conversational, fast pieces of writing. Books or works from publication have a higher bar for polish and accuracy. It’s understood that a blog post is more perishable. The thing that can perish is the voice of the mind working through its first reaction. First thought, best thought. It’s not always true, but it does have a strong flavor!
In the last 15 years, it has been very rare for me to get constructive feedback that inspires me to keep going. I tell myself that I keep writing because its rewarding. I worry that it’s because either I can’t give up on the idea of being discovered to be interesting, or that I don’t have the imagination to try something else. Does that serve me? I’m not sure. It takes practice to make perfect, sure. Audiences and artists train each other, though. There’s a ceiling for how far you can develop without high quality attention and feedback.
That’s what I’m really looking for: high quality attention and feedback.
I don’t know how to get it, online, in person, whatever. I write because even if I never get the feedback I want, I will end up with something to read back through. I hope it ends up more than that, but many people create even less.
I promise to myself that in 2023 I will seek more play, more attention, more good feedback. It’s time to be more brave.