I have had three distinct relationships with the Internet. I started using it back in the early 90s. The World Wide Web had not come into existence yet, everything was text based. I mostly trawled music and photography listservers for information. When I got my own computer in the late 90s, there were actual webpages! Most of my internet use was centered around music (I loved Napster!) and reading about photography. It was still mostly a passive thing though. I’d order stuff and read newsgroups but that was about it.
Things changed dramatically in 2004. My friend Jenny inspired me to get a LiveJournal account and I started blogging. That quickly led to me getting my own website so that I could post pictures, papers, and other things along with my blog. I distinctly remember the thrill of creating content for the web. Suddenly I was part of the Internet, not just someone that read it. I put my thoughts, my pictures, my life on the web under my name with my own address. I was a creator, I had carved out my own space and made it mine. I was pretty good about keeping that up through about 2009 or so. While I still posted blog posts and pictures after that, my frequency slowed considerably. Why? Facebook.
I joined Facebook in 2003 I think. At the time I did it just to keep track of my cousin while she was at school. I didn’t really start using it till the middle of 2007 when my fellow students in Yemen encouraged me to. It was an easy way to keep track of people I knew from all over the world and it helped me reconnect with friends from high school. By 2009 I was very busy on Facebook. Keeping up with friends is addictive, especially when you had so much catching up to do.
When 2012 rolled around, I had started to get a little weary of Facebook’s shenanigans when it came to privacy, the ads, and general ickiness. That’s when app.net was launched. The goals of the service resonated with me. No ads, users were the customers, not advertisers, and developers were given free rein to use the service in any way they saw fit. The main use was microblogging (similar to Twitter) but there were a lot of other services being built around it like blogging and podcasting. This coincided with my first stint on disability so I had a lot of time to invest in the service, and invest I did. App.net became my primary social outlet despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone on it when I signed up. It was such a compelling experience that I spent a ton of time on it. I was really excited about the possibilities that the platform offered beyond microblogging and couldn’t wait to see what else developers were going to make of the service.
Unfortunately, app.net has devolved into what I had so strenuously denied it being for so long, a paid Twitter clone. Microblogging is really the only thing it is used for now. Sadly, the people that are invested in the service continuing are only interested in microblogging. I still use it but only because I’ve met some really cool people there and I like talking to them.
My use of Facebook really slacked off while I was using app.net heavily. Now that I’m trimming back on app.net, I don’t have a big desire to invest as much time in Facebook. When I look back at all of the energy and information I put into my social media presence, I’m struck by how little I have to show for it. Yes, I have a bunch of stuff in my timelines on both app.net and Facebook but what good is it? Can I find the interesting link I shared or mini exposition on whatever it was I thought was interesting at the time? Not a chance. Can someone else come across what I’ve written and start up a conversation? Will anyone ever Google an explanation I’ve given and be helped by it? How could they?
When I look at my posts on my blog from 11 years ago I feel as though I’ve lost something vital to my writing because of social media services. My posts on my site resonate with me much more than my posts on Facebook do. And that’s assuming that I can even find my posts on Facebook. What I realize is that I no longer feel like a creator, I’m back to feeling like a passive user. It’s not that I don’t make things and put them on the Internet, but I don’t feel as though I own them. They don’t feel as though they are mine. I am making content that either is transitory by design in the case of microblogging, or enriching a company’s product. The feeling of ownership is a subtle and tricky idea, especially when it comes to things on the Internet, but I miss it.
So what to do? I miss the old feeling of accomplishment of making something on the web. I want to feel like a creator again so I’m coming back home. I hope to make this site my primary outlet on the web. It is a place that anyone could come across. I am able to search it for previous writing and I have total control over how it looks and how I present it. I’ll still use social media to be social. Both app.net and Facebook are great for conversations but anything I make will be here.
Here’s to my fourth relationship with the Internet, hope you’ll come along for the ride.