A Little Lost Online

The death of Twitter has made me, well, a lot of us, lose our online community, or rather: Parts of it are splattered all over the web now and Mastodon (I’m on the Hometown instance assemblag.es) has become my new mainstay. It’s different though. I like how it calms me. My timeline there is far from the attention-maximising Twitter tone that even befell my lovingly handcurated lists’ timelines over there over the years. I have seen too many kind and social people leave Twitter or turn into sarcastic shadows of themselves, or go full edgelord. It has not started with Musk’s takeover, it started way before, let’s not give him more credit than due.

As I have discussed with quite some friends, I find the current retreat from public discourse online a bit scary. Feels like the wrong people have won and we have put the holy fear of putting oneself out there into younger generations. While I had my share of bad experiences too, by far the bigger part of my online life was good: It enrichened my life, taught me so so much, not least how to debate, it sharpened my intellect and my political thinking, it made me trust strangers and find community, it empowered me as a queer person and as a vaguely womanish being.

Since the early noughts I have been a very online person, loving my communities there, no matter if music based like GYBO (the main mashups messageboard) or various punk / hardcore boards (shoutout to Mafia and early Emopunk), but also the messageboards of Trash Club and even Optimo, or the ILX list, geez, there were so many communities. On Twitter I soon got into a love affair with a transnational critical tech bubble, leftists post-accelerationists, people with a love for theorizing and politics. My queer and aesthetic needs were satisfied on tumblr where I couldn’t get enough of people starting to learn and teach each other that they/we were worthy, no matter the ignorance of our environment in the geographical location we were thrown into to live.

Moderation was a big topic even back then, lots of messageboard discussions went into it and lots of friendships broke over it. (It’s not that different from offline, where you try to establish basic rules for your club and still end up discussing it all over again for a lot of single events because human behaviour is messy and rules (just like automation) only work for some cases. I digress.

What I actually wanted to express is that only since Twitter is dead for me I have learned how much I got used to it that interesting texts and burning topics and people whose expertise and opinions I knew we can trust got almost thrown at me thanks to my lovingly curated Twitter network. I will never forgive all the Dorseys and Musks for ruining it. It’s why I don’t see an alternative in Dorsey’s Bluesky and don’t even get me started on Substack’s Notes. With a CEO like this you need no competitors to take you down.

Next to the network of people we built, the other big aspect of Twitter I miss is the advanced full-text search possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that it is part of what led to the demise of Twitter culture because it made it so easy to find targets for, well, targeted attacks. But it also turned Twitter into a second, outsourced brain for heavy users like me. I can’t count the times when I semi-remembered a discussion or an important article someone had posted with a good comment and I was able to find it thanks to that search. I miss this deeply. It is also hard to wean yourself from the high that instant news discussion from all areas gives you.

It is hard to build a new community elsewhere and to find a different way to deal with thinking and learning in hivemind style after Twitter. It is hard to build a new international intellectually and emotionally stimulating community of people you really like and who are experts in some area or who are brilliant curators of interesting essays and thoughts, or whose dry humour you share, or who inspire you or challenge you or who post in these wonderfully conversational ways that invite people to engage (instead of just posting to promote stuff). And who might feel the same way about you. As a social process, it takes time to get a new mix of strangers and people whom you know from other places to turn into this special online community that you love to check in daily with and who keep you ambiently curious and engaged.

As for other social platforms… hm… Instagram still is the worst to me. I only keep my account because so many of my local mates use it as their main online thing. In my opinion it really has managed to suck all the fun out of the luscious and/or hilarious thing that visual online self-expression used to be by turning anything you post into influencer stuff. No matter how personal I post there, I always feel it clots into an advertisment, a commercial pose. I mean, of course everything we post online or write down anywhere is a pose as we have the agency about how we present ourselves, and we decide what to share and what not, and that’s a beautiful and rich thing. But on Instagram it doesn’t feel like that, it feels like reducing anything personal to a monetising aspect. I feel dirty even if I just check in to read my PMs. I can’t explain it any better, sorry, but to me the vibes have turned really bad over there. I am still on Facebook and it’s okayish. It’s gone more quiet after so many people have left, but many from the german left bubble are still there, and some of my older friends, and it’s event function still hasn’t been replaced by something better elsewhere because, as I said before: the power of Facebook/Meta/Insta is in your adress book. If anything has replaced ye olde paper phone book in how easy it made it to find people, especially locally and from your wider community, it is Facebook/Meta.

What else is there? I am on some Discords but right now more as a lurker than using it as a social place. If you know me and my interests a bit from online: Wouldn’t say no to recommend-/invitations for good Discord communities that I shouldn’t miss out on, theorizing, critical tech (but tech positive), left politics (the more utopian and constructive the better), speculative thinking, pop culture are my favourite topics but it’s hard to find good fits because at the end it’s about the kind of people who post there.

Photo: As every winter Missy the cat has made my bench her favourite spot – as you can see from all the fur and tiny claw marks – and I can’t bring myself to put it back on the balcony now that it’s spring.

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