On Mastodon I was joking that I want to create a social media simulator app that takes you through the exhausting process of setting up an account (avatar, enticing follow-able description of yourself, a unique name, a solid unrememberable password…) and then it gives you a space to say things into the void. Whatever you say rewards you with that unending gratification of juicy feedback we associate with social media. This particular void rewards you generously. You could say the dumbest things and get a ridiculous amount of simulated engagement. Nothing you say is actually posted anywhere. It’s just for the endorphin rush of getting numbers.
It would feel real. Maybe the simulation would be just as meaningful, because in the end… let’s face it, nothing online seems real anymore.
I did make something like this a long time ago as part of “Everything is going to be OK“, released separately and called the Electric Love Bar… It’s a tiny desktop app that lets you scream into the void (simulating tweeting) and it floods you with likes, hearts, vibration, and alert sounds… That feedback that you get addicted to.
The entire concept of exploring how “fake” the online number system is, how insincere the gamification of our relationships… is enticing to me because ultimately social media isn’t so much about people, relationships, or staying connected with friends.
It’s less about relationships to people and more about a relationship with a system.
A fun example… The app I use for Mastodon has this bug (I set up something wrong) where if someone likes or replies to one of my posts, the alert happens twice. So the number I get over the icon is unrealistically large. My phone vibrates more than it should when I post on Mastodon.
I’m not annoyed by it. I like it. I know it’s fake. Just some glitch. It does not accurately reflect the “engagement” I am getting… not by a long shot… BUT it makes me feel less alone.
It feels real enough to me. I like that juicy feedback even though it doesn’t mean anything.
(Actually it’s 31 alerts, but hey, who cares!)
The elephant in the room… The overwhelming loneliness that is social media.
How disconnected it feels from people, even though you can hypothetically connect with anyone. How it reduces any person to more of a concept than a real person.
How it does that to an almost personally devastating extent, especially when you become The Talking Point on these platforms.
I’m alone even though I’m surrounded by more avatars and follower numbers than I ever have been.
Why do I feel so alone?
I watched “The Age of Influence” and “Queenmaker: The Making of an It Girl” on Hulu and those two really cut deep. I’m not sure if anyone is even immune to the pressures of that type of grind. It feels like (and I’m saying “feel” a lot here because ultimately none of this is real) if you participate in social media to any extent you are affected by that FOMO. You get pulled into “succeeding” there. Whatever that means.
Those numbers! They must mean you’ve made it! Made it to what? I don’t know…
Algorithms dictate what we see, or don’t see. They hide our friends. They make us invisible to our friends… A good example: “A friend of mine died and I didn’t know because of algorithms” …Our online social life is at the mercy of algorithms.
Twitter’s Recommendation Algorithm is now open source, so I can say that with confidence without sounding like a social media conspiracy theory nut!
Most of the tips that I see exchanged on Twitter are often about how to still see friends because “The Algorithm” determines priority based on a lot of rules not conducive to seeing or being seen by “a small unimportant social circle”.
It’s such a strange thing to be stuck in as an artist. You just want to share your art, maybe find opportunities, stay connected to your friends… but it feels like you’re required to become a servant to the digital output machine.
Mood: The Algorithm is the faceless omnipotent entity rewarding its faithful servants with clout. Outrage is its fuel. Attention the currency. Chose me, digital overlord! I want to be seen! :(
We are no longer artist, filmmaker, musicians, game developers… We are shoehorned under the umbrella term of Content Creator. We, Content Creators, make free content that draws users to the site so that those running the website don’t have to pay to make content to draw users to the site… I remember that being a pitch when the term Content Creator first started becoming popular.
To exist online today you need to know the unspoken rules to good engagement (according to Twitter rules: don’t share links, censor your Patreon, it helps to join in on discourse so your name comes up because popular things gain attention…). The word “digital serfdom” comes to mind whenever I sign up for another Twitter Alternative. It feels like we’re getting a brand new one every other month.
Just like most of social media it FEELS important, but I have to question if it really is anymore.
Will I disappear if I don’t participate?
Will I lose relevance?
Do I even have relevance?
What is relevance in context of all this?
If participation in every discourse-cycle or outrage-cycle is a prerequisite for relevance, is it even relevance? It’s all so short lived, and ultimately invisible given that most of our social media life is a walled garden.
I mean, whatever happens on Discord is invisible to Google. Nothing is really remembered.
Given how things have shifted from public forums, blogs, or any old-school infrastructure that was actually part of the internet and therefore allowed information to be freely accessible… to today’s model where everything is a walled-off app… I have to wonder how the history of this era will look like. It all seems so impermanent, while demanding all our energy and unending attention.
The phrase “Digital Serfdom” cycles through my mind like a catchy song stuck in my head.
I have to admit that I felt a tinge of schadenfreude when Twitter slapped on an arbitrary rule (again, out of the blue) to how many Tweets a user can see, especially for non-paying users.
This caused yet another wave of people promising that “this was finally the last straw” and that they would move to Blue Sky (or similar). Meanwhile Blue Sky buckled under the influx of people returning to it…
The pendulum swing of “quickly! where to next??” is basically the type of drama you expect to see on reality TV when people start throwing champagne in each other’s faces. This was all about connectedness… What happened?
I suppose the “golden era” of the internet is over. We’re watching our spaces collapse. Redit (random article about that), Twitter… Each iteration of “the next big thing to flock to” seems to be more walled off than the previous… more controlled by algorithms, more arbitrary for actual people, and more about harvesting everything about us for advertisers. (I’m looking at you, Facebook Threads!)
The gold-rush continues, but I have to wonder where will it all end up. We put so much work into existing on these sites, and making them valuable to advertisers, why are we not getting any of that gold?
Speaking of a gold-rush… AI is an interesting thing to bring up. Given the entire structure of our current tech industry it doesn’t actually come as a surprise.
Another conversation worth following: The Ethical Dilemma of Adobe Firefly: AI Training on Adobe Stock Images Raises Concerns
– Side by side, two images shared on other social media that feature brands on Threads.
I think about all the exhausting discussions surrounding AI a lot. There are parts about the “AI and stolen art” arguments that I find upsetting for how it feels like it’s missing the point. It just comes across more as fear mongering fueled by a popularity contest over social media for who can have the most popular snarky take within their friend circle about it, than an actual informed discussion… Maybe I’m burned out, but it’s all just a little… too little too late.
When Google first started indexing the web, there were pockets of critics that were upset that Google is freely harvesting that information and basically making money off delivering what they felt was access to their online content. Eventually you could opt-out of Google crawling your site by putting in a robots.txt file.
Just because the information is out there for free, does not make it fair use to build a monetized product around.
I think that’s when that type of discussion mattered. We’re far past that.
“AI art”, or really any of the other AI content generation models, can’t be anything else but “theft machines” at this point because it’s “all just information”. Art is “just information” too. Nothing maters. We are the content creators, and any content we create is free to harvest. (See also: Google’s policy update confirms that all your posted content will be utilized for AI training)
This has become the foundation of the app-based internet. It’s how anything is built anymore. Of course the big innovation in AI would treat art like it’s just information out there that’s free to use. In the grand scheme of things: Art started being a commodity, and stopped being art, when we started using the term “content creator”. Read the EULA for the social media site you are posting to.
All this falls beneath the scope of a larger issue in terms of the direction technology (as a whole) has taken.
The very old probably forgotten promise of the internet was that all the information in the world was out there for free. It promised connectedness, and access. It was a communal sharing, and utopian vision for the future of knowledge… The Information Superhighway.
Enter capitalism and Web 2.0.
I was one of the crazy people that thought the way businesses where moving to the web with the gold rush that e-commerce became was probably a bad idea. The internet is supposed to be free and for everyone. You shouldn’t commodify that.
If you follow all these trends as a complete timeline, the way things are burning down today just kind of makes sense.
Capitalism is the culprit. It goes without saying.
I think AI (the term used to describe present models like ChatGPT or AI art generators…) is an interesting example of this intersection between Utopia and Dystopia because, in itself… AI art should be a good thing.
AI is, in itself, that dream we were all working toward. A way to parse information, deliver knowledge, simulate human interaction… anything you want it could be. I’ve been following developments in AI, and things like natural language processing, for a long time.
Our science fiction often showed it as part of the Utopian dream. Star Trek’s Holodeck is a good example.
All that said, the stranglehold that capitalism has on technology exists in such a way that Utopian becomes Dystopian. Hence the current space that AI art is occupying.
I don’t think anyone really ever brought up the ethical concerns that Star Trek’s Holodeck poses. Did it put carpenters, set designers, writers, artists… out of work? Did the replicator destroy the cooking industry?
In terms of a fictional Utopian reality; chefs, set designers, writers, and artists can live side by side with replicators and holodecks.
In a capitalist reality they cannot.
So… I think it’s an interesting discussion because capitalism is holding us back from actually being a progressive society with technology meant to better everyone’s lives… but that goes without saying.
I don’t think AI is a bad thing. I reel at the suggestion that only humans should be allowed to make art. It makes me uncomfortably squirm. Crawl up the walls even. I don’t think we need to make it a point of what is superior or inferior. Most of the arguments seem like grasping for straws because we all know that it might end up not being a good thing, but we can’t really fight capitalism so we fight AI art.
I also don’t think using AI generators makes lazy writers or worst artists any more than digital art “destroyed art” (as was one of the many arguments against digital art when it was a new thing). I worry that most of the “you are either for or against AI art” discourse is more based on putting out popular social media takes that resonate with peers in order to find favor in the eyes of The Algorithm and be rewarded with big numbers and attention… You know, outrage. Peers. Performance. Popularity. Ok, sorry, I’m jaded.
I think the real culprit is our capitalist tech bro culture… but then again, if you look at how the basic concept of “human friendship” has turned into the trash-fire that is social media, of course the concerns surrounding current implementations of AI make sense. Can good things come from a culture that is so fundamentally exploitive, and so all about That Next Big Disrupt?
I’m at a place right now where I wonder how can we take it back? How can we reclaim what the internet was and should have been? Can this damage be undone?
I think maybe the people using text based AI services, trying to jailbreak the AI to get it to say naughty things so they can do some sexting with it, might be a bigger source of hope than those condemning the technology entirely. I’m rooting for the perverts polluting the language models. Save us. Your horniness is our only hope.
When every aspect of our online existence is monetized, going against the unread terms and conditions anyone I Agree’d to is the only type of rebellion that is left.
While I’m here manically typing what I guess has turned into a giant rant…
I was browsing Instagram a while ago and found a video about… something… I can’t actually remember what it was about… and the person talking started the video by saying “I was browsing the internet…” and the video of them “browsing the internet” was them just scrolling through social media.
It occurred to me that browsing social media is people’s idea of browsing the internet. That’s it. That’s the internet. Rubbing a glass screen with one finger.
I wondered that maybe all this is just one giant tech-literacy thing.
Maybe if people were given an understanding of how “the internet” used to be we would all have highers standards.
The old-school concept of browsing the internet (and I know, I sound old) was randomly putting in phrases in search engines to see what new things I could discover. Then I would share those new and interesting things with friends (email pen-pals, chatrooms, forums) who were also discovering new and interesting things. New and interesting things being personal websites, Flash games, videos… Not social media posts.
Most of our online behavior has been funneled through a handful of sites and streamlined to be as profitable as possible to the handful of corporations that now control that.
My existence on Instagram, Twitter, BlueSky, Facebook… is reduced to no other purpose but for harvesting information optimally for advertisers. Most of our modern online world exists solely for that. Journalism is dead. Online articles are just giant wrappers for advertisements. Yes, I sound jaded, but really… If you think about it…
Taking it back to why I brought up my browsing-Instagram-browsing-the-internet story… If we encouraged tech-literacy we might stand a chance at “taking the power back”. Most of tech-literacy comes from snarky Tweets or popular social media posts, and that’s not what I mean. I mean, actually encouraging people to really look at how things run, how they used to be, create an educated desire for alternatives… Maybe we could free ourselves from this. Future generations deserve a better internet and I’m afraid they will never know how it could have been.
Will digital feudalism turn into a dark age?
As long as you can still host your own website, run your own blog, and encourage people to participate in that type of online existence there’s hope.
Do it yourself. DIY is what the internet is at heart.
I actually wanted to write this post as a roundup for cool finds lately, but it ended up being a rant. Sorry.
I’ll now share the cool things without context. They’re cool! Go surf the web!
“Make narrative RPGs for web and desktop easily
Narrat is a beginner-friendly game engine for making narrative games with RPG features, visual novels, interactive fiction, and more. No coding or game development is required to use narrat, and you can get started making a game in a minute.. Create your game by editing with a Simple scripting syntax. It supports Skills with skill check rolls, an Items inventory, and has a Quests System. The script system is very powerful and allows branching choices, functions, variables and conditions.”
“Welcome to picoSYNTH! It is a playful way to create simple loops and beats. But by combining the equipment in interesting ways you can also make crazy complex stuff. Hope you’ll enjoy it!”
“A tiny modeller for tiny models”
“PixelOver offers a variety of pixel-art oriented filters, including dithering and indexation, as well as real-time animation tools like keyframe animation and bone rigging with pixel-art resampler to ensure your animations maintain a pixel-perfect look.”
“Dead simple, drag & drop websites for anything”
Ongoing thread of: Why am I working on https://t.co/Ludq1a7c4l?
? We have polished, optimized, & standardized the life out of the internet, & it doesn’t feel quite as fun and alive anymore. A kind of nowhere-suburbification. ?
I'm not having as much fun here anymore. pic.twitter.com/fa2Y9HvStj
— xh (@xhfloz) March 3, 2023
“A featureless but programmable painting program.”
“Very simple 3d engine in Python via Jupyter Lab”
“This is a fully-functional Linux, running entirely in your browser, powered by v86!”
“Today we are launching our garden for everyday internet dreams. We would love to host the seeds of hope, imagination, and possibility that you feel towards the internet.
we welcome you to join our little garden :)”
“A prequel to the critically acclaimed Plant Budz! Plant Budz ’98 is your new desktop companion. Watch your pet grow and evolve according to your interactions. Choose to nurture your pet, annoy it, or smash it with open windows.”
“Despite Zoobe’s previously massive popularity, there isn’t a lot of background info about the platform online, outside of mostly an outdated Know Your Meme page and a few news articles…”
“These are my unsuccessful game poem attempts.”
The Ouya Dared To Imagine An Independent Game Console by Grace Benfell
“Though its imagination was both powerful and limited, the tiny, Android-powered console helped make a new world of independent games.”