platforms and reach

· 1539 words

some of the tensions swirling around in my head the most at the moment are to do with reach and visibility. my moral position remains that i think that scale + communication generally only really does bad things for how we think, how we regard each other, and our empathy and compassion when communicating - but i’m facing a conflicting motivation which is the impending reality check that the only thing that keeps a roof over our heads is earning enough money through what i do. and i feel like i could maybe make something out of the writing and thinking that i’m doing, that isn’t currently being tapped into.

obviously, at the moment my blog is clearly a personal blog. it has a few larger insights that i’m pretty proud of, like this one about horse_ebooks or this one about alienation, but other than that is mostly quite self-centred reflections on what i’m doing (this post itself being no exception). i’ve always been someone who processes things out loud, and this has turned into the latest manifestation of that.

i’m pretty proud of how regularly i’ve been able to keep it updated. it’s not like i’ve never tried to do something like this before - i started my first blog on wordpress when i was about 12 - but all of those fell apart after usually exactly one introduction post, one post about something of substance (normally posted within a week of the introduction post), and then being wholly abandoned from that point forward. something that’s changed since then is that i’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, which led me to develop a few systems to remind me that things exist, and i’ve not tried to set any kind of expectation or schedule externally as to how often i should write here. it’s just the place i go when i have something to say.

this feeds in a lot to the title of this post: platforms and reach. having a totally self-hosted blog is all well and good in terms of, well, nerd points and feeling smug about being Correct and Moral, but it’s absolutely awful if you want people to actually be able to read the things you say. unless RSS has the resurgence i absolutely long for it to have, it’s still highly likely that you only see what i say here because i share it with you in some other way. and my other methods of outreach are pretty limited - i only meaningfully spend time on discord and the fediverse/mastodon.

on one hand, this is beneficial. it means my attention isn’t diluted - if i do something, i write about it here, or update my main portfolio site, and then share either the portfolio site or the corresponding blogpost on fedi and discord. that’s it, the entire workflow. i’m not caught in a numbers trap, or desperately crossposting across multiple different platforms that i could never meaningfully engage with without that just becoming my full time job. on the other hand, there are far fewer opportunities for someone to just happen upon my work. and if reach is something i decide to care about, this is quite clearly a negative.

i remember first learning about cory doctorow’s work, and finding that he posts his daily(!) blogs both to his own site & to medium. i found this out because i was kind of infuriated that he published to medium at all, given their privacy, trackers and paywalling track record, and the medium links were the only ones i saw anyone else sharing of his work. it made me think a bit less of him that he would use medium to publish, rather than simply his own site, given the subject matter he discusses (internet privacy, freedom, commons). it felt out of line with my perception of his moral compass to sink to the level of using medium to publish, but the longer i sit with it, the more i have to reckon with the fact that the medium links were the only ones i saw anyone other than him sharing. medium is clearly where a lot of people follow his writing, to the point that it probably makes up a large part of his audience. large enough to keep him crossposting, anyway.

this is almost a follow-on piece from the second thing i ever wrote on this blog, the feasibility of going full-fedi. in this post, i talk through my process of deleting a lot of my corporate social media accounts, and trying to move wholly to self-hosted, decentralised, federated networks. clearly, i’ve not been successful in doing this to the full extent possible. i’ve had to make decisive compromises along the way in order to connect both professionally and personally with key people, organisations, and groups, who have no other presence than on corporate platforms. i’ve learnt how it feels to always be the person pushing for something to be sent over email instead of shared in a facebook group, and how it feels to lose touch with a considerable number of contacts without the incidental socialisation that happens when you see each other pop up on social media. to opt out of corporate social media in 2023 is to voluntarily isolate oneself socially from whole swathes of society.

learning about building solidarity in the organising for power workshop at norwich transformed was honestly eye-opening for me. i’ve been wrestling with this same conundrum for a while, but i felt like it reached a head just before the conference, and being part of that workshop and realising that all i have are self-selected communities of interest made me wish for something more expansive. it made me want to reach out, to expand my reach. this also comes at a time where financial pressures are getting ever more serious, and i’m starting to really need to do something about that. but despite this, venturing back into those spaces feels like something of a failure.

i guess part of me is hyper-aware of the position i’ve taken in conversations about this with others, where i’ve made it clear that to me, the only morally defensible decision is to not engage. to not perpetuate the cycle of building community in places said community can’t own or control, to not feed the algorithms and privacy-eroding cycles in order to make a ’number go up’. it feels like a concession to the very thing i’m most against to engage in those corporate spaces, to treat communication as more transactional than personal. and it is a concession to that force - just that force also decides the rules of the game.

to (hopefully appropriately) invoke the words of audre lorde: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. i am desperate to not fall victim to the cycle of concession and critique that allows institutions to fund their own faux-opposition. but i am writing inside something so powerful that it controls the means of communication, the reach of dissenting ideas, and where it sees something genuinely threatening it rushes to bring it in-house and turn it against the dissenter. i don’t think this is an easy issue which will wrap itself up with a neat little bow, rather something i will have to continue to unpack and check in with as time moves on.

my priority, however, is to not let the thought patterns of extraction and transaction in. to not concede so much that i’m caught up in worrying about numbers, shares, likes, reblogs, whatever. i don’t know if it’s possible to engage at all with these places without letting those patterns into your thinking. i guess there’s always the option that i try - that i make a substack, twitter, start using facebook again, and see it purely as a place i go to share my writing, rather than somewhere i spend time. the toxic patterns of places like this, however, are shaped so that they only reward you with reach if you do start building it into your life. it’s literally their business model to make you so emotionally and economically beholden to them that you are unable to move away from their services. that’s their main focus - it might feel at the start like they want to provide some kind of ‘good’ in what their platform allows you to do, but even that delusion is becoming thinner with every new start-up.

for now, i don’t think i’m going to make any rash decisions. i might slowly ease into a couple of these spaces to see how they feel. i might cross-post a few bigger things, to see if they gain any traction, or start writing slightly more formally or more concertedly impersonally and test out sharing that in a few places. i’d love if my writing could meaningfully support the community building and artmaking that i spend pretty much all of my time doing.

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