My Famed Disappearing Act

12/31/2019

As a serial infocide I have built and destroyed several online presences. I am tempted to do so again. Yahoo! Groups, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Fark, Reddit, Google+: you name it, I've probably been there, done that, and eventually got tired and and nuked my account. Hell, I've even been kicked out of a couple of "communities", but not because I was posting Nazi propaganda or bullying other members.

I usually don't bother to announce my intentions ahead of time when I leave voluntarily. I'm not one to flounce because I'm well aware that hardly anybody is likely to care, even so-called "followers" or "friends". I'm mostly OK with that, because I figure that anybody who cared might have sought ways to contact me without using a particular platform if only to stay in touch during an outage.

I've been thinking about doing the same with my Mastodon account for the last couple of months. I'm not sure if it's just winter blues, boredom, distrust of the platform's management, a feeling that I'm putting too much effort into parasocial relationships and getting too little in return, or a desire to turn my back on the social web and go back to the internet of my youth, an internet of personal websites and interaction via email.

If it's winter blues, I need only wait for winter to pass. Likewise for boredom, though one could reasonably argue that if the people I follow are boring I should find people to follow who aren't boring.

Distrust of the platform admins is more complicated. So far the people running SDF Mastodon have been quite reasonable. I don't think I've heard anything from a moderator or an admin in the time I've held an account there. Furthermore, because Mastodon is a federated platform, I could simply run my own instance.

Concerns regarding parasocial interaction are a bit more complicated. I do not willingly interact with social media influencers, and do not think of myself as an influencer myself. Nor am I a celebrity, or necessarily "internet famous". However, I do project a particular persona online that is not my complete self. When I interact with others, I must assume that I am likewise interacting with their personae rather than their complete personalities. It's not like I've met these people face-to-face, nor am I likely to.

It's as if I've been settling for an illusion of acquaintance rather than having actual acquaintances, let alone friendships. As a result, I have come to think that the solitude resulting from a complete withdrawal from all social media might be preferable to the illusory social interactions I find on the Fediverse. The time I spend there is time I might put to better use elsewhere, and I'm not getting any younger.

Finally, there's the nostalgia factor. When I was a young man, the web was much smaller than it is today, and it belonged mostly to people. If you lacked the resources to run your own site on a registered domain, you could borrow or rent space on sites like Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc. (These days you can do the same on Neocities). You found other people by searching for common interests in search engines or web directories, and reached out to them by email. I made quite a few friends that way (most of whom I've lost touch with or driven away), and that was how I met my wife.

Those days are most likely over, with little if any hope of revival. Megacorporations have colonized the internet and are hellbent on turning it into a slightly more advanced version of television, and I'm not convinced that concerted popular action is enough to turn the tide. Nevertheless, I'd like to reclaim a little corner of the internet as my own and tend my own garden. If others come to me, I will welcome them. If not, I'll still be here.

The question of what to do about my Mastodon account remains, however. As tempted as I am to nuke it and walk away from social media forever, doing so may hurt others who frequently interact with the material I post. Would they actually miss me? I don't know.

Perhaps a compromise is in order. I've already disabled Chrome on my Android phone so that I'm not using my phone for websurfing. Perhaps I should remove Firefox from my computers or block mastodon.sdf.org in /etc/hosts. I already do the latter with sites like Reddit and Hacker News, maybe it's time I did the same with Mastodon as well. At minimum a block in /etc/hosts would force me to think about whether I really want to spend time on social media.

Just don't be surprised if I pull a disappearing act. Try checking my website and dropping an email my way if you're really worried about me.