A friend recently asked me why I haven’t written anything lately.
It’s a fair question, I suppose. From 2009 through 2014, this little blog was a reliable place to find a bit of well-written and interesting content, good discussions, and usually a way of seeing the web as a place to harness some of the best parts of our humanity to go out into the world and do some good for others.
Now it just sits here, mostly vacant and unused.
I honestly couldn’t remember the last thing I wrote, so I checked out the archive and saw that it was three months ago. I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone between posts – I used to write articles twice a week. Real articles, they were. About real topics. And we’d have a real discussion with real people. But looking back to recent work, this last one was a science-fiction writing prompt with a structural twist, just for fun, just for me and a couple friends. The one before that was four months ago, playing with a fun observation on a statistical anomaly.
The last serious article I wrote was over four months ago, taking a look at the emotional motivations behind people arguing both sides of the vaccination debate. It didn’t generate any discussion or any social sharing or reach many people because it took an objective look at both sides and found both validity and fault with each. Balanced content like that is not going to get any traction in the current state of the web.
A note on sharing and traction: I’ve never written articles specifically to get pageviews and social sharing. Of course I adopt a certain writing style and do a few strategic things to optimize for reach, but that’s never been the impetus behind the writing itself. The writing has always existed to help myself and others work through a topic, to generate some new thought patterns among people, open up positive discussion, and maybe get them to think about something in a different way, or consider a new idea they’ve never entertained before. I’ve had a few “viral hits” over the years, which have brought tens of thousands of readers to a certain post on a certain day, but for the most part it’s just been a smaller dependable number of people seeing, sharing, thinking, and talking about whatever I threw out there.
That gradually started to change a couple years ago, and has gotten far worse far faster ever since, until we’re at the point we are today, where I feel that virtually the entire social space is a toxic minefield, and not worth the energy (or the risk) of putting thoughtful work into. I’ve given this answer to a few people who have asked me this question in person, and each time the response has been something like: “How can you say that, when you built all your projects on the ‘Change the World‘ idea? It sounds hypocritical. You just have to try harder.”
No. There is a time and a place for everything, and right now, with the current state of the web and my place in it, it is no longer an effective strategy to try to open hearts and minds by writing content and building projects on the web. A battle perhaps better suited for an up-and-coming philanthropist, but not for me.
The truth is, I’m not only saddened by the state of the web, I’m also disgusted by what social media has turned us into over the past few years. We’ve become an angry digital mob, gleefully piling onto anyone who does or even says something that goes against the accepted narrative of whatever social platform they’re on (yes, each one has its own unique personality, and what might be acceptable on one is wholly unacceptable on another).
I’m not going to list out any examples here, because you all know what I’m talking about, and quite honestly there’s always the chance that by even questioning the fact that “The Internet” destroyed a certain person’s career over an offhand remark they made, I will be accused of being a “[insert current narrative] apologist” and have my own career destroyed. It’s a small fear, because I already blurt out the stupidest stuff on Twitter whenever the mood strikes me, and nothing too bad has yet happened (though I’m still waiting for that bomb to drop), but it’s still something I consider as I decide what to put out on the internet.
I’ve gotten death threats as a result of some of the work I’ve done online, but I can tell you with absolute honesty that I am much more concerned about an offhand remark or a stupid joke I make being the ultimate cause of my career-ending death spiral through social media. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. Just check the current headlines for the ever-increasing number of people who are being forced from their (sometimes brilliant) careers in disgrace because some group decided that one statement or action was punishable by the online mob.
Taken together, all of this has factored into my decision not to write anymore. It’s simply not a place I enjoy spending my time these days. Throwing more noise out into the vast echo chamber the web has become only serves to add more fuel to the fire that keeps the outrage economy churning, and there’s nothing appealing to me in being a part of that.
Of course I’ll still occasionally post some things here that are fun or interesting to me personally, or perhaps meaningful to a small group of friends or family, but I’m pretty sure that my days of writing on the web to effect positive change are over, at least in this format.
Many of you will say that that’s a shame, and perhaps it is. But everything evolves, from the planet to information systems to people themselves, and this ongoing change in the web is one that I simply don’t want to be a part of anymore.
I’m tired of this space, and there is other work to do.