Ever since Elon Musk took over Twitter and turned it into a tawdry reality show in which he is the star, the villain, and the comedian, everyone has been talking about a new decentralized web. New products, such as Mastodon, and new technologies, such as Activity Pub, are part of a new desire to build a new “fedeverse.” This is utopian thinking about taking the web back from the centralized web platforms.

One of my favorite bloggers, designer Lars Mensel notes:

We all feed social networks and online platforms with unprecedented amounts of data, hardly accounting for the fact everything might vanish when the ownership of a network changes (as seems likely with Twitter’s ongoing nosedive) or the business model collapses.

Mensel is right. And it makes sense that more of us should be doing it, but we don’t because, in the end, we want an easy way out. Manuel Moreale, a programmer points out:

The more I think and read about it, the more I’m convinced that there’s no solution to the centralisation issue we’re currently facing. And that’s because I think that fundamentally people are, when it comes to the internet, lazy. And gathering where everyone else is definitely seems easier. It’s also easier to delegate the job of moderating and policing to someone else and so as a result people will inevitably cluster around a few big websites, no matter what infrastructure we build. And sure, there is always going to be an independent minority that is going to do things their way but it’s just that, a minority. The rest of the internet will move along and aggregate around a few big hubs and the issues are gonna be the same.

Read full post on manuelmoreale.com/on-internet-silos

Moreale, who has eschewed all social media services, pours a glass of cold water on the current excitement and hoopla around Mastodon, Fediverse, and the decentralization of the Internet. When reading his post, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. It is not to say that I don’t believe in decentralized Internet, and after all, the Internet’s premise was a lot of federated (interconnected) networks.

I appreciate the excitement and move away from the centralized services, but most of the excitement comes from the people who were part of the first two waves of the Internet. The newer generation of internet natives doesn’t care much about archival or permanence on the network.

Ephemeral is a concept that is more apt for describing that generation. Streaming, on-demand, and vanishing ephemeral content are their native behaviors. The rest of their social media presence is with intentionality — either to create or curate a presence much like a celebrity.

Regardless of age, the big elephant in the room is that we are certified addicts to attention.

It doesn’t matter whether it is Twitter, Instagram, or Mastodon. Everyone is playing to an audience. The social Internet is a performance theater praying at the altar of attention. Journalists need attention to be relevant, and experts need to signal their expertise. And others want to be influencers. For now, Twitter, Instagram, and their ilk give the biggest bang for the blast. It is why those vocal and active about Mastodon are still posting away on Musk’s Twitter.

If we didn’t care for attention, we wouldn’t be doing anything at all. We wouldn’t broadcast. Instead, we would socialize privately in communication with friends and peers.


Here are some of my previous writings on social media, our addiction, and why it is a problem.

January 4, 2022. San Francisco

A couple of days ago, I pointed out the risks we all have from companies that fall outside what is derisively known as “big tech.” Whether it is utilities playing god with the connected thermostats or insurance companies mucking around with your rates based on what your car sensors report back to them — the devils we don’t know are the most considerable risk in our new connected life. 

Last evening, the news broke about many My Book owners, a device made by storage giant Western Digital, seeing their data “remotely” wiped out. Western Digital, whose brands include Sandisk and G-Technology, offered a statement to Ars Technica that is a bit of a headscratcher. On Twitter, Lon Seidman pointed out that the WD product has been discontinued, and its firmware was last updated in 2015.  

I am sure more details on the WD incident will emerge shortly. However, it does reinforce my original point: we might hate the “big tech,” but in reality, they are likely to do more to help avoid such incidents. 

June 25, 2021, San Francisco

This week, Tim O’Reilly provided much-needed perspective in his essay “The End of Silicon Valley As We Know It.” If you can overlook the clickbait title, this essay is among the most valuable things you can read to understand our present and think about our future. While there has been much hoopla about folks leaving Silicon Valley, new distributed work philosophies, and other daily headlines, these are primarily distractions from a deeper, more profound change afoot in what we call Silicon Valley.

The Algorithmic Accountability Index: Ellery Roberts Biddle and Jie Zhang have created an accountability index for the algorithmic economy. They looked for companies’ answers to some fundamental questions about algorithms: How do you build and train them? What do they do? What standards guide these processes? An essential piece. 

How the race for autonomous cars started: We might be on the brink of the future where we all zoom around in self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles. It is easy to forget that, 16 years ago, autonomous driving was a chaotic dream. In his new book, Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car, Alex Davies chronicles what brought us to this moment. Wired magazine recently ran an excerpt, and you should check it out.

Did Tech prevent the World from a bigger meltdown?: While we have read many articles about technology becoming a dominant force in our lives during the pandemic, this article in Foreign Policy asks (and answers) the question from a different angle. I liked the nuanced argument, and that is why I recommend it for your weekend reading.

The cassette tape creator is dead: In time, what was a disruptive technology becomes a part of our life that we don’t even notice. One hundred billion units later, cassette tape is one of those technologies. It kicked off the ability to personalize the curation of music. You can draw a straight line between those tapes and Spotify playlists. Lou Ottens, the engineer who created the cassette tape, died recently. Ottens also helped create the compact disc, which ultimately killed the cassette tape. His obituary is a reminder that only very few are fortunate enough to create technology that touches everyone’s lives.