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

water droplets on glass panel

Should we drop “social” from social media? There is nothing social about this social media. And most of these platforms are essentially networked information distribution systems, and more and more of that information is just noise or disinformation. And humans aren’t helping either. 

Everyone, including Captain America fantasist billionaires and yours truly, in some fashion or the other, are nothing more than mere botnets? In our divided modern “now,” one person’s information is another person’s fake news. Rumors are mere facts for the media to report on with a question mark? And at the same time, the news is a source of rumors; all you need to do is add a question mark. Either way, can we stop pretending that social media is social, about friends & people?

The biggest lie these platforms feed us is the idea of them being “social media” and “social networks.” In reality, they exist to show advertising “content” to consumers, who hopefully would buy more. This endless scroll does its thing on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter. 

It is our sad reality, and no matter how often I repeat myself, it will not change. 

August 23, 2022, San Francisco

Every so often, when I read what passes as news on the internet, I find myself triggered. Whether it is the choice of what to write about, or the news itself, I am gobsmacked by the sheer stupidity that envelopes us.

To be fair, stupidity and poor news judgment have always been with us. In the past, that steamy pile of nonsense stayed confined to tabloids and rags sold at the grocery counters. Social media sadly pushes it all right up our noses. And since gods of engagment reward publications with gifts of attention, even respectable publications don’t hesitate to promote and push the vapid and the hollow.

Such material triggers me. And I often find myself wanting to scream out loud. There is a platform for that — Twitter. And all too often, I draft a tweet and then discard it. It is an old habit carried over to this new world: write a blog post, wait for a few minutes, take a little walk, and think before hitting publish.

Lately, the number of tweets drafted and discarded has been going up. It reflects that I am spending too much time online, and the amount of stupidity in the world has increased. The reality is that this act of self-censoring is a realization that the most challenging part of our post-social reality is to shut up. By not saying anything, perhaps we are thumbing the nose to the gods of engagement!

PS: If you were wondering, that writer and that publication are no longer on my daily must-reads, and they lost the trust that rewarded them with my attention.

Beyoncé has a new album, Renaissance. You might have heard it. Or you might have heard about it. It is the summer musical event, and that has everyone in a tizzy. Reviewers are gushing. Social media is lit with euphemisms from fans. And why not? The Economist notes:

Beyoncé Knowles, who now appears to occupy a cultural position somewhere between Maya Angelou, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and St Bernadette. She had become, in an increasingly popular phrase, “culturally dominant”. Her seventh solo album, “Renaissance”, arrives not so much as a release, but as an event, heralded not just by reviews, but by reviews of reviews, previews, analyses of track titles and parsings of the lyrics.

Beyonce Renaissance

I have been listening to the album — on Spotify. Unlike the critics and reviewers, I am not having an eargasm. Except for two songs, Church Girl and Move, the album left me underwhelmed. She has done better work and will do better work in the future. (I am partial to I am Sasha Fierce and Lemonade, though Dangerously in Love is a guilty pleasure.)

I love her music too much to be upset. And life is too short to be upset over something, anything. More importantly, I don’t have a reason to be upset. After all, I didn’t drop a Jackson to buy the album. The upside of streaming is that if you don’t like something, you move on to something else.

Still, I appreciate Beyoncé bringing attention to house music and its legends. As someone who has been a house music fan since the earliest days, this made me happy. But that doesn’t mean I will go ga-ga over the album, which is a bit ho-hum, at least to my ears. My reaction is very different from that of critics and reviewers. According to Metacritic, it scored 93, and 19 out of 19 reviews are positive. Fans gave it 9.4. I understand that taste is subjective, and not everyone likes the same thing.

Beyoncé has not only got the fans and reviewers in the palm of her hand, but she is also smartly manipulating the algorithms. And it is not just the Queen Bee. Every artist needs to play this game. Let me explain

Shortly before Beyoncé’s album is about to be released, rumors start flying on Twitter and elsewhere. On the day of the release, Beyoncé (or her record company) pushed the content on social media. She has 56 million followers on Facebook, 25 million on YouTube, 4 million on TikTok, and 263 million on Instagram — that is enough to rev up the hype machine. Everyone is talking about it, and it’s trending news everywhere.

The media machine sees page views and clicks. It needs to ride this wave. News pieces roll in. Reviews roll in. Most of the reviews are good, and good reviews beget more reviews. Fans share reviews on social media. The echoes reverberate. No one wants to upset the apple cart. The Economist deftly explains:

Many superstars enjoy unquestioning critical veneration. This is driven by a number of factors—chief among them journalists’ fear of a social-media backlash.There is also the fact that the biggest stars rarely let their records go to reviewers before release, resulting in articles written on the fly, in which no one wants to be the person out of step. 

Artists have figured out that — herd mentality is good for business. As long you know how to herd the herd. The more people listen to something, the more it will force algorithms to push the songs in front of others. The engagement pushes the message on social platforms. And more people are listening. The “recommendation” gods are smiling on the album.

Regardless of what I think or feel about the album, it will soon be on top of the Billboard 100, and it is rising on Spotify charts and is already leaping up Apple Music charts. It doesn’t matter whether the album is good or not — everyone says it is, and in today’s climate, that is all that matters.

After all, everyone is getting paid: the artist, the record company, the streaming company, the media company, and the platforms. It is the culture of today. It is Renaissance 2.0!

August 4, 2022. San Francisco

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor/Unsplash

Okay, I didn’t mean to be so dramatic. Or use a clickbait headline, but in reality, what used to be Instagram is now dead. It was a wonderful gathering place for photographers to showcase their work and build an audience. Not a day goes by when some photographer friend or the other bemoans how Instagram is no longer a place for photography. 

They willfully ignore what Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said almost a year ago:

“We’re no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app.” Instagram’s chief went on to elaborate that “at Instagram, we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now, we’re focusing on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping, and Messaging.” In other words, anything but photography. 

***

“While Instagram initially fueled my passion for photography; rather than being inspired through the art of photography itself, too often I find myself chasing numbers of followers and likes. I realized that all this time I wanted to share my work to get a ‘pat on the back,’ rather than to inspire,” photographer Nicole Malina told PetaPixel. They are addicted to this notion of an audience that gives them credence, and this addiction allows the photographers to keep feeding the monster that doesn’t care — all it wants is to sell sell sell.

(Additional ReadingPetaPixel did an excellent job of curating photographers and their thoughts about Instagram, and it is worth reading.)

Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger created a mobile social network based on visual storytelling. The impetus provided by the early photography-centric approach turned it into a fast-growing phenomenon. For Facebook, it was an existential threat. And it was worth spending nearly a billion dollars to own, control, and eventually subsume. And that’s precisely what Facebook has done. 

What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from “whomever is popular now” service — Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper.

It has become QVC 2.0. About four years ago, I postulated as much. I was hopeful that, with the launch of IGTV (remember that), Instagram could become an excellent way for brands to tell their stories. — much like QVC did in its early days.

“Given that commerce is already such a big part of Instagram, the infrastructure is already in place to roll out new offerings,” I wrote. “Just swipe right to buy the products, and you start to see why I think of it as QVC 2.0.” 

Of course, I forgot that QVC might have started well but eventually turned to shit. And so did Instagram. Two years later, I came to my senses and thus said: “The new Shop and Reels tabs make everything dumb and easy. QVC 2.0 is coming into sharp focus. I feel sad for photographers who think their future is on Instagram and the social network it brings. They don’t realize that they are there to help sell tchotchkes.”

 “Instagram’s slow evolution into a glorified mall isn’t only an attempt to dethrone TikTok and Youtube’s massive base, but also Amazon’s,” Gizmodo notes. The advertisers are starting to advertise more on Amazon, which is not such a good development for a company so heavily reliant on advertising. Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok’s descent into QVC territory mean that more people are buying things they don’t need, which in turn is causing havoc with their revenues. Fortune magazine notes that “Social media impacts consumers’ spending habits,” and a new study by Bankrate shows that “nearly half of users admit to making an impulse purchase based on a sponsored post.”

The company just announced a new creator marketplace which means creators (much like celebrities of yore that hawked wares on QVC and HSN (the Home Shopping Network) can do the same for the brands. “Social media is essentially the new roadside billboard, only it accomplishes the goal of traditional advertising in a much savvier way,” Bankrate.com analyst Sarah Foster told Fortune. 

Instagram’s transformation into QVC is now complete and absolute. Instagram is dead — or at least the Instagram I knew and loved is dead. It is no longer part of my photographic journey. 

PS: You can see my latest photos on my photography blog or sign-up for my photography-focused email newsletter.