Twitter, Social Media, And Tribes

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

The sale of Twitter to Elon Musk (which isn’t done due to the usual process) made me think, “yeah, time to rethink my social media use.”  I’ll share my thoughts, but first, a lesson about myself – and perhaps yourself.

I’m not leaving Twitter (yet), but I decided it was time to look at my social media use and other “microblogging options.”  So I went to open accounts at a mastodon site and counter.social, and found I already had accounts from five years ago.  Suddenly memories streamed back – I had planned this earlier.

I remember being concerned about Twitter and Facebook being the end-all-be-all of social media and had begun investigating other options.  How well did that go?  Well, I’m looking at five-year-old accounts I used for a few posts, so the answer is poorly.  Face it, Twitter was just easier (and we were glued to it during the last terrible administration)

I had been here before, so my first lesson is – never become so dependent on one social media site again.

Now onward to some more thoughts.

Steve’s Thoughts on Social Media Use

Humans work in tribes, but humans also like to build big things – like societies.  A healthy society comprises many interlinked “tribes” to both support each other and keep any one group from taking over.  A healthy society is linked together, communicates, and has people active in maintaining it.

My goal is to find, make, and link my tribes while playing a role in the larger society.  So next up, here’s the social media I’m thinking of:

Have A Website: Get a domain and use it.  Have a blog, a website, whatever.  Direct it to LinkedIn or to your Linktr.ee (very useful tool).  You want someplace people can find you, a home base, something – there are tools to set these things up easily.  It’s a place for your tribe to find you.

A Blog:  You may want a blog, which is easy to set up with WordPress.  Blogs are good ways to post things and you can set up an RSS feed for people to use.

Use an RSS Reader:  RSS may not be as big a deal as it was, but it’s invaluable to integrate information among sites.  I use www.NewsBlur.com not just for news but also friends blogs, etc.  It’s a way to be informed and keep up with my people.

Newsletters:  Newsletters are very underrated ways to stay in touch and build a tribe.  They give you a mailing list of people, they give you a way to stay in touch, and they allow for links, documents, and other useful info.  Learn how to send one (I started one for friends and family 16 years ago).  If you’re a writer or artist they’re invaluable.  Plus you may have ones for different “tribes.”

Video Chat: Zoom, Webex, whatever these things are great.  You can schedule regular meetups with people easily, share data, and so on.  I strongly recommend picking a platform or two – I even pay for Zoom for myself.

Chat: Chat programs are great ways to stay in touch and have a more regular “tribe.”  Discord, Slack, etc. are really good for that.  Way back when AOL shut down, my friends and I moved to Discord, and it was great.  You may or may not need them, but consider them if you maintain some active social groups.

Microblogging:  Even if Twitter has an unsure future, “microblogging” like this seems useful for people.  I don’t think it’s needed for everyone, but it may be useful for authors, people trying to reach others, etc.  I’d consider one of the various Mastodon instances, Counter.social – and don’t write off Twitter yet.

Facebook (sigh):  I am regrettably on it for reasons.  I don’t consider it necessary, it may not be for you, so I’ll leave it up to you.  However if money is an option, Facebook is free and has many of the above features.  Just remember you are the product.

Blog sites:  Twitter’s travails seem to be reviving Tumblr, and Pillowfort.social seems to show promise if growing slowly.  I think there’s a place for these for community building and information sharing, but you are dependent on another platform.  However you use these, remember to “back up your tribe” and find other ways to stay in touch with your community.

What I’m trying to do (read: revive my ideas of five years ago) is optimize how I use each of the above.  What tribe matters?  What purpose does each media serve?  How do I avoid over-dependence on any one?

You can guess you’ll probably read about it here.  Or five years from now if I fail again.

But before I finish up . . .

Engaging in Activism

I want you to find at least one form of activism to get involved in.  Donate, call, raise money, get out the vote, something that gets you involved.  It has several benefits.

  • First, you are able to do good.
  • Secondly, you build a tribe around things that matter – or find one you want to belong to.
  • Third, you learn how the world works (trust me, you don’t).
  • Fourth, you use the social media skills you developed above.
  • Fifth, you learn how tribes matter.

This is another subject to post on, but get involved.  It’s not easy (indeed, I could do it better), but it’s worth it.

Steven Savage

Further Thoughts on Social Media

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

I was discussing the Facebook security issues (the 2018 ones, if you’re keeping track), with my friend Serdar. Serdar is skeptical of many social media companies much the same way I’m made of carbon. But one of his comments got me thinking when he referred to “a one-armed bandit of gamified social gambling.”

At that point suddenly, a few things came together for me about social media problems and how they’re the same as another technological problem we’re currently fighting.

Social Media As Gambling

Yes we use social media to keep track of friends, schedule events, etc. But buried within far too much social media interaction is the attempt to get a payoff. We want a story to go viral. We want to reach a new audience. We want to see some new meme.

Thus we keep pulling the lever. Or reloading. Or posting. We might not calculate the cost/benefit because it’s fun, because it’s social – and because it is a lot like gambling.

Trust me, I’ve been here with everything from attempting to market my books

That’s when I realized it. Know what Social Media has become for too many of us.

LOOT BOXES.

Yeah. I went there. I just compared a lot of social media usage to one of the most controversial and hated things in gaming – and *I* have PAID for Overwatch Loot Boxes. Don’t get me started on my TF2 days.

But yes, too much social media has become loot boxes:

  1. Repeated usage.
  2. Hoping for a payoff.
  3. That is of limited value.
  4. Or very unlikely.
  5. And we’re compelled by chance and social pressure.

I’m still processing this realization. It’s rare I have thoughts that completely grind other thoughts to a halt, and as I write this (late the 21st) I’ve not grappled with it.

I do see one way forward though. Much as gambling isn’t reliable (if fun), we need to treat our social media and time as something more reliable – an investment. Sure some gambling is fun, but ask ourselves what risk and reward are, what the long-term benefits are, what the returns (not payoff) is.

Think about social media that way. Invest over gamble.

– Steve

Speculation: Living Without Facebook And Twitter?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Facebook was used to harvest data by a highly unethical and bizarre campaign firm, Cambridge Analytica, to sway the US elections resulting in a worldwide scandal, with more coming out all the time. Twitter has terrible controls and policing and still seems infested with bots and haters. It’s not looking good for social media out there.

I saw someone post recently (I think, ironically, on Twitter) that the internet becgan being less beneficial with Twitter and Facebook became prominent. That got me thinking as my instinct, as a technophile, is to not believe that any technology is bad. My instinct was there, but it wasn’t defending itself very well.

So I’m going to try a thought experiment – what would happen if I suddenly gave up Facebook and/or Twitter? What if they vanished?Let’s learn from this experiment.

FACEBOOK

OK, so Facebook gives us a massively integrated service. Messaging, posting, building groups, events, and more. it integrated with OTHER services as well. It’s a one-stop shop of things – which of course was part of the problem for data mining, because it’s a great place to get tons of data and influence people.

My intended use for it is:

  • Keep in touch with friends and family.
  • Post about my books and projects and provide a way to be reached.
  • Schedule events without using email or Meetup.com.
  • Find people I forgot about.

In addition I use it for:

  • Reading and posting random funny stuff.
  • Occasional ranting.

Right here I see that one of the big advantages of Facebook is twofold – integrated services and everyone else using it. However it’s the latter that means a lot more to me – Facebook is successful as people are using it. If no one else was using it I wouldn’t care, it’d just be an interesting thing.

So if Facebook vanished then I’d:

  • Keep up with friends and family in other ways. I’d probably use mailing lists and chat programs more.
  • I’d read more friend’s blogs/tumblrs to keep up with them.
  • I’d schedule things via email, meetup.com, or google.
  • I’d get random stuff through tumblr.
  • I’d promote my projects differently and probably focus more on blogs and newsletters.

Hmmm. Sounds like that “integration” and “everyone uses it” thing is a big part of Facebook. Those are things that can be done elsewhere (integration) or change (mass exodus from Facebook).

Let’s try Twitter.

TWITTER

Yes, I know Twitter is a swamp of BS, bots, hate. it’s also a great focused Microblogging service and good for news feeds. I am going to passionately note that the current Twitter could have been something better – a microblogging and news alert system. But I get ahead of myself, though it reveals I probably like Twitter more than Facebook.

So what do I use Twitter for?

  • Screaming into the void.
  • Following friends doing the above or doing something useful.
  • Getting newsfeeds and updates and re-posting them.
  • Sort-of chatting.
  • Microblogging.
  • Promoting my work and networking.
  • Finding and enjoying funny stuff or weird stuff.

I can’t say there’s anything that surprises me. That also tells me I’m kinda more open about my Twitter usage.

So looking at this it tells me my Twitter usage is broader and more passionate. I get updates that are important, post stuff, and communicate. I’m not scheduling events or anything, just communicating, listening, or yelling. Again it makes me appreciate the odd purity of Twitter.

But what if Twitter vanished and there was no replacement? What would I do?

  • Get my news via newsfeeds.
  • I’d probably discuss news more in my blogs.
  • I’d probably join some news discussion groups and sites and use them.
  • I’d focus a lot more on my newsletters for promoting my work.
  • I’d do different marketing for my work.
  • I’d definitely look more to tumblr for weird and silly stuff.

This tells me that, again, I actually like Twitter more than Facebook, which I may have to process for awhile. Also almost everything it does can be done elsewhere, though not as fast. Twitter is a sort of blog/message board/RSS fusion.

WAIT WHAT IF BOTH VANISHED?

OK if Twitter and Facebook both vanished what would I do? I think it’s obvious – everything would be back to blogging, newsletters, meetups, chats, and RSS feeds.

Which tells me, that, yes Twitter and Facebook really changed how we used the internet. If they vanished my life would basically go back to what I did before the service came to be. I’d just have more awareness of the goals, benefits, and disadvantage of integration.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

So thought experiment done. Now what have I learned out of all of this? Here’s what these two social media services give us:

AMPLIFICATION: One reason we love these services is Amplification. They can reach people and reach a TON of people. That’s an obvious answer but it’s very important to understand the power (or illusion of power) Facebook and Twitter give us.

That also means that any potential replacements or new incarnations need to keep this in mind – or we ask if we need it.

INTEGRATION: Is useful, it’s nice to have, and I think we get used to it. It certainly helps when you use something as primary social tool – but it also brings its own problems of data usage, spamming, or time-wasting.

As social media evolves and changing, we’ll need to rethink Integration. What do we need, how do we do it safely, and how often do we care.

AUDIENCE: Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t matter if they hadn’t built their huge user bases. They’re the result of self-fulfilling prophecy. It may be hard to get people off the platforms, but clearly audience matters.

This also means they’re vulnerable as part of their weight is just weight – we want that audience.

CONNECTION: We want to connect with people. These services give that – or the illusion of that at the very least. We value that.

We might question if we’re actually connecting in a useful or appropriate or healthy way. I’m wondering, as I examine this, if there may be some problems here. It’s not always deep connection.

COMMUNICATION: We want to know what’s up. Obviously. In many ways Social Media isn’t remarkable as there’s just so many ways to do this, Social Media just adds all the above.

I question if we’re communicating that well via social media considering the various joke posts, bot posts, etc. Maybe we’re not really communicating.

In the end, Facebook and Twitter don’t do anything unusual, they integrate things, streamline them, and bring a big audience and access. Ther’es nothing wrong with this of course, it’s just as I step back I see how they built on known services and our desires.

I think they’ve proven to be both problems and benefits. I view them as neutrals-to-sort-of-good – but deeply flawed and manipulated. Sometimes I think they both cause and solve problems, which seems a bit of a wash.

If they vanished, though, or I stopped using them I could live without them. Anyone could, we’d just have to rethink how we interact (which maybe we ought to do anyway). It’d just be back to the earlier internet – but we did learn valuable lessons in what we need and want.

MOVING FORWARD

After this little exercise it’s given me a few things to think about with social media, our dependence, our issues, our mistakes. There’s probably a lot more to come out of this.

I have a few changes I’m making:

  • I’m going to be more thoughtful on my social media and what I use it for.
  • I want to cultivate more intimate discussions through my various media.
  • I don’t want to depend on any one kind of media.
  • It’s pretty clear I use Social Media to waste a lot of time and need to rethink that.

As for the future of Twitter and Facebook? Well in a way they’r enothing specual or unique, and they can’t (and won’t) stay the same forever o rbe forever. Things are changing, how they change – and how others change – is going to be something to watch.

But I can choose what I do.

– Steve