Responsibility is resistance
I’m bringing back my personal blog, this is why (and how)
The word ‘blog’ has an almost nostalgic ring to it nowadays and owning one isn’t very cool anymore —if it ever was. Even though there has been a slight renaissance of small, independent weblogs lately, a self-hosted website certainly can’t compete with the convenience, the tremendous reach, and the overblown revenue capabilities of the big social media sites and their corresponding smartphone apps of today.
That being said, the gains of social media come at a cost of cause; In an era of sponsored content, either obvious or hidden, algorithm-driven feeds and an often harsh and hostile tone all around (I’m with Ricky Gervais on this one: YouTube), those networks often don’t feel like they used to in their early days, ‘the good old days’™, y’ know? But there are way more profound problems than a lacking etiquette —some of which are rooted deep down in the core functionality of those services.
They algorithms drive us toward more and more extreme beliefs. If a certain number of people watch a Trump rally video, then YouTube recommends you a slightly more alt-right video, and suddenly you’re three steps away from watching a video about how Hitler was correct, if you let it autoplay.— Matt Klinman, “How Facebook Is Killing Comedy”, February 6th 2018 on splitsider.com
Oliver Reichenstein –one of my role models in design– published a well-written essay on blogging, social media, and the accompanying decline of the internet on the blog of his company iA a couple of years ago. It remains to be as relevant as it was on its release in 2018, so go ahead and read it (Take the Power Back), it’s a way more comprehensive plea for blogging and self-hosted websites than I’m going to put together in the following few lines.
I want to pick up one of his points myself, though —probably because I haven’t really thought about it before but can’t help but notice it all around me ever since I read about it.
Social Media killed the internet star
Because the smartphone is becoming the sole gateway to the world wide web for many –especially young– users, the browser isn’t a synonym for the internet for them, it’s just another app. An app used rather rarely and hardly ever intentionally at that. Instead ‘their internet’ takes place within the Facebook app, the Twitter app, the Instagram app, the TikTok app, the Your-Next-Favourite-Social-Media app. As a side effect, the robust backbone of the internet, the so-called Uniform Resource Locator –better known by its abbreviation URL– is now a rudiment only a few of said users care or even know about.
Recently, during the weeks of homeschooling, my nephew showed me a bunch of “cool websites”, but he did not know any of their URLs. Instead, he opened Google every single time, searched for the name of the website (like “pointerpointer”), and went for the first search result.
And while I am well aware that Google’s search engine dominance is a whole new ballgame to tackle, this little anecdote stands symbolically for how successful social media has been with the devaluation of the URL within future generations of users already.
Facebook has created a centrally designed internet. It’s a lamer, shittier looking internet. It’s just not as cool as an internet that is a big, chaotic space filled with tons of independently operating websites who are able to make a living because they make something cool that people want to see.— Matt Klinman, “How Facebook Is Killing Comedy”, February 6th 2018 on splitsider.com
Take Facebook’s poster child Instagram for example; The social network has always been ‘anti-web’ by design with the rigorous dismantling of hyperlinks –another powerful core technology of the web– in favor of its restricted internal hashtags and mentions. And to lure users away from the regular web browser and into their own app, you aren’t able to post anything on the Instagram website, which defeats one of the two primary purposes of the network.
Twitter on the other hand does allow hyperlinks, but in most cases cuts the visible part of the URL or hides the address altogether behind some sort of an abstracted preview card.
The corresponding smartphone app cripples the universal operating principle of the links further by not opening referenced websites in the default web browser chosen by the user but displaying them in a blunt fullscreen pop-up within the respective app instead. Its main UI element is a button to close the pop-up and return to the walled garden of the app.
The exact same faulty –clingy boyfriend-like– behavior Instagram treats the single one working hyperlink it grants regular users within the profile, by the way. (“Link In Bio” is a slow knife)
TikTok, as far as I understand the app, goes even beyond; It might utilize the underlying technological structure of the web, but it basically lives in its complete own, decoupled bubble and has pretty much nothing to do with the internet as a whole.
Where do we go from there?
All of this is only one small aspect of a huge issue and I’m aware that I’ve barely scratched the surface so far. If you are interested to dive deeper into the whole subject, I’m going to link a bunch of additional sources from the last few years at the end of this text.
But I think you got my general sentiment pretty well at this point, so I’m going to move to the more proactive part of the post from now on.
In the iA blog post mentioned earlier, Oliver Reichenstein describes a possible way forward spot-on, so I’m simply going to quote him for the basic answer to that question:
How about changing? Changing from passive, to active. From scroll to search, from react to rethink, from like and retweet to write and link. Take the power back. … We need to write on our own domains. … Own your writing. … And on your domain, send people to other domains you like, outside the usual black holes, if possible.— Oliver Reichenstein, “Take The Power Back”, February 6th 2018 on ia.net
To illustrate how that rather simple idea translates to my blog specifically, bear with me while I get a teeny tiny bit technical for a moment.
This website and all of its files are located on a webserver I pay for –with my money, not your data– and it’s powered by the Open Source blog software WordPress running a theme I wrote completely from scratch to assure that it works without anything or anyone tapping in quietly and secretly behind the scenes.
You can have a look yourself by checking uMatrix, Ghostery, or the developer tools of your web browser: By default, there should be no external scripts or third-party trackers and therefore no company collecting or passing on personal data uncontrollably. And I honestly swear to do my very best to keep the site as clean as possible when I start to share more content from other sources around the web in the future.
And while I’m at it; There is no obscure algorithm dictating what you are able to see, just one post after another right in the order I publish them, at the utmost filtered by a category or a tag if you choose to do so. But what are those categories, anyway, what is this blog going to be about in the first place?
Content is King
I’m a designer, so naturally, a huge part of the content is going to deal with creativity in all its glorious manifold manifestations. Stuff I tinker with as well as work I care about crafted by colleagues. And while I almost exclusively design and code digital products for a living, I’m still very interested in all the other creative professions, too. In fact, this blog is an expression of my deep desire to flex my creative muscles more and venture into new areas more often.
But don’t expect the content to be limited to ‘work’ altogether. This is a personal blog after all, so some banalities of my personal life are very likely to pop up here, too. Think of this website as my curated stream of consciousness, a periodical array of matters of current interest. Whatever comes into my mind and/or insight might be reflected here in some way or another.
Remember those wild-growing, colorful personal (tumblr-) blogs from back in the early 2010s? That’s what I’m aiming for.
And one of the most delicious things about the profoundly parasitical world of blogs is that you don’t have to have anything much to say. Or you just have to have a little tiny thing to say. You just might want to say hello. I’m here. And by the way. On the other hand. Nevertheless. Did you see this? Whatever. A blog is sort of like an exhale.— Nora Ephron, “Hello. By The Way. Whatever.”, March 23th 2006 on huffingtonpost.com
Speaking of aims; I’ve started this post on a somewhat grumpy note, but I don’t want you to take this as an indication of the predominant mood of upcoming articles. We are living in somewhat difficult times and blogging is going to be self-therapy to some extent –of course, yes– but I want this blog to become my personal internet happy place. As mentioned before, there is already more than enough distressing, dark, and depressing shit out in the world (wide web) and I do not want to contribute to that grim maelstrom.
One more thing
Even though it’s rough and raw by design —brutalism in web design is a thing and a whole other story for another post, the blog is still in development and probably is going to be in flux forever. Furthermore, I did not test it with a wide range of browsers or screen sizes, let alone different devices, so the code might not work super smooth in some cases or fall completely apart in others. Overall, it should work fine on fairly recent devices with a decent browser, though.
With that being said, if you stumble upon something broken badly rendering the website unusable, please let me know what’s wrong via email. Make sure to share some information about your device and the browser you’re having trouble with alongside what’s wrong if you do so.
I guess that’s it for now. Thank you for being one of the first to discover this and kudos for the endurance to read through this long introduction. Hopefully, I don’t scare you away with this ‘wall of text’, there will be more easy and more visually appealing posts for sure. I would love for you to come back and watch what unruly mess I’m going to make here.
As promised before, here’s a list of some additional and wide-ranging suggestions that have shaped my thinking on the general subject:
- “The web we lost”
↳ December 13th 2012, anildash.com/2012/12/13/the_web_we_lost/
- “How Designers Destroyed the World”
↳ Mike Monteiro at Webstock 2013, vimeo.com/68470326
- “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”
↳ September 2017, theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
- “Tim Berners-Lee launches campaign to save the web from abuse”
↳ November 5th 2018, theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/05/tim-berners-lee-launches-campaign-to-save-the-web-from-abuse
- “I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore”
↳ May 14th 2018, nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/05/i-dont-know-how-to-waste-time-on-the-internet-anymore.html
- “How to Build an Atomic Bomb”
↳ Mike Monteiro at btconf 2018, vimeo.com/268704084
- “Every little bit helps”
↳ January 15th 2019, signalvnoise.com/every-little-bit-helps/
- “What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away”
↳ April 29th 2019, newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/29/what-it-takes-to-put-your-phone-away
- “Back From The Dead”
↳ May 17th 2019, bastianallgeier.com/notes/back-from-the-dead
- “Consume less, create more”
↳ August 8th 2019, blog.tjcx.me/p/consume-less-create-more
- “You can heal the internet”
↳ August 28th 2019, signalvnoise.com/you-can-heal-the-internet/
- “A love letter to my website”
↳ September 17th 2019, vanschneider.com/a-love-letter-to-personal-websites
- “So the internet didn’t turn out the way we hoped”
↳ November 14th 2019, nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/14/magazine/internet-future-dream.html
- “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks”
↳ December 2019, theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/social-media-democracy/600763
- “How to help your kids be responsible digital citizens, from a tech exec (and mom)”
↳ March 25th 2020, ideas.ted.com/how-to-help-your-kids-be-responsible-digital-citizens-from-a-tech-exec-and-mom/
- “Blogging as a forgiving medium”
↳ February 9th 2021, austinkleon.com/2021/02/09/blogging-as-a-forgiving-medium
- “My love/hate relationship with the web”
↳ March 19th 2021, manuelmoreale.com/my-love-hate-relationship-with-the-web