2024 has just begun, and January is already behind us. How fast things are moving? It's as if we can't even remember what happened yesterday because we somehow have to "always" worry about tomorrow.
This harsh pace is just a feature of our busy lives, and a reflection of the digital world we are immersed in. Social media and the internet, the supposed connectors of the "global village", have changed into endless, fast-moving streams of content, pushing us to constantly look ahead and scroll, rarely giving us a moment to reflect on the now, let alone the past.
What I believe is, at the heart of this "evolution" is a deep shift in the core of connection and community. Remeber the early days of internet? They were marked by a sense of exploration and discovery. Google, BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo360, Deviantart, Other Websites, and blogs were not just digital spaces but canvases for expression, where writers and creators spent hours, if not days, pouring their thoughts and passions into content that was meant to be read, studied, and discussed. These platforms were the digital equivalent of public squares and coffee shops, where people gathered not just to consume but to connect.
Don't get me wrong, most of these websites still do exist, however, we consume our contents mostly from other places. Places meant to be for people on a hurry, made by people how have the dream of becoming a millionaire in a single night, by doing any kind of things and saying anything possible. These people or alike, did exist back then, but there wasn't a single algorithm to rule them all, in the sense to bring the content with most views to your eyes, regardless of the
content" itself. Back then, "You" were responsible for what you see and what you find in internet, and today, it's the FAANG (or better to be called MAANG) that decides it for you, because once you told a friend of yours that you are thinking about buying a bicycle, and now your Instagram's Explore is full of people who are so hyper-healthy because, well, they are riding a bicycle!
In 2024, the digital landscape has extremely changed. The dominance of a few companies has turned the internet into a monopolized space where diversity of thought and the slow, thoughtful consumption of content have been sidelined in favor of quick, digestible (in less than 10 seconds) content made by "Bloggers" designed to grab attention in the shortest possible time. Something that our mind hasn't been evoled to do. This high-speed, vertical-scrolling environment prioritizes at-once engagement over lasting connection, which then reduces complex ideas to absolute short clips and transforming users and readers into pure metrics.
This shift raised questions in my mind, about the nature of social media itself. Can platforms that prioritize profit over people still be considered "social" in the true sense of the term? Think about it: they may offer an "illusion of connection", the base reality is one of isolation, where the depth of our interactions is often as trivial as the content we scroll through. The term "social media" has become a misrepresentation of a space that is more about broadcasting than connecting, more about individual consumption than communal engagement.
In my opinion, twitter (now X), was the last fortress we had in regards of satying "social", which just died in 2023. I just hope the same won't happen to Reddit!
It wasn't perfect, I know. I had serious concerns about how easy it was to depersonalise and demonise others. The "main character" of twitter was someone who the collective believed had said something exremely stupid, and often they were right. But did that justify being piled on by thousands of strangers? Our minds isn’t made for that.
As we now stand at the beginning of 2024, thinking about the rapid pace of our digital existence, it's crucial to confront these concerns sooner. The transformation of social media and the internet from spaces of connection to "engines of profit" is a phenomenon that deserves the attention and action. The challenge now is not just to navigate this new digital landscape but to critically examine its impact on our ability to truly connect with one another. The question is:
What have we lost in this transition, and more importantly, what can we do to reclaim the essence of true social connectivity in the digital age?
Back to the Future
Now this part is just my own take of the early 2000s. It doesn't necessarily reflec on everyone's experience, but I believe the experience was in some aspects similar to each other.
In the early 2000s, the internet was a growing space of opportunity and connection. Unlike the monopolized digital thing of 2024, it was a mosaic of individual websites and forums, each a unique corner of the digital universe where people could find communities that matched their interests, passions, and needs, by their choosings. This era was characterized by a sense of digital advancement, where users navigated through a less commercialized web in search of knowledge, companionship, and understanding.
Personal blogs, forums and communities like Yahoo360, MySpace etc. were the heartbeats of this early internet. Writers would spend days crafting thoughtful articles and blog posts, not for the sake of likes or shares, but to contribute to a broader conversation, or sometimes, just because they were hackers in life! Readers engaged with this content not by merely scrolling past but by reading, reflecting, and often responding. This in my opinion created a cycle of meaningful exchanges where ideas could be debated, and relationships were formed over shared interests and dialogues.
Moreover, the diversity of platforms meant that users weren't boxed into a one-size-fits-all (Instagram, TikTok etc.) experience. Whether it was through forums, personal blogs, or early social networking sites, the internet felt really more like a global village. This period marked my childhood with an authenticity in digital connections, where the slower pace of content consumption allowed for deeper engagement and a stronger sense of community.
The lack of algorithmic interference meant that discovery was often occasional and offhand, leading to a richer, more diverse web experience. People weren't just users in this digital landscape, they were explorers, contributors, and community members. Though, it was far from perfect, yet its foundational philosophy was built on principles of openness, discovery, and genuine social connectivity.
Now I stand in 2024, looking back at the early 2000s, it's clear that something fundamental has shifted. I now, I'm a grown up now, with more responsibilities and concerns in my life, but still, I missed the days when I paid for something and it was actually mine after the payment!
A Monopoly of Moments
It's 2024, the digital landscape presents an utterly contrast to the diverse and exploratory web of the early 2000s. Today, a handful of platforms wield bizzare control over how we consume content, interact with others, and perceive the world around us. THis is a monopolization that has transofrmed the internet into a tightly controlled ecosystem of "Apps" where engagement and of course, profit, dictate the dynamics of the digiral interaction.
Platforms like Instagram or TikTok are designed not for depth but for speed, capturing users attention with an endless stream of content that is often shallow and momentary and their emphasis is on "viral trends" and "eye-catching visuals" keeping us scrolling and liking.
Furthermore, the combination of digital platforms under a few corporate giants has weakend innovation and diversity. New voices and ideas find it increasingly difficult to break through the noise, as the algorithms favor content that conforms to the established "norms" of engagement. Norms that define what is wrong and whats right, and you won't feel safe enough to say anything, because someone, somewhere will find it offensive! This not only limits the variety of content available but also restricts the potential for genuine creativity and expression in the digital realm.
The consequences of this monopolized digital landscape extend beyond individual experiences, shaping societal perceptions and interactions. The rapid consumption of content fosters a culture of immediacy and disposability, where the value of information and connection is measured in seconds rather than substance.
The Future is Now
Now I can write milion lines of critiques about the current situation. Every one can. Yet it's essential to not only critique but also to imagine and work towards alternatives that support genuine connection and diversity. I go back to my previous question: what can we do to reclaim the essence of true social connectivity in the digital age?
Of course, communities must be prioritized over algorithms. This is the first thing that comes to my mind. This would be the first step towards rebuilding our digital spaces to shift the focus from algorithm-driven content (ADC) to community-centric platforms (CCP).
The next step step in my opinion is to foster digital education and critical engagement, which allows to navigate and shape the future effectively. Basically I think, users must become digitally educated, like by understanding how algos influence what they see and for what reason and how their data is used. Everyone wants to become a millionaire, but what are the costs?
Support open source! Which I remember some years ago was the actual hype. Today, open source usually means a "cheaper" version of a software, for which you eventually have to pay.
Be less judgemental and emotional! Now watch out! this is a sensitive thing. I believe, it's also necessary to train the emotional resilience or flexibility in the face of the content (or anything) we encounter online. One of the general challenges in today's internet landscape or even our lives is the fact that we've become more sensitive and reactional to criticism or different oppinions. This often prevents constructive dialogue and obviosly divides us further more, rather than improving our understanding and growth. To counteract this, we must try to approach [online] interactions with openness and willingness to consider perspectives beyond our own, without immediate recourse to offense or defense. Basically, developing a thicker skin, so to speak, does not mean becoming indifferent or dismissive but rather learning to differentiate between personal attacks and constructive criticism (which by it self is ineed hard, and is part of being a grown up and an adult), and responding to each accordingly. By becoming less reactionary and more reflective, we can create a digital environment that encourages healthy debate, diverse opinions, and the robust exchange of ideas, ultimately enriching our collective discourse and understanding.
I think what I'm trying to say at the end is that, as we are going through the currents, it's important not to let the corporate algorithms and marketing strategies determine the course of our [online] interactions. We are far more than jsut a crows or data points to be analyzed and monetized. It is time for us to stand up and reclaim the narrative, to weave genuine connections and cherish the diversity of voices that enrich our ecosystem. Don't let the essence of our communities be overshadowed by profit-driven agendas.
Please share your insights. How will you contribute to preserving the core of our engagements?