Connections and connections and connections

Mastodon is making the web feel young again.

Once upon a time on an internet far, far away, I felt like a genius when I wired up Twitter to our blog to post real-time updates about the birth of our first child.

That kind of transparency today feels absolutely insane. We had a medical emergency in my family last week and set up an invite-only community on Band to keep friends and family updated. Not email blasts, which can be forwarded. Not Facebook groups. And for damn sure not the open web.

I ran a decade-long blog about the urban renaissance taking place in Newark, NJ. I built websites on the open source WordPress platform and avidly attended local WordCamps. I was an early believer in social media (user #68,743 on Twitter, back when it was Twttr). I stayed up to speed with Web Standards and RSS and believed “the future would be syndicated.” I drank all the Kool-Aid, holding out hope that tech would usher in a utopia of peace, transparency, even joy.

I can’t decide if it was the revelations first surfaced that Facebook was aiding genocide or when Donald Trump became the 45th president. I found myself reckoning with a web that has become consolidated to a few, impossibly wealthy and powerful corporations. The tools which I had hoped would bring about hope and change had become co-opted by misanthropes and con artists. I struggled to agree with Paul Ford’s optimism in his Wired piece, Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry. Instead I found myself identifying more with his brutal diagnostic of our silly idealism:

People—smart, kind, thoughtful people—thought that comment boards and open discussion would heal us, would make sexism and racism negligible and tear down walls of class. We were certain that more communication would make everything better. Arrogantly, we ignored history and learned a lesson that has been in the curriculum since the Tower of Babel, or rather, we made everyone else learn it. We thought we were amplifying individuals in all their wonder and forgot about the cruelty, or at least assumed that good product design could wash that away.

And, yet. And, yet, this new fediverse. Disruption by way of decentralization.

I don’t think for a moment that tech is above the celebration of human cruelty. Not after this past ~decade. But maybe we’ve learned a little something new about how to take some more pragmatic steps towards a better world through tech? Maybe there’s a little space to hope again?

Let’s see what the future brings. 🐘

By Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.