2 min read

Death to the Algorithm

I'm making a mindful change in my relationship with the internet and rethinking how I spend my time online.

As someone who was born on the blurry border between Generation X and the Millennial generation, I remember a time before the internet and I fondly recollect my curiosity surrounding the emerging internet in the late-90s. The infant internet was an extremely strange place. There were very few rules, even fewer boundaries and – as far as I could gather – no limits to the interconnected potential of this new universe.

I wanted to know how it worked, so I too could have a hand in creating the magic of the World Wide Web. I viewed page sources and inspected elements to learn how HTML and CSS fused together to make websites. I started making my own sites and added them to webrings. Remember those?

AOL gave way to Geocities gave way to Blogger gave way to Wordpress, which led to MySpace which led to Twitter.

At the dawn of early social media, I felt just as excited about using the web to connect and share with likeminded people who were equally excited about the promise of digital culture. The early days of Twitter felt like the Wild West. Everyone was exploiting the tech for their own needs via open APIs and user-generated features like the hashtag.

The progress in this space in the early- to mid-2000s was a thing of wonder. We started to see its impact on communities, politics, art + culture, and social justice. Social media had become the great democratizer. And then somewhere along the line money, user data, and algorithms took over.

Reverse chronological timelines morphed into algorithmic feeds labeled 'For You,' but the feeds don't actually show posts from the people you follow. This helped create the attention economy and influencers were born. Shortly after, the 2016 & 2020 elections helped create a toxic level of political polarization, online echo chambers fortified the barriers between those polarized, and misinformation campaigns continue to feed the flames of the burning social stack.

I'm done with all that. Over time I've learned that participating in the attention economy negatively impacts my mental and emotional well being and I am making a conscious choice to walk away from it. In support of this decision, I am rethinking how I spend my time online. Connecting and sharing with people is still important to me, but I want to do it in a mindful and responsible way. Here's how I plan to do this:

  • Reinvest in writing on the self-hosted web. I've written on the web since I was a kid and I really enjoy the act of working through thoughts and then putting those thoughts out into the world to see what comes back. A self-hosted site allows for writing at a deeper level than social media will allow and I maintain control over the final product. This website and newsletter – built on the open source platform Ghost – will be my home for that moving forward. You can sign up to receive posts via email, or not. No pressure.
  • Focus on the Fediverse. I've consolidated my social media use to mountains.social, an instance of Mastodon that's run by and caters to outdoor enthusiasts. The people are friendly, the community is vibrant, the culture is healthy and there are no algorithms. I'm enjoying my time there. Check it out if you're interested, or not. No pressure.

So here's to hoping I can enjoy a healthy relationship with the internet again. The spirit of the open web was a key enabler for this at one point in my life, and I'm banking that it will be again. Hello, old friend.