2020-09-05 The shadow people of social media

When Google+ ended, I had about two thousand followers and was following a few hundred people. On Mastodon, I now have about 1.7K followers and I’m following about 550 people. What a strange feeling – not because there are so many people listening but because I don’t interact with that many people. I don’t think that the problem is the Dunbar number: I interact with less than 150 people and I read more or less all the post of the people I follow. I suffer from fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), yes I do. What remains is the slow dread of being followed and following 80% zombie accounts. It’s not a clear cut thing for now, just a feeling of unease.

Back in 2019 I was talking aboug Google+ and the blogs and using arguments such as the data krakens of our time. But really, what has changed? The data krakens are probably just connecting to the fediverse and siphoning our data, selling it for pennies. Psychopathic programmers at work.

Anyway, what does that mean, when I feel like I’m standing in the light somewhere, with maybe fifty other strangers from the Internet, surrounded but hundreds, maybe thousands of shadow people. Maybe they’re listening, scribbling into their notebooks, recording with the ingenious devices, feeding the data tanks and refineries, or maybe they’re dead, their faces permanently frozen in that strange grin of their last post made a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. Dead husks, their owners moved on, have a different life, a different presence. They shed their skin and left it there, standing in the shadows. In cyberspace, there’s no gravity to pull it down; there’s no funghi to break it down; digital junk and digital identities remain. Nothing is forgiven, and nothing is forgotten.

Perhaps these are the first signs of winter coming. The sky turns grey and grows heavy, the clouds come lower and lower, and life between heaven and earth is a drag, all is mud, wet clothes, rotting leaves. I fear those short days of murky light and that cold grip of winter on my ribs.

Sometimes I idly wonder about restarting the Mastodon account. Delete all the followings. Block and unblock all the followers (I think that’s how you force-unfollow others?), delete all the earlier blocks, delete all the favourites, boosts, and posts (archiving them offline, I guess – but what for?). And then see what happens. Would I end up in the same bubble? Would I start with ten people I remember from before the reset? Thirty? How important would it be to make a reset permanent instead of a new account? Would a simple alt account do the trick? Perhaps the finality of a reset would change the outcome. No peeking at the old lists!

@pet84rik says that you end up in almost the same bubble. “People with about the same interests will find your, sooner or later.” I guess that’s a good thing? Shake off the shadow people and find your bubble again?

There’s also the interface to consider. One of the ways to find new people is to look at the public feeds, the local feed and the federated feed. But if you have “enough” people you’re following, you don’t need to check the public timelines anymore. And if you’re on an instance that’s no longer open, there are far fewer new folks looking for people to follow on the public timelines, too.

Lots of guessing and vague feelings of winter, that is all.

My summer break is over, I spent a week at the office again. I also drank a glass of Armagnac. I didn’t drink any spirits over the summer break. Is work making me drink? Would I turn into an alcoholic over the years? I must shake all those winter thoughts. Maybe part of the problem is COVID-19. I don’t miss people. I don’t like people. At least I think I don’t. But perhaps without people, my mental health is starting to drift a little. I should meet more friends just in order to get centered.

I’m going to ask my wife for a run, get some fresh air, see the sun and the sky and the grass and the bees, to hear kids and dogs and crickets. Autumn has just begun. There’s still time.


love your remark about there not being any fungi to break down the old detritus in cyberspace. the natural processes benefit us all yet we’ve forgot to build them in to our online worlds

– lukee 2020-09-05 14:26 UTC

Yeah, like gravity, all these omnipresent things need extra programming in cyberspace.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-05 15:33 UTC

I went for a run with my wife and it was nearly two hours long and it was peaceful and we were in the flow and the forest was green and the sun was shining and our feet were tapping along in harmony, it was wonderful. Then we went out for dinner with friends and it was interesting and we laughed a lot and it was wonderful, too.

– Alex 2020-09-05 22:49 UTC

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