Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Importance Of The Social Internet

Earlier this month The Art Of Manliness re-posted a podcast from 2019 entitled "Becoming A Digital Minimalist".  It is an interview with Cal Newport, who has written a book of the same name.  During the interview they discuss any number of topics:  what our new "digital" addiction is doing to our brain, why social media companies are at best questionable in their tactics and at worst evil (I have become convinced they are the latter), and how one can begin to live the life of a digital minimalist.  I do not often listen to podcasts - for some reason the medium does not work for me - but this is an hour that I would recommend you spend.

During the course of the interview, Newport makes an interesting - and arguably very salient point - about the difference between the Social Internet and Social Media.

In the beginning, he contends, the InterWeb was set up as a Social Internet.  Individuals went from site to site, commented, discussed, argued, and then carried on about their business.  Individuals expressed their thoughts and wrote their "web logs" (as we called them back in the day, to be shortened to "blogs").  People built sites and maintained them.

Over time, however, companies came in - Myspace, America Online - and began to offer people an InterWeb "ecosystem".  One no longer had to go out and find people and build a website and read and interact with them out there; that was hard.  Instead, one could go to a single point and find people and interaction.  The interaction at that time was very basic - discussion groups, server groups, individual pages that one could personalize - but the important part was that you were within the ecosystem, not outside of it.  All the "hard work" was done for you.

Fast forward to the current world:  We have replaced Myspace and America Online with The Book of Face and Tweeter, but the concept is the same:  come into our ecosystem and interact here instead of out there on the cold frontier of the InterWeb.  We can make everything flashy and easy for you to talk to others.

The problem - well vetted here and on other websites - is that by owning the ecosystem, the owner has begun to significantly curtail the type and amount of interactions.  People can no longer express their opinions or thoughts on particular things as they risk being banned by the Social Media system or being destroyed in an onslaught of words by other users in a place where it is easy enough to say what you want (when approved, of course) with no resulting consequences for your words or in some cases the resulting actions.

Newport argues that we need to get away from Social Media and back to the Social Internet.

I know - based on personal experience - that on the whole, it at least feels like the Social Internet is slowly dying.  It is hard to keep up a website or blog with new content, hard to make sure you are responding to comments (after all, it is just polite) - all made harder by the fact that for 99.9% of us, we derive no income from this and are only paid in the satisfaction of writing and the expression and discussion of ideas.  The InterWeb is littered with sites that have not continued and disappeared, including some that were my own favorites (R.I.P, Ol' Remus of The Woodpile Report).

But I am coming to believe this is some of the most important work that we can be doing.

If you upkeep a website or blog, you are one small piece of forged metal in the chain to keep free discussion and free ideas alive.  If you read a website or blog and if you comment thoughtfuly, you are one small piece strand holding the concepts of intellectual debate and objective truth together.  If you are doing any of this - to paraphrase John Conner from Terminator: Salvation - "You are the Resistance".

Social Media is the new collectivism: everyone hauled together in specific locations and only allowed to do and say specific things, monitored by political commissars that decide what is right and acceptable and who is to be punished, a place where quotas of right doing and right thinking are enforced and where the individual is only considered valuable in that they serve the purpose of the whole.

By contrast, the Social Internet is the frontier, the Agora of Athens, the Senate House of Rome, the Mead hall of the Vikings, where free men and women greet each other, exchange ideas, treat each other with the respect and measure due free individuals in a free society, where the individual matters as much as whole, if not more.

Sometimes it can feel that writing or maintaining a blog or even reading and commenting on a blog is a sort of wasted effort, a hobby that seems to go nowhere and have no impact.  I would tell you, friends, be encouraged and strengthened to do so.  In a world of confined opinions and an electronic and supranational culture that seems to constantly be narrowing down its allowed views to an iron ring of acceptability, it is still within our power to act and strike a blow for free thought and freely expressed opinions.

Let us remember that we, as individuals, have the power to change the world, no matter how small or feeble our actions seem.  We need only play our part and keep to the course laid out by all free thinkers and men and women of boldness and ideals.

"Make no show of cowardice then on your part, seeing the greatness of the issues at stake, and I will  show that what I preach to others, I can practice myself."  Brasidas son of Tellis, Spartan, The Peloponnesian War


  1. I posted a snippet of this and a link to your blog. This is exactly the way I use the 'net. I wipe my feet before I enter your blog, just like I would if I were to visit your home. I come here to learn and grow. You have treasure in here, for anyone that would care to look for it. Thanks for putting gold out here so routinely.

    1. Thank you very much StxAR!

      I like your visual of treating a blog like entering a home. If more did that, how much farther could we go in our general conversations?

  2. Glenfilthie6:32 AM

    I love the Agora reference. My tastes run from outright loons like myself, to skilled speakers like you. I will give the podcast a listen shortly. Like you... it’s not my favourite medium and I don’t listen to many.

    There are many ways to rebel against what is happening to our societies that are non-violent, constructive and ethical. We need to find more.

    1. Hah! I often feel more like an outright loon! The Art of Manliness actually has pretty interesting subjects so I do listen to a few.

      Yes, you are correct - we need to work on being more creative in our dissent. Non-violent, constructive, and ethical are all noble goals.

  3. I hear you..I have complaind so much about wordpress...but in many ways I am mailing it in myself these days. All of the blogs I started with are gone..some moved to youtube, some just gone ( I find it tiresome to post the same things all the time..but most of my posts are sorta new...newish.). I like having a blog as it is an organized history of our work..but don't care too much about it other than that these day.

    1. EGB, I for one would be said if you ended your blog. I find it endlessly inspirational.

      I have, in the past, had more than one blog. I just found that it was too much time and effort - I have enough of a struggle posting one blog entry a day. I can scarcely imagine doing more than one, or at least doing it well.


Your comment will be posted after review. Thanks for posting!