Picking My Online Spaces

I started blogging with Livejournal way back in 2003. I had to get a code to access the site and found myself posting my thoughts and enjoying the process. Facebook didn’t happen until 2007 when I started my Library and Information Technology program. Many classmates made up my earlier friend’s list, and it taught me a lot about online spaces and the psychological toll they take. I would lose a ‘friend’ and wonder what I did to warrant a loss. In the end, the reasons didn’t matter, and I tucked the response into the back of my mind. I knew something was up and had no words to describe the ugly turn discourse was taking.

Twitter happened in 2009, during my first job. I worked with a librarian at a medical library and took a webinar on using Twitter to promote library work. I was hooked. I tweeted, blogged, joined Instagram to post pictures, and overhauled my privacy on Facebook. I had a minor scrape with a minor Winnipeg figure, an architect who had his own column in the Winnipeg Free Press, and a following that swarmed my feed. It involved a quote tweet about shopping at Wal-Mart I found unfair and frankly classist. It took another local figure to say, ‘you know, I can see what she sees too.’ By then, the damage was done, and I hesitated anytime I wanted to post something. I retweeted and mainly commented on friends’ posts.

I downloaded Tik Tok and, lordy, wasting time had nothing on this app. I loved the cat videos, the dancing, the great geek takes, and some people had the gift of teaching challenging concepts in three minutes or less. I follow a lot of epidemiologists, nurses, and doctors.

Then I had a video come up on my ‘For You Page, ‘ making me stop and gasp in disbelief. I had seen my share of disinformation, misinformation, and ugly instances like watching Twitter swarms in real-time. (I reported accounts watching Leslie Jones dealing with death threats while trying to enjoy her commentaries.) It’s the long way of saying a new low was born.

With several bylines from various outlets from Buzzfeed to Slashfilm, a woman on Tik Tok claimed the Roman Empire was not real but invented by the church during the inquisition. This theory was one of her known ones, but it also included how romance languages were not real but another invention. (Portuguese Tik Tok stepped in to say, ‘Oh no, you are not erasing my language with your garbage.’) Watching this woman do her videos with certainty boggled my mind.

Soon, a young man joined the fray with his debunking videos and a back and forth started. It turned out the young man, styling himself a ‘free speech advocate’ and was a member of the Young Republicans club. He said Orange Choas surrounded himself with the wrong people in his college newspaper, except General James Mattis. Rather than debunk the woman’s theories, many people with a classics or art history background offered insights about the nature of scholarship and its changes. Anytime someone counters her with a fact, she replies with sarcasm delivered in a bored tone. I didn’t want to name or link to either of these yahoos.

I stuck to cats, dogs, and dance movements on Tik Tok. Blogging remains my first love. If I learned one thing from my Twitter experience, you could act as mild as possible, yet people will take issue and some revel in being an asshole. It’s a short-term high, acting like an asshole. Once the euphoria wears off, there’s a feeling like something got subtracted. I tried being an asshole, mistaking it once for assertiveness. I never forgot the feel of subtraction afterward, and it’s the only word I came up for feeling ‘lessened.’ It didn’t sit right, and it took me a while to learn you had to be an asshole more and more times to make it sustainable. No, I thought, it’s not a way to live.

While people try to avoid social media, and some generally do, avoiding online interaction proves next to impossible. How many accounts do you have connected to an app? McDonald’s did away with their stickers for collecting a free coffee with their McRewards app to collect points for free coffee and snacks. No Thanks. Banking? Shopping? Simple customer service?

The last one made me think of the ‘bots’ used for customer service chats. A department at the college asked the library about our chat service. They were surprised and, dare I say, disappointed, we didn’t use bots to automate our service. It left me stunned. Students need actual human beings to help them with their inquiries, and they can make or break retention. There’s a reason for my persistence, as one person called it. I dealt with too many people who don’t care, and I get it. This pandemic has sucked the life out of the living, and online people crave connection. They want to be heard.

It’s why I blog. Shout into a void, get a response once in a while. Also, be the response when called to do so. In a way, I am glad we got the internet. When it’s not a den of misinformation, people from other places feel less alone. I remembered people on the LGBTQIA spectrum keeping things quiet, except telling one or two people but feeling alone. The fandoms I saw around Winnipeg skewed male, making me wonder where the girls are. (They were around, it took me a few more years to find them.)

At first, I went everywhere online but now act selectively online. It’s not creating a filter bubble, but I have a purpose, and I enjoy creating ‘content.’ I do it for me and hope people like it. It took me a while to get there, not react, and forget the pressure to ‘influence’ or ‘produce.’ We used to create with joy, and it’s something I see sucked out of the young people on various platforms. They make and share, unsure about who they are and find themselves on a heap. The cycle continues again and again. We need wiser voices online, older voices, so we can say, ‘you can snark about us oldsters, but someone day you will be one and here’s what we learned.’

One thought on “Picking My Online Spaces

  1. So, I kind of hate to say this, but I really think it’s what you make of it. I do think some people *still* walk into these things naively and get burnt. To me that was more understandable in 2003 than it is now. I try to figure out before I get too involved how the particular network influences discussion and how that might affect me. I wrote a long answer and deleted most of it, but the summary would be that I have had a great experience on FB, a very good one on WP (with the exception of 2013-14), a negative one on Twitter, a neutral one (no opinion) on tumblr and Instagram and snapchat. It has a lot to do with keeping different groups of people very separate (e.g., I usually don’t want to hear anyone’s political opinions unless I know them personally or extremely well; it’s too easy to judge — and I also don’t want to find myself “friends” with someone via social media and then discover later that they are a casual or even serious racist once I am already emotionally invested). This means that some of my social media ‘friends’ do not see every side of me, but I don’t see that as an issue at all. The growing expectation that our casual acquaintances should know everything about us is unrealistic and unreasonable and potentially dangerous.

    I only access these networks from my laptop, never from a phone (combination of hating phones and not getting why people would want to have them around all the time except for actual calls, which I also don’t like, and being tense about security risks on phones, which is why I have never touched TikTok). I realize that this position is a disappearing luxury and that relatively soon it will not be possible to forgo phone use in the way that I have up till now. I plan to hold out as long as possible. It probably helps that I don’t especially enjoy shopping and I enjoy online shopping less.

    I really hate “bot” customer service, but it’s a function of my feeling that customer service generally is now controlled by algorithms (even informal ones, and even if you’re talking to a person). My most predominant experience with customer service is that the agent does not actually listen to what I say because they are already trying to predict how what I might say could fit into the algorithm in their head. I just had a car repair done today and the person who got my business was the one who listened to me as opposed to just hearing “flashing oil light” and playing the tape in their head for that particular problem.

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