I have spent about half my life online. Those early years were spent traipsing around the small villages of various university, educational, and hobby websites; the days when people learnt HTML and CSS (and later, PHP) and made websites on Geocities and Angelfire (and later, got their own domains with quirky and wonderful names), and the emergence of blogs and bloggers on Livejournal and Blogger (and later, Wordpress). “Social media” as it existed were website guestbooks, webrings, messageboards, and IRC and instant messengers. The Net was indeed a web of small villages, and websites were private homes: some of them familiar, some idiosyncratic, all of them recognizably belonging to a human being. The Internet and I, we came of age together.
But we grew up, and the times have changed. The Net is simultaneously fragmenting while consolidating, and in all the wrong ways. Consolidating, in that the websites have stopped being private homes and started becoming homogenous apartment complexes. The villages have been crowded out by sprawling urbanization. Fragmenting, in that those institutions have developed such centres of gravity that people are amassed within them, and have to travel between walled gardens and silos in order to engage with each other. The institutions consolidate and set the culture of format and engagement; the person fragments while moving between those edifices and expressing the self through externally-imposed standards. Thus, people’s identities stopped looking idiosyncratic and started looking uniform. The Internet no longer looks so human.
Because it looks less human and more of a technology-industrial complex, it’s easy to forget that people’s accounts and feeds are their homes on the Net. It’s easy to forget, when I land on someone’s Tumbleblog or Twitter account, that I am the guest who was invited to come in for a little while to listen to them speak and sing. It’s easy to stomp all over that person’s home on the Net and get into fights on their property. –Was it their property in the first place? It was the institution gave them that grey box to live in, identical to my grey box.
I’ve accepted that there’s no turning back the clock, but in the process of the Internet maturing into Web 2.0 and beyond, I’ve been kind of cast adrift, and have spent most of the last decade trying not just to find the Internet spaces that look human and echo the small villages of my younger days and thus can be called a home, but also trying to define what the Internet-as-community means to me, and therefore, how I am to relate to Internet-as-community. In some ways, this fragmentation and thinning of human identity on the Internet has contributed to me becoming less invested in online forms of self-expression. I’m no longer the agent defining my own online identity, let alone defining Internet-as-community. That role has been taken over by those institutions. So I no longer blog and make websites and speak out my thinking online, who did a lot of both in the Internet’s (and my) coming-of-age. Some of that is realizing that I am a human-in-flesh, not some disembodied consciousness in the aether, and thus life is best lived IRL; but in part, I always had a lingering subconscious sense that ownership and expression of my online identity was being eroded and fragmented over time. Since those early days, I haven’t been able to find a place to speak or make a home, ever since.
I think… Micro.blog may be that homey place I’m looking for. A place where I can consolidate my online identity from the fragmentation it’s experienced across social media. A place where the community is “broken down” back into small, idiosyncratic houses I can visit and be a guest for a short time (and they be a guest in my house), instead of monolithic aggregations of people with no sense of walls and boundaries. And a place where it’s easy to make and post content of all kinds without having to figure out the systems to hold said content. The Internet has outgrown my very basic HTML and CSS skills.
I’m not looking for a platform or an audience. In fact, one luxury of the Internet is that I don’t have to see, or hear, or engage with, the audience. I just want to sing. I want to carve out a little crevice of the Net, hide inside, and sing all kinds of odd little word-based and occasionally picturesque songs. Sure, there are lots of places to do this, but they usually want me to sing in a certain way (in 280 characters, or manicured images, say), or sing amidst a cacophony of other voices, or jump through hoops to sing in the first place. At least, it feels that way to me.
I’m not pinning all my hopes in this place. No doubt Micro.blog will face challenges with maintaining this sense of villages and private houses as it expands and grows, and more people arrive. If it gets too overwhelming, I’ll pack up my content and fly away and find another crevice to carve out. But for now, this seems to be the place I’m looking for. Let’s see what kind of little house I can build here. Maybe it’ll be a cozy one for a while.