And those people should not be listened to who keep saying “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”Alcuin, in a letter to Charlemagne, 798 CE
I have always viewed the works of God as circumstantial. Particles smashing into each other, ripple effects from the slightest word out of place, a momentary lapse of reason in one mind causing massive confusion in a million others. So to say “Vox populi, vox dei” – the voice of the people is the voice of God – is sensible to me. From our mouths to God’s ears, and therefore to Their hands and to our lives. The minute we act, think, speak, we become damned. Even when the outcome works in our favor, God touches us with yet another fragment of doubt. Have we done enough? Have we done right?
Thus the collapse of social media doesn’t surprise me. Twitter’s slow death was imminent, whether at the hands of Elon Musk or any other crackpot mind. Musk dropped a terrible amount of money on a worthless product, skinned the staff alive, and began reinstating the most toxic minds on the platform under the guise of the will of the people. “Vox populi, vox dei,” except the vox populi came from a sect of the population who would take pleasure in watching Twitter burn or spreading continued filth. There lies the rub: When you use “Vox populi, vox dei” as a ratification for your actions, the voice of the people has in fact done jack shit. You have a confirmation bias. If the populace had gone against you, you would have ruled them out and continued looking for affirmation elsewhere. At that point, skip the populi and go straight to dei; in other words, do your own thing.
All social media has fallen into the technological trash heap based on the whims of self-important billionaires who feel they have the final word on human communication. Facebook lost their millennial and Zoomer audiences to greener pastures, and the geriatrics still using it don’t care about virtual reality, which means Meta’s a bust. Twitter’s becoming the plaything of the alt-right and trolls thanks to Musk’s precocious meddling. Instagram has become stale trying to ride TikTok’s coattails. Mastodon, though up and coming, still has to get people to warm up to its federated structure. The real winner of existing social media platforms, in my view, remains Tumblr. It saw its nadir, but rose like a phoenix and now stands mighty above its toppling cousins. (The Tumblr community has celebrated by remarking on a long-lost Martin Scorcese film. You must see Goncharov if you haven’t already.)
In this time of doubt regarding social media platforms, we must write them off as nothing more than marketing tools. They’ve always been and we’ve just denied it. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even my beloved Tumblr: They’ve all mined our data and posts and sold it to the highest bidders. Then they’ve spoon-fed us ads based on our interests so that we might spend a buck on the vendors helping to bankroll the platform’s continued use of us as products. The vicious cycle reels us in like a sock in a washing machine which never gets us clean enough.
So what options do we have? We should be our own gatekeepers, for sure. Having our own blogs, our own websites, our own corners of the web where we own as much of our material as possible: This is the goal. No more allowing Bond villains to dictate the rules, no more shadow boards creating the framework of our methods of communication. If we are to communicate, we should rely on the old methods. Keep our circles close. Treat each other with some empathy. Talk to each other. Text each other. If we are to damn ourselves with every word, let us have some understanding about the extent of our damnation. Let us have some control regarding what we say, what we do. Even if the world today makes us all products whether we like it or not, let us do what we must to feel at least somewhat human, both by ourselves and with each other.
I’ve started to sunset my social media use, and it feels good. My writing shouldn’t feel like a gut reaction to the worst news of the day. My inner thoughts shouldn’t scream based on what some guy in Philadelphia or someone behind an anime avatar says. Social media has become a screaming match, a place for self-promotion, a popularity contest. No joy lives there. But here, in my corner of the Internet, I feel some kind of peace. I feel less condemned. Here, I feel some distance from “the riotousness of the crowd.”
This past week I’ve felt more mental clarity than I have in months. Good news has come my way and it means big things for the future. I look forward to sharing them here, and not so much on Twitter or anywhere else. If it sounds old or fuddy-duddy to say that, I don’t know if I care much. Let Elon have his plaything and let the other gatekeepers of social media writhe in their piles of money. I will sip my cheap coffee and treat this website like a temple, for it bears my name and says exactly what I want it to say.