There has been a recent movement to “re-decentralize” the web, returning our activities to sites like this one. I am unsurprisingly sympathetic to this as an idealist, and this post is my commitment to renew that ideal. I plan to write more here from now on. However, I’m also a pragmatist, and I feel the re-decentralizers have underestimated what they are up against, which is partially about technology but mostly about human nature.
…It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.
He notes that most people simply don’t have time to write at length, which is another strong incentive to stick to the minimal demands of Facebook and Instagram. I would add that even if they had the time, most people are not particularly driven to philosophize about the world and articulate those thoughts in medium-to-long-form essays. As always, that doesn’t mean they’re stupid or shallow; it’s just that regular writing, even of the amateur variety, is a discipline like any other, and very few people have the odd single-mindedness necessary to stick to a discipline with military precision and religious zeal. Most people would want to be compensated for the time and energy they invest in writing with money, attention, or both, and as he says, the centralized web is far more efficient at providing those opportunities. Was it ever about writing per se, or was it just about self-expression? If the latter, well, that can be accomplished through sentence fragments, photos and videos in much less time. As a fellow who would surely know put it, “Convenience decides everything.” Easy is better, easiest is best.
There may well be a fair number of other oddballs out there who can find the motivation to write in nothing more than self-contained aesthetic enjoyment, but, largely by definition, they’re not going to attract notice. Or, to put it another way, there might be plenty of people who are happy to maintain blogs, but blogging itself is never going to be a cultural “thing” again, except possibly in the aspirational sense — having a blog might signify authenticity by virtue of its old-fashioned impracticality, like so many other status symbols. In a best-case scenario, perhaps in the spirit of Morris Berman’s New Monastic Individuals, blogs might come to be another redoubt of those who choose to turn their backs and walk away from the cult of convenience. That will always be a tiny minority, though.