There Is No Cat

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Saturday, August 6, 2022

The End of Social Media

Last week, I read this article positing that the age of social media was ending, being replaced by recommendation media.

It didn’t sit well with me, and I finally figured out why.

Before the Internet, broadcasting and publishing were “recommendation media”. They had gatekeepers. You couldn’t get past them. You didn’t have access to the audience. They were mass media, designed for one-way communication, from the few to the many. The Internet changed that, in ways that caused the powerful concern.

The move of a company like Meta from social media to algorithm-driven recommendation media is just another way of the powerful to reinstate gatekeepers. The places we used to create our own stuff have gotten so big that they’ve become the new mass media. And now that they are, they’re reinstating the control that mass media had in the past. Creators posting to Instagram have incentives to follow the dictates of whatever whim Adam Mosseri and Mark Zuckerberg decided is hot or else lose their audiences (cough, Reels, cough). Anyone else remember Facebook’s pivot to video a few years ago? I know there were a lot of publishers fucked over by that.

Before the Internet, there were alternatives to mass recommendation media. Zines were a way you could create. Public access television was another outlet where someone with an idea could make something. Pirate radio was yet another way to bypass the gatekeepers. Tools then were primitive. They’re much more capable today. With an iPhone and a Mac, you can make a movie in a way most could 50 years ago. With a post to Facebook in its social media days, you could start a movement that changes how Congressional districts are drawn in your state.

This is not how things worked in the past. A lot of people want to go back to the past, or at least to what they imagine the past to be (see the Republican party). Social media must be crushed because it’s a threat to the powerful. As Facebook/Meta becomes the powerful and becomes the new mass media, they join this backward tide.

A lot of my friends are casting around for alternatives to Instagram now that the gatekeepers are reasserting their power in the new mass media. Glass is opening up very soon to users outside the iOS bubble. Grainery.app is generating excitement in the film photography community. Even some forgotten media are joining in. I’ve had an account at Vero since 2018, and the last post I made there was in…2018. At least until my photographer friends identified it as an alternative to Instagram.

Zines are easier than ever to make. Companies like Mixam print a small number for a reasonable price, and you can set up on Etsy or Squarespace or Big Cartel or just post about it to Twitter. At least while Twitter is still committed to social media (not sure that’s true even today, to be honest, but they’re better than Facebook).

The Internet has made it possible for us to be the media. I basically stopped watching television 20 years ago because it was more fun to make stuff than consume stuff, and the net made it easy.

The mass media has taken hits from the increased access to audiences by mere mortals, and they’re fighting back by co-opting the tools we had to get that access. We need to fight that. Facebook may be comfortable as recommendation media, just like television is, but it’s not good for us, and it’s not nearly as satisfying as making your own stuff and sharing it with your peers. The recommendation media will say that social media is dead, that we have to go back to a mass media paradigm. But that’s never been true, and new social media sites, and existing things that have fallen out of favor, like blogs, provide us with the tools we need to fight.

Posted at 1:39 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2022, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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