Bestia ex machina

Just a little creature screaming into the void

It's been a little over a year since I ditched Twitter for Mastodon, and at this point I can say that it was one of the best decisions I've made in the last decade.

How it started

After everybody moved there from LiveJournal and deviantART, Twitter had been my online home of choice for more than ten years. All my long-time friends from the art community were there and we would use the platform to follow each other's art and life updates from all over the world. It was a great time – until we all turned into brands.

I don't remember exactly when social media marketing became a thing. But I do know that at the point our carefree teenage years were over, we all had to start making a living to pay our own bills – and in times of social media, there had never been a better opportunity to get seen and to make money doing what we loved.

So we suited up, professionalized, and turned Twitter into a marketplace. Over the past years, however, the online art community had fucktupled in size – resulting in many of our market cries drowning in the sheer mass of equally beautiful commission offers that were out there. So we expanded our social media presence to Instagram, Facebook and other corporate platforms with potential clients on them, resulting in many artists going into pure broadcasting mode (= posting content, but not actively interacting with the community) to save time and avoid burning out.

Simultaneously, the platforms had gone through a change: Users no longer had to actively put effort into finding cool stuff to look at, but the algorithms would bring it to them automatically, providing an endless stream of easy-to-digest entertainment. Content became much faster and easier to access, like, and scroll on to the next thing, rinse and repeat – no further effort or engagement required. An unarguably welcome development, given our jam-packed daily lives. So we no longer actively engaged in a community, we consumed.

Broadcasting and consuming vs. being a community

It's safe to say that the ever-present broadcasting-and-consuming mode is what killed the fun in corporate social media for me personally. (Right after my aversion towards billionaires, ads, tracking and corporate greed, but there's enough articles about that out there.) As someone who grew up in the golden era of forums and blogging platforms, where the Like function hadn't even been invented yet, and interacting with each other and exchanging information was the point of the whole thing, this recent development has become a huge turn-off for me, both as a creator and as a consumer.

It took me quite a while to realize: I want to be a person, not a brand or an audience. As a community member, I don't want to be marketed to and I don't want to market myself to others. I just want to have a good time!

Free time shouldn't feel like a side job

After more than a decade on Twitter, I thought it would be hard to let go, but at this point it felt like a faded relationship that had run its course, so it was more like a “k bye” moment than anything else. (I'm very privileged to have a secure job and not have to rely on monetizing my art, though, so I can't really blame anyone for holding onto Twitter and Meta for as long as they can in order to pay the bills.)

Only after I made the cut I realized how much of an impact corporate social media had actually had on my personal wellbeing. I wouldn't consider it an addiction thing for me personally; I couldn't have cared less for an algorithm providing random entertainment for hours on end. In fact, it was the slow-but-steady brain wash: My whole online life was eventually centered around staying relevant to Twitter's algorithm so my friends would be able to see my posts at all. Needless to say, this was exhausting. I already had a full-time job, I didn't need another!

An acquired taste

When I first came to Mastodon last year, I didn't feel like it was for me. Only less than a handful of my friends were there, and no matter how professionally I broadcasted my carefully crafted art posts: cricket sounds. I was absolutely bummed.

Just as I was about to pack my things and leave, I unexpectedly happened to end up in a genuine and wholesome conversation with the instance admin. This wasn't something that would happen on Twitter, and it was the moment I realized: There's people out there, not a soulless corporation or mindless consumers. And if you treat them like people, they'll treat you like people, too. What a concept!

Things massively improved from there. I started to actively engage in the community, commented on people's art instead of just liking, and pro-actively helped other fresh Mastodon users find their way around. Suddenly, it was just like in the old times, and within one year of genuine human interaction I acquired twice the amount of followers that I had after a decade of broadcasting on Twitter. (Human interaction is more important to me than follower count, mind you, but I felt like this deserved to be emphasized.)

How it's going

Spending my time away from corporate social media has been nothing short of a miracle cure for my mental wellbeing and a milestone in terms of character development, and I'm loving it! Not being constantly preoccupied with sacrificing my firstborn to appease The Algorithm™ or marketing myself to an Audience™, I've become much more laid-back, modest, patient and open-minded than I was around this time a year ago.

I made amazing new friends and like-minded acquaintances by nerding off about tech and music with strangers. I enjoy reading about everyone's special interests, and thanks to my ever-helpful fellow techies, I've learned a great deal about optimizing my private IT infrastructure, data security, open source software, accessibility and what to look out for in software and apps. Thanks to my homies nudging me into adding image descriptions for blind and partially-sighted users, I'm now eagerly learning more and more about accessibility in digital applications, which, in turn, is a useful skill I can apply in my job.

I could add so much more to the list, but I'll save that for another blog article. In conclusion, I feel like setting foot into the Fediverse has turned my life around in a good way, and I look forward to continue spending the next years in such great company!


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