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confluence episode 23: is this thing on?

Posted on 20 January 2018

I have started publishing my newsletter again. You can sign up here.

So it has apparently been over a year since my previous letter went out, which was not a thing I intended to happen. I can tell you that in the intervening time I have still been writing, but looking back on it I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the way we, or at least I, communicate online.

My job is creating daily content. I am currently doing that online (see a l’il professional news or wait til the end of this letter, when I promise to include a list of everything I link to here), and I’ve noticed an interesting thing from people who are not in the content-creation industry: when I tell them my output is three to four stories a day average, they are shocked at how high that number is.

And that is actually kind of crazy. At 400-600 words a pop, that’s in the realm of 2,000 daily from me alone. Extrapolate that out to everyone in my field, then add all the other fields and we have thousands and thousands of hours of content to consume being created on a daily basis.

Of course this is nothing new, but it really does start to feel like we’re at some sort of saturation point. Facebook, the place where people spend most of their time online, is explicitly trying to show people less ~content~ from people like me and more “connections” from their family and friends.

The smartest take I’ve seen on why Facebook is doing this comes from Ben Thompson, who argues that the biggest threat to the company isn’t some other social media upstart, but a mass realization from people that social media isn’t all that good for, similar to what happened to the tobacco industry.

I’ve been going through my own thought process with Facebook when, in the middle of the last year, I decided to break my personality on the platform into two pieces: one personal and one professional. Again, I will be linking to the blog posts I wrote explaining why in more detail at the end, but the short of it is I simply felt like Facebook as a way of fostering connection and community was broken and this was an effort to fix it by turning my personal account into one I used for fun and keeping my professional account out in the open.

What’s happened instead is I have found myself drifting away from Facebook altogether— where I used to post daily, I see it’s been over two weeks since my last status update, which might actually be some sort of a record in my ten years plus of being on there.

This isn’t some dramatic “I’m quitting Facebook” post because 1. it is still a very useful way to keep connections in the form of a universal messaging book and local event guide and 2. Facebook itself isn’t really the issue. What is the issue is an overall feeling that it’s a noisy world and, subconsciously, I think I’ve been trying to sort out how much noise I want to contribute. Even this newsletter: when I first conceived of it it was going to be a weekly send of things I made and links to things I found interesting, but now I wonder if that’s really anything anybody needs and, beyond that, whether it’s something I want to create.

One thing that I’ve never felt bad about, though, is my blog, which goes back just about as far as my Facebook. It’s not as full of connections and photos but it is a pretty good representation of me at different points in my life, not so much in where I was and who I was with but in how I was thinking about issues that matter to me.

People used to have blogs that were what Facebook profiles now— their outward-facing selves in an online world. Posting wasn’t as frictionless but in my rose-tinted glasses having that additional step of difficulty is a feature, not a bug. Facebook (and Twitter, though to a lesser extent I find) are constantly prompting you to post with writing prompts and notifications, whereas the blog just sits there, only getting used when you feel the need, not some algorithm that is concerned with how profitable you are for stakeholders.

One of the big lines with having your own website is that you own your presence but after years of having other companies successfully buy up people’s personalities and connections in order to monetize them, I’m starting to realize how important that really is to me.

Again, none of this is a manifesto. I’ll keep on being online and this is simply a snapshot of how I feel about that right now. Maybe you are nodding in agreement and maybe you are shaking your head and that’s fine because what’s important is how you feel about it.

Anyways, thanks for listening! Here are some things.

Where have I been

I imagine most of you know me in real life in some form, but just in case the story of 2017 was I am now focused on writing stories about Prince George and northern British Columbia for online audiences at cbc.ca/bc. It’s a whole different set of tools and it’s interesting – my current run lasts until March. If you are in the region you can bookmark this page alongside whichever other sites you use.

I also took a trip to New Zealand, for pleasure and two to Toronto and one to Vancouver, for work. All were good! New Zealand is the most Canadian foreign country I’ve ever been to which was an interesting experience. My favourite place was Rotorua which is full of geysers and boiling hot water everywhere- it just comes up in people’s backyards and through streets. Kind of dangerous, I guess, and smelly, but quite something.

Writing I did you might have missed – personal

I won’t post everything that I wrote on my blog here, but I will share some of the highlights. There’s not a whole lot if you want to go through the whole thing.

Writing you might have missed – professional

Here are some pieces I did for CBC that I think are interesting beyond being daily news pieces.

Writing that’s made an impression on me

And in the spirit of what my letter was about, Ben Thompson on Facebook’s Motivations, posts on stepping back from social media by Ben BrooksMatt Gemmelland Om Malik.

Music cuts

I did my annual year-end roundup mixtape for 2017 (and, I guess since I didn’t send it out, 2016).

I’ve also created a perpetual playlist on Spotify that is going to be a constant flux of new and old favourites that you can subsribe to, if you want.

Filed under: blogging, letters, media

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