Dear pals, followers and denizens of the internet,
I’m off for a bit. Well, sort of.
To be precise, I’m retiring – for the time being, at least, but I pretty much plan/hope forever- from the bafflingly extended social media ‘universe’ that exists under the name ‘ravcasleygera.’
Bye, Twitter. Sayonara, Tumblr. Arriverderci, Google+. Not to mention WordPress, Quora, more WordPress, more Tumblr, a few Bloggers, Flickr, Friendfeed, and god knows how many others I’ve forgotten about.
Let me clear about what this isn’t – some Paul Miller-style fleeing of the internet. I’m not even going to stop using social media. I have a Twitter account as @casleygera, devoted to my (hopefully) developing development career, and I intend to keep using that. And I have a professional website, too, which I can kinda-sorta blog on.
But the way I use social media under that name is going to be – has to be - very different.
A brief history of ME (in online form)
I got my first blog in 2004, I think. It was on an entirely wretched service called ‘20Six’. Before long, it moved to Blogger, then WordPress.org, then WordPress.com. Then I was sort-of-on-Tumblr for a while, though I had a Tumblr before that, too. Somewhere along the line I set up a Blogger-hosted micro-blog, before moving to Twitter when that came along. And I used a variety of services, like Friendfeed, Lifestream.fm and others I can’t remember, to keep track of it all. (I had my Friendfeed RSS Feedburner’d, so people could subscribe to everything I did by RSS!)
I tried auto-importing comments I made on the web into my blog, then turned that off again. I had a public Facebook page, and agonized about whether I could find a way to transfer the ‘ravcasleygera’ username from my profile to the page. Then I changed my mind and deleted the page. Then I thought about bringing it back again, but didn’t.
(The nadir probably came early on, actually, when instead of having a blog, my Blogger page was just a background image with two embedded RSS feed modules, one showing the feed of another blog called ‘Things Rav Likes’, and another showing ‘Things Rav Made’. Because that makes sense!)
As recently as two weeks ago, I was still fiddling, deciding to ‘blog on Google+’ (that lasted two days) and signing up for Medium (where my only post is called something like ‘This is a Test Post of blogging on Medium’).
Finally, slowly, over the last couple of years, it dawned on me that the way I was using social media was not really about connecting with people, having conversations, learning, sharing interests. It was about just about plastering myself all over the internet, the way a child might right their name in big letters again and again on their exercise book, their school bag, their pencil case. Grabbing the username, grabbing the custom URL, putting it on my Flavors.me profile. It was about obtaining Full Spectrum Dominance.
“And I can’t tell you when you’ll see your name up in lights,” sang Bros. But web 2.0 – which, to be clear, I believe has tremendous value – makes it very, very easy to see your name up in lights – or at least, beautifully typographied on the PC screen. I spent hours – hours! – designing and redesigning how my name would appear on my blog. I put those header images on the background of my Twitter. I changed the colours of my Friendfeed to match the colours of my blog. I, obviously, frequently changed profile pictures, and went to pains to get them matched up across the slew of services I was signed up to.
I had a toolbar, folks. There was a Rav Casley Gera toolbar. I was 27! Not 12.
At one point my brother pointed out to me that it might be better to have one blog, about something, with a title, than to just plaster my name on every website that would have it and construe more-and-more-complex ways of bringing it all together (god forbid that anyone would miss anything). I felt genuine shock at the idea. Eventually, I relented, and the website long known as ‘Rav Casley Gera’s blog’ finally got a title, and a good one at that: ‘Here’s the Thing’. But of course I was careful to ensure my name was still right there at the top, and in the URL, of course.
I don’t want to make it sound like this was all ego. Some of it was just plain old-fashioned geekiness. Where older nerds might have geeked out maximising their PC performance or something, I geeked out maximising my social media presence. Here’s the Thing had its own Twitter feed, as did my short-lived photo blog. They had Facebook pages, too. God knows why.
(Not to mention the fact that a lot of this was repeated under different personas – I had my silly anonymous account that friends knew about, which had a blog, Twitter, Tumblr and home page; and a couple of other, anonymous, short-lived personas, too, that I used to talk about things I feared personal or professional consequences on.)
And during all of this – needless to say: nobody was paying any attention.
I don’t remember the first time I realised that nobody was actually really reading any of the acres of gunk I was spewing online. The first time I looked at my wordpress stats, probably. I guess I’d always assumed that I was doing better on Twitter – friends would reply, I’d get the occasional retweet from a random. But when Twitter opened up their analytics tools a few months ago, I got a nasty shock – most of the links I was sharing on @ravcasleygera got zero, or maybe one or two, clicks. It was at that moment I realised that maybe this kind of unfocused, look-at-me social media engagement was no good to anyone.
I’m not whining here. Why should anyone have been paying attention? There was nothing much to look at – no expertise, no pathos, not much humour. The sad fact undermining web 2.0 is that most people don’t actually have anything to say that’s of interest to that many other people. There’s a reason for 99% of the population (of those places folks even have the internet) ‘social media’ means ‘Facebook, Snapchat and Whatsapp’ – tools people use for communicating, privately, with their real-life friends. Other online communities, like Reddit and forums and whatever, can connect people with strangers of shared interests, and that’s swell. But the here’s-a-broadcasting-platform aspect of social media, that underpins blogging, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr – most of us really don’t have anything worth broadcasting.
Of course, an ordinary person can achieve a following on social media – look at Joe, for example. But I’ve realised that people tend to thrive on one social media service. You’re a YouTube star, or a Twitter genius, or a blogger. You probably have a thing you talk about – it might just be your life, but it won’t be a set of wannabe-opinion-writer material about a bewildering array of topics. You’re probably genuinely funny, as opposed to saying a lot of vaguely gnomic semi-amusing remarks.
And that brings me back to the future, and why @casleygera is my focus from now on – because it’s going to be about something I at least aspire to be truly expert about. Hopefully people will have a reason to pay at least a little attention. More to the point, though, it won’t take up as much of my time – not because I won’t be producing ‘content’, but because I won’t be fiddling around signing up under that name for every new social media service under the sun.
For example: the Full Spectrum Dominance approach would be to have a Twitter, a WordPress blog, maybe a Tumblr for image posts and quotes, and a .com as a sort of central repository for it all. Well, fuck Full Spectrum Dominance. I’ll post blogs on my main website so people can learn more about me if they visit. I could set it up so people can follow it on Facebook, but until someone tells me they actually want me to, what’s the point?
This is an approach grounded in actually thinking about how you can interact with people, rather than just about being everywhere you possibly can. If you write something useful for people, they’ll find it, regardless of whether you have a presence in their social network of sites.
At least, I hope so.
I could keep up some small level of @ravcasleygera activity, of course. I could try to focus on one thing – US politics, tech, pop culture, or one of the other million topics I’m interested in outside development – and edit myself better and publish regularly and try again to build a ‘following’. But I don’t see the point. I’ve always been more enthusiastic about setting up social media accounts than updating them. And I worry that if I don’t draw a line under all of this, I’ll find myself drawn back in to fiddling about instead of producing – yuck – ‘content’.
So, no. It’s over. If I have something to say, be it an opinion or a joke or whatever, I’ll send it to a friend who I think will like it. Maybe, if it deserves more of an airing, I’ll put it on Facebook, for my friends to see. But I won’t put it on Twitter for a theoretical audience of millions and an actual audience of about 12.
Let me be super-clear – I’m not saying any of you should quit Twitter, or anything else. I’m not even quitting Twitter entirely, after all, just this account. I think most people who use these tools use them in a way that’s broadly mature and healthy. (Although the recent wave of rage over Google+’s restricted usernames shows that many people still value vanity URLs and the like very highly, so I’m not alone.) Like an alcoholic who’s the only one giving up drinking among his friends, I have to accept I’m the one who can’t have these toys until I learn to play nicely with them – in a way that’s grounded in something more than OCD and look-at-me ego.
In the meantime, I’m not taking anything down. Go read my 2000-word post about Whitney Houston, my fast food reviews, my elaborate analyses of the Obama campaign. Some of them aren’t even shit.
Take care of yourselves, diffuse online ‘audience’. I look forward to checking the stats next week and finding out seven whole people have read this – and then not telling you all about it.