Asocial people such as myself naturally gravitate to the internet and always have done (and to books, I think, before the advent of modern social media). There's nothing wrong with people like me and our preferences.
There's a lot wrong with social media, which is generally more properly termed antisocial media. It's not that I think all interactions have to be purely positive. I might be retiring, but I'm not shy. In fact, I love to argue online. Or, I did when it seemed like I was having a real discussion with another human being. One who I knew - one who was part of a community with me (a forum, a mailing list, a guild...). One who might listen to me, and to whom I might listen.
That's completely opposite to the mindless, frothing rage deliberately engendered by the likes of Facebook. I realised something about arguing online had changed, and for the worse, though I thought the change was in me. Maybe I was just becoming all serene and enlightened (I absolutely have not, thank god).
I noticed the mood worsening on my feed. All I was seeing was stuff people were angry about, and it made me angry. So I left an angry react on it, so we could see how angry we all were about it, together. That's community, right?
Maybe sometimes, but in this case it was literally because Facebook worked out that it was more profitable to show us things that made us angry. The angrier we got, the more we scrolled. The more we scrolled, the more ads they could serve us.
It took me a long time to believe this. I really thought the problem was me and how I was using the app. After all, these algorithms were there to learn what I liked, right? And I really did like getting angry. So I unfollowed various pages, left various groups, and when something made me angry, I resolved to scroll straight past it.
Of course, it didn't help. I don't remember why exactly I left Facebook - if I realised my quest to get an enjoyable feed was pointless, or if there was some kind of extinction burst of Facebook clawing for my attention in a way that might have just as easily led to an aneurysm - but I'm glad I did.
I haven't used Twitter for maybe a decade, but I've heard it's similar there. And stuff like Instagram and TikTok just never interested me. I thought I was fairly safe with things like Reddit and Tumblr. They do make use of algorithms, but it's fairly easy to curate your feed. The default way to use Tumblr is to view all the posts by everyone you follow in reverse chronological order, which is pretty close to ideal (my ideal Tumblr would include an option for actual chronological order, where you last left off - one that works). You can use Reddit like this, too - you can sort by new - but unless you're only in a handful of small subreddits, you'll never see everything, and nor will you particularly want to, making the (mainly?) upvote-based algorithm sorting the only reasonable way to use the site.
Reddit is, of course, more or less a cesspit. If you have a choice between thousands of Reddit users or any other demographic choosing everything you see online, the only sane choice is the latter. Making it one of my main hangouts again reminded me why I'd left years ago, when the place had actually been more pleasant, if you can believe it. So I packed my social media bags again and contented myself with Tumblr alone. Relatively female-friendly Tumblr, with its focus on individual blogs who you could get a feel for over communities where you had to judge how many men there were how much into rape jokes and how fast the mods deleted them... if they indeed did. Great, right? Well, Tumblr has a thousand problems, but it does have plenty going for it, too.
But there's something about feeds. I don't think it's inherently a bad word, but it has unfortunate connotations. I'm still happily subscribed to various RSS/Atom feeds, but apart from a news digest, they're all for articles, not for short text posts and images.
Don't get me wrong. I love short text posts and images. That's where they keep the jokes and the cat pictures. But I had to ask myself if it was worth it any more. Worth sifting through a weird mixture of personal posts from friends, memes, poetry, photography, news snippets, and attempts at meatier posts that never took off because everyone (including myself!) was just scrolling down down down, through a dashboard that always seemed to be simultaneously too long and too short every day.
Again, no amount of ~curating~ changed things. I really think the problem is the format. The feed of little tasty snacks... it's like a bag of sweets for your brain. You can't live on it, and it leaves you wanting more, but too much makes you sick.
I got into Neocities before I decided to call it quits on non-fandom Tumblr. And there's a social side to Neocities that might not be apparent to outside visitors, but mostly we just comment on each other's websites. Which I think is a good thing. This is a website-website, after all.
But I really do like making friends online, and just seeing what people are up to. As I said at the beginning, it's why people like me come online, and even people with more stomach for socialising offline can enjoy it, too. Where to go to fulfill this urge? I was always happiest on forums, but they don't really exist any more. A lot of activities that used to take place in forums, and that people seem to want to bring off the big social media sites again, are on Discord, but me and Discord go together like potassium and water (I'm not sure which is which, only that I became alarmed and fled).
Aside from forums, I'd also been pretty happy on Livejournal, which has also died a death. Or several. And the most recent was to do with users' data being sold... They say that if you're not paying to use a service, you're the product, and it's largely true. It's not true here on Neocities because subscribers and donators fund the site for everyone :) And I was wondering if there was another site like that when I remembered Dreamwidth. It's similar to Livejournal but it's funded in a similar way to Neocities. It's also about as dead as Livejournal, but there's still plenty of activity as I discovered signing up at the start of 2022. And it's not like the experience of a dead forum, where you really feel alone and consequently lonely, because journalling is ultimately a solitary pursuit, even with the fun social angle.
Is this whole article a plug for Dreamwidth? I guess it ended up that way. If you're still leery about making your own site here on Neocities, the customisation there could be a good stepping stone for you. If you feel fully allergic to HTML and CSS, it is also optional, so you can ignore it and use premade themes etc. exclusively. If you have a website, even if your site has some kind of diary/etc., you might still enjoy the community aspects of Dreamwidth. Think about signing up, if you haven't already!
One thing I can say against Dreamwidth (this article really wasn't meant to be about Dreamwidth, or not exclusively) is that socialising there is effort. Reading people's posts, commenting, responding to comments... I saw a meme on Tumblr that was either a screenshot of Wikipedia or a photo of some childhood education textbook, with a photo of two toddlers side-by-side illustrating the concept of 'parallel play': when kids are playing 'together' but not actually with each other. The meme was comparing that to Tumblr and it's absolutely true. Dreamwidth is the opposite. But I'm starting to learn that what's easiest isn't necessarily most enjoyable, let alone best for me.
The highest-effort, highest-reward, most security- and privacy-conscious way to keep up with people online is, of course, to email them. And that's something I've been making more use of, too - but it's not an easy way to make new friends, and it's not ideal for one of my favourite ways to socialise online, which is to talk to myself and see if anyone wants to join in.
I think I've found a good balance for myself between this site, my new Dreamwidth, resolving to email people more often, and keeping only my fandom-related Tumblr blogs. But I've thought that before, and I'm keeping an open mind. The internet is always changing and so am I, so my goal is to just keep checking in on myself and seeing if my internet usage is working for me or against me. There is nothing about the modern web that says we have to let it make us miserable.