Finding Our Place Online

"issue": 075

Our social products were supposed to be a new sense of home. A digital 3rd place you could expand your sense of self. The best neighborhoods you could form, experience, and extend relationships within.

So what happened?

Our web1 emergent ideals of online spaces didn’t last too long. With the ushering in of Facebook and the subsequent giants we live within today, came a new set of realities. Instead of fluid expansion and expression, we flattened identity for ease of perpetual consumption. Instead of space, we restructured time to continually surface top down recommendation.

We thrive on enragement bait. Constantly positing our individuality against those of others. Wrapped in anxiety driven status games.

Agency, is constantly being stripped away from those that construct the very experience that is the network.

We’ve heightened an abstracted sense of relationship to each other. Removed the notion of physical closeness. Lost abilities of ownership, and definition.

Even our group and “community” platforms are over-run with floods of notifications with low context and 0 structure other than holding the chat itself in messy tabs to navigate. This doesn’t even mention the increased social dialogue of the need to join as many communities as possible… never finding what we are actually hungry for.

It’s bleak. And we can all admit that. And we can also all admit, that we have to be here.

We want to be here, because we want to be close. We want to be present.

I’ve been thinking about finding my sense of place online for a while. It’s been an outwardly facing mission for some time. It’s something I consistently struggle with — as exemplified by my recently unfollowing of 300+ people on Twitter.

Instead, I continually come back to those values: closeness and presence.

I believe everything rotates around these themes. It’s why we get upset at our partners. Why we go to parties. What makes a good meeting or bad meeting. The reason families have been structured in a fairly consistent way for centuries.

The question then becomes: What are the technologies we can leverage to embody these values?

Not an abstracted mental leap we tell ourselves, but a daily lived reality for how we socialize online.

There’s been a lot of abstract hype around concepts of “the metaverse”. Informed by the rise of web3 and popular gaming, fueled further by the sci-fi reverence the wider technology community holds for literature like Snowcrash and Ready Player One.

I don’t care to give my take on this subject specifically (Matthew Ball has said too much as is, and VCs used to look at me crazy when I talked about the metaverse years ago), as much as care to give us another reference point to extend from.

“Lifecycle of a Software Object” by Ted Chiang.

Where we see the ties of community within a spatial app, slowly falter as compatibility to port to a new spatial world that’s gaining popularity struggles.

This to me is far more accurate to the emotional resonance we will and should feel in these environments, how these environments will operate, and how these environments may struggle… than anything else I’ve read.

What I focus on, daily, is what it means to hold place in these worlds. Looking around at what we have today, in gaming and social, I’m still deeply unsatisfied.

What we can build today, right now, to bring us to a new understanding of what social might be?

What social is, and will always be, is about presence and closeness. Everyday we enter spaces to have this exact sensation. We use artifacts to form our environment towards our desires. And we adjust our presentation of self to both mesh with and reflect from those around us .

It allows us to feel touched, from hundreds of miles away. To hear someone, we have yet to meet, but can understand deeply from a consistent closeness of a dedicated relationship.

Where we are going, where we need to go before it all breaks down, is a new spatial alignment.

It’s world building. It’s agency. It’s knowing who your neighbors are, and that meaning something.

We want to build vibrant online neighborhoods, bursting with emergent cultures.

To achieve that, it’ll take something really new…

I don’t do edits really, so excuse typos and things that don’t make sense.

Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.

Much love.

Live in the light