I joined Twitter in 2014, and in December 2022 I will probably leave Twitter, or at least log out a while. I’m exploring Mastodon (@firstname.lastname@example.org), but I’m currently more invested in making a bigger transition: I’m going to “take my talents to South Beach,” by blogging more and doom/cat-scrolling less.
I’ve lately been really inspired by Hilda Bastian’s amazing combination of reporting, analysis, and personal reflection at her PLOS-hosted blog, Absolutely Maybe; and by Thony Christie’s wonderful blog The Renaissance Mathematicus, and the freedom Thony has seized to be public, acerbic, and rigorous all at once. Institutions from the Dunn Museum in Lake County, Illinois to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin can show off in longer form and with more ownership of their own content.
I don’t think Twitter was ever a good platform for historians to talk about history: we work with long narratives, large amounts information, and we’re not good at fitting in 140/280 characters. Twitter has definitely had its place for gossip, job announcements, and asking for syllabus and citation help. The #coronavirussyllabus is a great example for what it can do. But the #coronavirussyllabus was not just a product of Twitter: it lives on Google Docs, and in the future it can just as easily be crowdsourced on Mastodon or H-Net — an old fashioned email list, but one which now has its own Mastodon instance.
And so, in 2022, I went and got a bunch of blog software. Well, it’s only two bits of software: the free RSS reader NetNewsWire (Mac and iOS), and the shareware blog composer MarsEdit. Free alternatives exist, especially Feedly, which is both excellent web software and has great mobile apps.
Besides: it’s 2022! You should have your own website and domain! It’s fun! It’s inexpensive, and you get to write on your own site instead of shoveling your content into some corporation or into the lap of a hapless volunteer admin. My domain costs me about €17 a year, and my WordPress host is about €50 per year, plus I get my own email address. It wasn’t the easiest to figure out, but I did, and it’s great. I think historian should try it for a weekend and see what they can do.
I went online for the first time in December 1995, when I turned 10 years old: for my birthday my parents bought me a Macintosh Performa 6200CD, complete with System 7.5.1, a built in 14.4 kbps dial-up modem, and a plastic folder full of educational multimedia CD-ROMs. It was $2300, or around $4500 in 2022 dollars (a ton of money!), and it was my family’s first new computer since my uncle sold my mom a used Macintosh Plus. In hindsight this was an unwise purchase: these were terribly engineered, unreliable computers that are remembered as the worst Macs ever. But that didn’t matter to us, because we didn’t know that at the time, and because it came built in with eWorld:
For $5 per hour over dialup we got email, forums, news, a “marketplace,” and a “business and finance plaza.” I was 10: I didn’t understand business and internet shopping wasn’t a thing yet, so the only things that were relevant to me was email, chatting with other (presumably older) people about computers in the “Computer Center,” and downloading shareware games and utilities that I couldn’t pay for. It was the Macintosh alternative to AOL, and for three months I loved it. In March 1996 Apple ended eWorld, so when I was 10 years and 3 months old I experienced the end of an Internet service.
As I write this I don’t know if Twitter will go away — either die suddenly like eWorld or just fade from relevance like Myspace — and I don’t know if Mastodon will actually succeed in replacing it. But I’ve been of the Internet and interested in the history of the World Wide Web long enough to know that 1) these things tend to collapse only very slowly, and 2) except for email there’s no such thing as permanent or universal internet infrastructure, at least for most of us users. In my online life I have called at least 18 different email addresses my “main” email address; I’ve been an active member of dozens of online forums; in high school I fell in and out of love on AIM; all of my college’s news and gossip lived on Livejournal; I got a Facepage my freshman year at Reed, and poked all my friends back when that still required a .edu email address; I remember when Instagram filters threatened to end photography; I once tried to get all my friends to dump Facebook for Google+; and in 2020 in the depths of the Covid pandemic’s first wave, I found a job on Twitter which sustained me for a critical year and a half of my life. When I moved to Europe I had to grudgingly accept WhatsApp into my life and the mere fact of being of Chinese descent means I have a WeChat to communicate with family members. (p.s.: iMessage and Facetime are great alternatives to WeChat for communication in Mainland China!)
In short: it’s perfectly normal to leave Twitter! This is how Internet communities have always been! And in 2022 I want to leave Twitter because the guardrails are off, I want to do my part to make Elon Musk and his friends and bankers lose $44bn, and I don’t want to be so closely complicit in another social media-fueled genocide the way Facebook was (and still is!) in Myanmar. I burned my Facepage in June 2020 after a few years of neglecting it — but I am not ashamed to remember olde-Fayceboke fondly and miss it. Twitter is still where I get breaking news about China, Ukraine, and the Deutsche Bahn.
As an academic and a computer nerd I find certain aspects of Mastodon really appealing (federation! community!) and really offputting (anticipatory defensive censoriousness!). I have serious doubts that Mastodon is anything more than the flavor of the month. If Twitter dies I will miss it, and if it doesn’t I will be sad to have left it.
2 thoughts on “Why I’m blogging and joining Mastodon but not leaving Twitter yet…”
Hello Daniel. I enjoyed your blog. I work to promote the Dunn Museum and the Lake County Forest Preserves. Thank you for the mention! Have you been here before? Just curious about the connection. Kim
I visited last month, my partner grew up in Wadsworth and she wanted me to see the mastodon bones they found in 1992. We didn’t realize they are now in Springfield, but I was very impressed by the Dunn Museum regardless.