Why it’s time to reclaim our digital lives

I have been blogging, on and off, since 2002. I was 16.

The blogging scene has changed a lot since its mid-noughties heyday. It was once the most vibrant and dynamic way to communicate online. Now it is a minority pursuit. Today, good blogs seem to be few and far between.

Last week on Twitter I asked twice for recommendations of good blogs to read. I got just two responses.

Why I blogged

Blogging has been very important to me. At its peak, my blogs were attracting 18,000 visits a month. I think it has given me every major opportunity I have had. It sharpened my thinking, and it set my on my career path of running websites and now being a digital strategist.

I only started it as an aimless hobby. I took it up through a mixture of boredom and as a means of creative expression. Gradually, I built an audience.

I even ended up in the newspapers and on the radio a few times. It took me a while to understand why my blog was attracting that sort of attention. It was only several years later that I worked out it was probably because I was a moderately articulate young person being wheeled out to explain a curiosity of modern life.

There was no grand plan. That’s not how you are supposed to do blogging. A blog is meant to be about something. There is supposed to be a purpose.

Subconsciously, my blog did develop a purpose.

Sharp declines in my blog readership coincided with declines in my motivation to blog, which coincided with big life events — mainly to do with my career.

My blog never stood a chance once I got a proper job. It was a triple-whammy: a loss of motivation and a reduction of spare time coincided with the decline of blogging as a whole.

This year

This year I stopped blogging again. Completely by accident.

Since setting up this particular website in 2012, I have aimed to publish at least one article a month. This summer, I got too busy, and I missed that goal in June. Then I missed it in July.

I told myself I was just taking the summer off, so I didn’t even think about publishing anything during August. I would be ready, raring to go in September — another target missed.

Did I miss blogging? I wasn’t sure. But I did know that the time and the motivation were in short supply.

Along the way, I have begun to grow tired of life online generally. Finding blogs worth reading seems to be more of a struggle than ever.

Social media has lost its lustre

It’s not just blogging I have begun to lose interest in. Social media has lost its lustre for me. The more we come to understand about the big social media networks’ impact on society, the less appealing it becomes.

I am increasingly convinced that Facebook is a company that is simply up to no good. If they are not massaging metrics, they are turning a blind eye to questionable accounts that make them money at the expense of small businesses.

Meanwhile they are effectively trying to trick the world’s poor that Facebook is the internet.

Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet.

Then there is their role in the decline in quality of our news consumption, and the role their filter bubbles have played in emboldening and spreading extremist views.

You are the product — John Lanchester on the dark side of Facebook.

Twitter is not actively evil as a company, which is at least one notch up from Facebook. But as a platform, it has become a noisy amplifier of controversy and tired humour rather than a serious communication platform. And Twitter has no idea how to fix it.

Worst of all, I find social media boring (despite the best efforts of their oh-so-incredible algorithms). The feedback loops of the echo chamber are creating myopia and sameness. If something on social media surprises me, it’s only because it appals me. So much of my life is wasted logging into Facebook hoping to see something diverting, and only seeing the same old shit.

The decline in blogging coincided with the rise of walled-garden social media networks. We are still expressing ourselves online. We have just put it into the control of the malicious Facebook and the clueless Twitter.

Why Medium isn’t the answer

People still publish plenty of their own long-form content as well. But rather than setting up their own online presence, they put it all into the control of Evan Williams’s website, Medium.

Protecting the web as a democratic medium — my previous blog post outlining why Medium isn’t the answer.

I admire Evan Williams, I really do. In 1999 he co-founded Blogger. In 2006 he co-founded Twitter. In 2012 he created Medium. In short, he totally transformed the way people write online three times in less than 15 years.

So what happens if Evan Williams flips the lid? What happens when he gets bored of Medium? Or when its investors get tired of it not making any money and pull the plug? Will they do a Geocities and wipe all your content off the face of the world wide web?

Each time, it has taken Evan Williams an average of six years to invent his next big content platform. Medium is currently five years old.

I already feel bad that entrusted Flickr with my photos. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Bringing back blogging

Why are we putting our digital lives in the hands of these people? What has happened to the independent, pioneering spirit of the early days of the web? Why don’t people maintain their own web presences any more? Why don’t I maintain my own web presence any more?

What if blogging didn’t have to have a purpose? What if there didn’t have to be an ulterior motive? What if it was just what people did, rather than putting our digital lives in the hands of huge companies and shady start-ups that don’t have our best interests at heart?

I have decided to wind down my social media activity. I won’t stop using it completely, but I want to be less reliant on it, and to check it less often.

Instead, I’m going to give blogging another go.

Because I will be replacing my social media use, it won’t just be the long-form writing that has become the domain of blogs. I am going to be publishing a wider variety of content — Twitter-style asides, Instagram-style photo posts, interesting links like the old days of Delicious.

I am also intrigued by some of the ideas being pursued by the IndieWeb movement. IndieWeb seems to be in part a response to the same problems with web communication that I am currently experiencing.

I’ll be doing this all without purpose. I have no idea if it will make me feel more fulfilled online. But then again, I didn’t know where blogging would take me when I started 15 years ago. And it was great.

Oh and by the way, if you know of any good blogs I should be reading, please let me know in the comments.