How Mastodon Social changed the way I think about My internet usage

This wasn't the first time I had tried to jump ship to another social network. Back when Ello first got its initial boost of publicity as a social network that would use a freemium model instead of harvesting user data I was sold on the idea. I and two or three friends made accounts and tried it out. After two or three posts we all went quiet. My account now sits dormant there, occasionally prompting an email in my inbox failing to tempt me back to use it.

The trouble with trying to move to a new social network is for it to be successful for the average user, you would need to transplant a healthy chunk of pre-established relationships along with it. Without that critical mass of interactions social media fails. This is why Facebook and twitter hold such a powerful monopoly over our social lives. They have that critical mass of connections needed to keep people engaged without requiring people having to put effort and energy into maintaining the flow of conversation and entertainment.

But that’s a large part of the problem with how most people use internet services. We are driven by the impulse to get the services and stimuli with the least resistance. The fact that we unthinkingly give away a terrifying amount of our personal information so freely to support this is an issue. People now use the internet, with all its power an potential, in a very passive manor. Using it with intent is a hard mindset to get into because most of the popular sites discourage it.

The reason I bring this up is using mastodon wasn't just using a new platform for me. It shocked me out of this mindset and really made me think about how I use the internet and what effect my passive attitude was having on everything from my daily actions to my mental health.

It started with a choice

The first thing that happened when I went to sign up was the presentation of a choice. Which instance would I like to make my account for? This took me quite a bit of consideration. I struggled with the impulse to just go for the instance with the largest existing user base, but I also thought going for one of the more niche instances that caters to specific interests may yield more meaningful interactions. Add to this my fear that whatever I chose wouldn’t be well federated enough, causing me to miss out on discussion and content, I found myself a little paralysed by choice (this is a common theme in my life. multiple options never help me).

In the end I chose, It’s small, but not too small, and Caters to a large part of how I choose to identify myself.

Now as stated before I didn't have anyone follow me over from Twitter and Facebook, so being passive in my use of Mastodon wasn't an option. If I was going to make this work, I had to actively curate and maintain an interesting feed. I scoured hashtags relating to my interests and aggressively followed the accounts found there in. I also was not shy about pruning away accounts who’s posts didn't spark interest. I also posted much more purposefully. I posted questions that I thought would be good conversation starters. I made posts that tried to be informative and thoughtful.

What this resulted in was a home feed that was enjoyable to read. This may seem like an odd statement, but i began to realise how little joy my twitter feed had been bringing me.

Thanks to Mastodon My skin is clear, my anxiety gone and my crops are thriving

The most surprising thing is what this did for my mental health. A couple of days latter, laying in bed on a Saturday, I realised I hadn't actually been back to twitter in a while. So laying there with my regular Saturday morning cup of tea I opened up twitter…. and ten minuets later I felt awful. Twitter had become this bombardment of angry snap-backs, horrible problems and just this feed of misery and conflict. How long had this background noise of human strife been like this? Why had I never noticed how this impacted my outlook and state of mind?

Mastodon of course had political posts and anger and pain, but there is a key difference. On mastodon it is customary to use what was originally the ‘content warning’ to collapse posts like this behind a few keywords to indicate what lay behind the expand button. This made such a difference. The reader is not instantly bombarded by posts that will encourage anger or distress, instead they can see that the content is there, but can choose to engage with it on their terms.

Conflict and arguments are all still there. Mastodon is not, as some might suggest, some huge echo chamber love-in bubble where only people who agree with you are allowed. But the tone of the debate is far better, far more respectful and feels like actual debate, not just people screaming horrific things at one another. Here, earnestness rules and not snark and irony. This may also have a lot to do with the 500 word limit on posts. Again, after being able to post full and verbose statuses on ideas and stories, twitter’s small word cap made everything I wrote there seem terse, and without nuance. How can people hope to have meaningful discussions in such a crippled medium?

We have the experiences we cultivate

I have been using mastodon for about a month now, and it’s a place I enjoy going. I don’t go there out of habit. I don’t check it because I have a spare moment to brows my phone. I go there when I have something to say or something I wish to see and ask. That alone feels refreshing.

This little revelation sparked something in me. It got me wondering if I should be more active and purposeful with more of my internet uses. Should I really be using an email provider that pays for it by scanning and all my correspondence? Maybe I should rotate my use of search engines to avoid remaining in an algorithmic bubble. I have spent too much time using the internet to passively absorb stimulation and entertainment. I should make more effort to generate content and to use this powerful tool with more thought and intention.

How We use the internet affects us on a deep level. Our mental health, our perception of the world and other people are all affected by it, yet we interact with it so thoughtlessly. Worse still we allow actors to prey on our habitual nature. Its time we all took a step back and started thinking about how we exist online.

If you wish to find me on mastodon I am