Digital Nomad

Image distributed under CC0 1.0 by Maxpixel

In the future, people will remember this as the great social media diaspora of the 21st century. I don’t have any hard data to back this up. Most often, and especially in the aftermath of 2016, I prefer to have links, statistics, copious citations. This time I’m going on intuition.

We’ve all seen the devastation on Facebook left by the most recent U.S. election cycle. And I don’t want to discuss, support, or demonize any particular belief. This isn’t about party or ideology. It’s about how we communicate with one another.

I’m here, new to Medium, because I’m a content creator. I write mostly fiction with the occasional essay or musing. This shift in social media has been on my mind for months, or really years now, for obvious reasons.

The collapse didn’t happen overnight. This particularly virulent strain of partisanship has been hopping from host to host in the U.S. for some time. It’s been encouraged not only by political leaders but by a broken political system designed to propagate a bifurcated view of the world.

U.S. politics has always been this way to some degree. I’m not claiming there’s anything novel to the basis of the conflict. What’s clear however is this time that conflict leapt far outside it’s normal borders.

As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I saw the ideological clash come to a head in 2013. That year’s Hugo awards were targeted with nominations meant to be a protest vote. The very next year, even more controversial titles were seeded into the list of nominees. 2014, 2015, 2016 — all became lost years for a once prestigious award.

Rumblings of discontent had been evident in the broader SFF community even before the Sad Puppies launched their campaign against the Hugos. The disagreements first surfaced at SFWA over leadership which sparked a decided clash between the old and new guard. Again, these kinds of clashes aren’t atypical of any large community over time.

However, what was striking was how politics completely came to rule a community of fantasists. People whose common cause and focus normally falls under both imagining possibilities and providing escape.

Granted, good fiction often reflects on the real world in an insightful way. Controversial issues can be explored indirectly with the possibility of inspiring reflection and constructive thought. Imagination is the precursor to reality. We are responsible for how it manifests in this world.

Instead of being confined to a vocal minority, the conflict spread. It consumed blogs. Launched and ended entire careers. Three years on, the science fiction community had split into warring camps with the Hugo Awards under siege.

Now, in 2017, the furor has finally shown signs of abating. The Hugos, a tarnished reminder of them at least, have escaped another full-on assault. Half a year after an election which relentlessly shelled the once open spaces of social media, the remnants of an already struggling blogosphere, and every major source of content creation on the Internet, the devastation is clear.

As a fledgling writer, I refused to take sides. I lost interest in joining SFWA or even following many of the top writers in the field. Several had taken up arms in these battles and stoked the flames on their personal blogs and in professional articles. Writing became about your affiliations and not about the underlying story.

It was, like the rest of the country, a complete shit show.

As a content provider and self published author, I’ve found myself wandering the digital devastation, looking for a home. Facebook is on a downward spiral. Abandoning “likes” for a whole spread of emojis seems a belated pressure valve in the cratered feeds. The host of creepy encouragements to post more because “your friends are noticing” and awkward attempts to monetize their once strictly social platform only increase the sense of desperation.

Twitter has long become a rolling parade of spam and snark with little substance. Few even remember Google+ is even an option. A new generation communicates in Vines and Snaps and Grams. Those offer terse, rapid connection but not much space to tell stories with words. New opportunities exist with Blockchain based alternatives, however none are yet ready for prime time, or to host the millions like myself, lost and seeking a new place to call home.

Maybe this is as it should be. A time to partake in that reflection and meditation we’d all been stridently avoiding as we stroked our egos with likes and filled our empty hearts. With any luck, what we imagine will be a future where we can use our digitally enabled social connectivity to build rather than destroy.

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