I Used to Love Them
(I didn’t always have this disdain for Social Media…where did it go wrong?)
I was an optimist.
It may not seem like that now if you read my posts railing against streaming, social media, and the like.
But I’m my father’s child.
And when I grew up, he was an early adopter. He captured my early years on Super 8mm, had a VCR early (the type that opened up top), you name it — if it could be found in Popular Mechanic — he would soon have it.
Now, he could care less.
That’s how I was with the internet and social media. As soon as I heard of them, whether that was via the New York Times or word of mouth, I quickly joined on.
Now, I could care less.
Let’s take a quick journey. Maybe my story is your story. Perhaps you might not go back as far, but the feeling you will recognize. Maybe you’re no longer in love either.
Maybe you’re in an abusive relationship.
If you didn’t live alone, you had to have a schedule.
Aside from the fact that most people only had one computer, in those days, the land-line was the primary phone and if you were going to be on the internet, you needed that line.
That connection wasn’t fool proof either. Sometimes, it would take five, ten minutes just to sign on.
It was under those conditions when I first found out about, and joined onto, BlackPlanet.com.
I was a couple of years out of Clark Atlanta University, had recently relocated to New York City, and caught wind of a way I could see and chat with people from college.
It was cool. But I didn’t spend much time on there. Between my odd television production hours, a packed house, slow internet, the increasing coverage of futbol, and being in the city so nice they had to name it twice, sitting in front of a computer was the least of my concerns.
Besides, there was an evil demon lurking. That demon was AOL’s Chat Rooms.
The concept of chatting with a complete stranger in the late 90s and early aughts seemed not only risqué to many at the time, it seemed downright crazy.
But being on AOL was all about embracing conversations with strangers. What fostered those conversations were the Chat Rooms. You would pick a topic (for me it was Arsenal), give it a click and join on. More often than not, it was an ongoing conversation, and you just had to do the double dutch rock and jump in
Sometimes you would be completely ignored, sometimes you would make an impression and you were included in the conversation. Sometimes you would make more than an impression and you would get a request for a private chat.
A demon, I say.
A lot of hookups started from them private chats…not by me. But I recall chaperoning one of my brothers to the upper reaches of Harlem to make sure a person he met in a chat wasn’t trying to set him up.
A demon…and we not even gonna get into AIM. A demon.
But like most demons, it was exciting.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the smart phone, in particular, the iPhone.
Up until 2007, it was only the outliers who had smart phones. And up until that same year, the desktop was your home base. Want to go on AIM or Yahoo Messenger? You did it on a computer or a laptop.
That’s why the Internet cafes were popular. If you were out and about and wanted to pop in and get some quick online time, you would locate a cafe, sometimes in the back of a magazine store (my personal favorite) or, if you were in NYC, you would go to a super cafe like easyEverything (located in Times Square).
You weren’t connected all day. Maybe you were like my sister who carried on multiple text conversations, but that bout it.
Even when sites started offering mobile options, that was a shit experience on Blackberrys and the like. It was the “toy” that wasn’t perceived to be made for business where social media exploded.
Poor Jonathan Abrams.
He did create something special.
But nobody cared. Either they were finding their first friend in Tom or they were a part of a small select group allowed to join another (site).
You know that meme with the dude looking back at the other woman while walking with another? Yeah, that was me on Friendster looking on at MySpace.
I was barely on Friendster when I found out about MySpace. MySpace was where the majority of my coworkers got busy. MySpace was where my tech savvy brothers were. MySpace is where new musical artist could be found.
MySpace was the first social media site that I spent any real time on. I worked an overnight shift and once all my editing was done, I would spend the last hour or so, honing my profile.
And it wasn’t some simple, change your color type business either. A woman (whom I had met on MySpace) showed me that you can adjust your site by going into the code and adjusting the HTML.
I think I’m pretty safe to say that I was not alone in learning HTML simply to modify the MySpace profile.
I watched my brother amass a following all over the planet from his page. His page propelled him from an industry secret to Rock the Bells tour.
MySpace was the shit yo.
I had at least one solid year on there. Maybe a year and a half. But that shifted around the time of the inauguration.
My younger sister loves to experiment.
She sees a commercial for a new entree, she’s gonna try it. Spices, cereals, you name it, she will try it. Like I said, I never seen anyone manage text like her, soon, she was telling me about a thing called Twitter.
I signed up.
Most people’s first tweets were, “trying to figure this thing out.” I’m going to place this around September of 2008. And that’s what it was like for the first few months I was on there.
That changed the weekend leading up to Tuesday, 20 January 2009. That weekend Twitter came alive. People were tweeting (that word didn’t exist yet) their plans.
The anticipation built on the site alone. It was the greatest word of mouth…online. And it was good that it was something that worked Friday through Monday because on Tuesday…if Twitter wasn’t down, the cell service most certainly was.
The inauguration was cold, crowded, and like a family reunion. After that event, I was on Twitter every day. Mostly because it morphed.
These are the days when Questlove was the most popular person on the platform. Back when folks had names that began with “thereal,” before verification, and before it was an app used by the general public. There was a thing that I became a part of, mostly late at night, mostly way into the wee hours of the morning — a thing where music was shared back and forth across the Twittersphere.
Let me explain:
Say, Questlove posted a theme — 80s going out jams. Erykah Badu would respond with Sylvia Striplin, “You Can’t Turn Me Away.” DJ D-Nice would @ Questlove and Erykah Badu with Aurra, “Make Up Your Mind.” Rashad Smith would throw up Logg’s “I Know You Will,” into that thread, and on and on it would go.
The object was to fall into the theme that was developing and inspire someone to go deeper into they mental crates. Posting the obvious songs? Folk would just skip over them shits.
That thing was like the Chat Rooms. People looking on would hit you privately and ya’ll would strike up a conversation. There’s a whole batch of humans I met in this manner.
Twitter was fun.
I’m not even going into Tweetstock, the 600+ ppl I met when my BBM was posted on there, events like the Super Bowl, award shows, etc.
Twitter was fun.
Ya know….Facebook was always just eh with me. It took the place of MySpace which wasn’t a like for like replacement. There was no customization. No style. No flair. But it had grown on college campuses and was exclusive.
Which partially explains Facebook’s astronomical growth when it opened to the public in September of 2006. It, of course, was a desktop/laptop centric site. (Later, the Joe Hewitt designed mobile version would be the darling of mobile apps).
Nonetheless, Facebook was where people went that couldn’t figure out Twitter. The joke used to be that whatever you saw on Twitter Monday, you would finally see it on Facebook five days later.
Facebook used to be the place where posts began with “is” such as, “Maulud Sadiq ‘is’ watching Match of the Day.”
The only thing that Facebook was good for was Notes (of which I had a few) and Groups (which I participated in frequently).
My mama’s on Facebook. My dad is on Facebook. E’rybody is on Facebook but I never really cared for it. I can take or leave FB. Mostly leave.
I never used Tumblr the right way.
I didn’t repost. I didn’t scroll. I used Tumblr like a website — meaning I had (and have) tons of them.
But many of my brothers had a completely different experience. Coast to coast relationships were formed, one of my brothers met his wife on the strength of his Tumblr.
I may not have interacted with others but I made several posts a day. When I say several, I mean twenty to thirty.
This is bringing us up to 2010; the waning years of Blackberry and the rise of the so-called iPhones killers (hell, even I had the Galaxy S2).
I mention that because that was also when Instagram was introduced and unlike all the sites mentioned above, Instagram was app only and it flourished as phone cameras improved. For awhile, you had to have an iPhone to use IG. I know because that’s when I had that damn Galaxy S2. I remember exactly where I was when it became available on Android — Australia. I quickly learned the lingo, “no filter” being the most prominent.
That’s back when they had all those disgusting borders (I used em), and basic ass filters (used them shits too). And their growth was amazing. A few weeks after adding Android users, they sat at 40m users. Not bad. Much of that success was because they were ahead of the curve on being app-exclusive (I never used IG “right” either — lol).
Twitter was integrated into iOS 5 in 2011. Snapchat popped up the same year (I tried it for a few months). Google ‘mobile app explosion” for a better understanding of this phenomenon. Users now had access to social media 24 hours a day with notifications pinging away for every one of them hours. This access led many of us to share excessively which leads to my conclusion — what happened?
The internet used to be seen as utopia. It was a leveler of industries — from retail to the record labels — the internet was seen as the great equalizer. Anything could be disrupted; hotels, cabs, anything.
The younger sibling to the internet, social media, carried the same type of promise. Your social circle was no longer confined to your neighborhood or school, your mosque or your job. Now, you could meet people wherever your fingers would take you.
I think you already know how quickly things change. Utopias become dystopias in the blink of an eye. Yeah, you can meet more friends on social media than you can in real life…but you also can be bullied by countless people now.
I can’t put my finger on when it first began, but Twitter has become a nasty place to be. Forbid the thought that you say something that others find offensive.
People rarely talk to each other, they talk at each other. Outside of it being a placeholder for jokes, Twitter has devolved into journaling at the best, hate mongering at the worst.
Instagram quickly went from a photo sharing app to a lifestyle site where folks have manufactured images of themselves as ever-traveling, always made-up, and always being at the right places.
Come on. If you can get beyond the quotes, the quizzes, and the constant complaints, more often than not you’re dealing with a person that is the hero in every story they tell.
The long and short of it — Social media is no longer social. And if we drop the social off what is it? Just media? For whom?
We spoke on the distraction of social media here but what we didn’t talk about is how our attachment to these sites and our constant traffic is the stock that these companies trade to line their pockets.
They measure their effectiveness by engagement, repeat users, and length of time spent on the site. You think they give a fuck if you’re making friends or not? They are monetizing your involvement — user experience be damned.
You could look at this as a rant of someone who is growing out of social media. That’s certainly a part. Or, you can think about what you are getting in return for the time you’re trading away to be on these sites — time that’s being converted into billion dollar valuations.
That’s on you.
Me? I have Earth Wind and Fire playing in the background, “After the Love Has Gone.” What’s next? Because surely TikTok and all the other similar sites will soon run their course too. And unlike in the past, I’m not even signing up anymore.
As of 4 August 2020 I’ve been on Clubhouse, a voice-centric, invite only app that it is still in beta. I had been told about it back in April but see all the above. Finally, Alaor Khadir convinced me to join. He had only been on for three days but logged in ten, twelve, fourteen hours. The way he described it, “like hanging on the block,” yeah, I wanted that experience.
So I asked for an invite. It took a couple of days but when I finally got on it was …strange. You go into “rooms” and in those rooms there are either listed topics or it’s free-flowing conversation. The bigger rooms give more of a podcast feel as there are usually key speakers and a “moderator.” Those rooms tend to have less active participants, with most folk just listening. Initially, these are the rooms that most people gravitate to.
I’m no exception. When I first signed up, I went into all of those big rooms. Unimpressed, I would end up in a room with just me and Alaor until someone else joined on. Those conversations were more personal dealing with our family backgrounds and Islam. That was during the day. At night it was a little different.
That’s the experience that I signed up for.
At night there was a group of people who had been on the app for a long time…which in Clubhouse terms is anyone before June. There was no set topic, mostly banter, jokes, and laughs. This was more like the earlier days of Twitter that I mentioned above and it reminded me of what I enjoyed about Social Media.
A week into my being on Clubhouse, my group ran afoul with the policing folk. Kamala Harris had just been selected as the Vice President candidate by Joe Biden and the app was buzzing with that convo. But we ain’t want to hear it so one of the members of the group titled the room, No Kamala, only Ass and Hotel Jizz, or some variation of that. We were more interested in talking about Blockbuster trying to pivot into renting out space as an Air BnB, would any of us stay, and what if you ended up in a section where people had formed a relationship with soft porn.
But that room title though.
The next day, the brother who came up with that title got a cease and desist email. No bullshit. You know what happens in those situations? It becomes an us against them type deal and in those scenarios we thrive. We took to blocking folks, leaving rooms and starting new ones, code words, the whole kit and caboodle because the last thing we were gonna do was be policed.
A month in, I’ve formed close relationships with many people in that group. But I can see the direction that the app is going. It’s very similar to how Twitter changed once Ashton Kutcher and Diddy got on. The floodgates are opening up and the entertainers and “name” people are flowing in. That almost always equals big rooms. And the founders seem to like the big room, TED Talk, podcast, type feel. Me? I can’t fuck with it. So my use of the app is already waning. And I see the same with many of us.
Nonetheless, it’s been good. I’ve seen the beauty of what Social Media can be again and that’s been refreshing. Thing is, once you start thinking about how a thing will scale, how it will be monetized, and pleasing the people who’ve given you seed money, all those altruisms tend to go out the door. So here I am again…disdain.
As always, hyperlinks are your friends, clap on them clapping hands, and share, share alike.