Skip to content

Maybe the web used to be better than it is now

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
4 min read
Maybe the web used to be better than it is now

I am spending less time on Instagram and more time in the old-fashioned blogosphere (via my RSS reader) once again, because I increasingly dislike what Instagram does to my brain. And I increasingly wonder if the internet was actually better and more diverse when more of us posted updates regularly on our blogs, just posting the odd photo and 'check out what I've written at this link' on Instagram. When we had greater ownership over our thoughts and content. When the whole caboodle was a lot simpler and slower.

It's easy, especially in the outdoor community, to fall into the trap of thinking that Instagram is the internet. It's not. It's a corporate advertising platform that will inevitably fall one day, as all such platforms fall... and when it does, how will that affect the people who have gone all-in? The advice always used to be 'own your content'. When did that advice go out of the window?

Don't mistake me, it's a nuanced situation and I understand why it's easy (and even beneficial in some ways) to let blogs fall by the wayside and just concentrate on the platforms that work. Where the eyeballs are. I go back and forth on this myself. I still feel like I have to be present on Instagram, at least nominally; it's where so many friends and colleagues spend so much of their time, post their photos, record their thoughts. I don't want to miss out on that!

But maybe it's a chicken-and-egg situation. Fifteen years ago, all that energy was poured into a rich, diverse mosaic of individual websites, linked together by an active commenting community, the humble blogroll, and RSS. It worked fine! Better, in countless ways, than Instagram! It just took a bit more effort and intention.

Maybe we're always doomed to take the path of least resistance. But I worry where that leads, especially as Instagram increasingly fills with advertising and outright rubbish. An unending tide of low-quality trivia pushed by algorithms we can neither understand nor control.


Long-term readers might feel that this all sounds awfully familiar. I went through a similar cycle with Twitter years ago, didn't I? A cycle of fluctuating participation and withdrawal, leading to the sequence of events recorded in The Farthest Shore – and, eventually, deleting my Twitter account. And if you go back even further, the trajectory of my relationship with Facebook looks similar too.

Perhaps this is just a maze I am doomed to navigate whenever any social network rises to become the main one for me. At the core is a simple belief: that social media is a net negative, not just for me but for all of society. Deep down I fundamentally believe that things were better before social media. And that my use of these platforms has damaged me in countless subtle ways.

However, this simple belief is made complicated by everyday realities. It just isn't practical for people who work in my field to withdraw from social media, because for better or worse this is where so much of the discourse has moved. So, those of us who find it problematic (and I think a lot of us are on this spectrum – probably more than we think) are forced to play the awkward and eternally unsatisfying game of compromise, constantly shuffling between different levels of participation and shielding ourselves from its negative effects. Some of us speak up about this. Some don't know how to articulate it and therefore suffer in silence. Some sense that something is wrong but don't know what.

There will never be a way to participate in social media that I consider healthy or sustainable. But, at the same time, it will never be feasible for me to completely withdraw from it. I find this contradiction deeply uncomfortable. It means that I will probably have to navigate this maze for the rest of my life.

I'm still learning, and have far better coping strategies in place than I did five years ago. I've made a lot of progress in reclaiming my attention. I can sit down and read a book for three uninterrupted hours without reaching for my phone now! That wasn't the case in 2019.

By the way, I have never regretted my decision to delete my Twitter account for a moment. It turns out leaving had zero negative effects, personally or professionally, but it did have countless positive effects. I should have done it years before I did.


These are all just idle thoughts, certainly no coherent essay. Despite the lessons learnt from quitting Twitter, my Instagram account isn't going anywhere – the situation is different this time. Instagram is both more professionally useful and less personally problematic than Twitter ever was. I profoundly dislike Meta, but I have to be realistic.

I'll keep popping by every few days, and post two or three times a month as usual. I won't be chasing more followers there because I honestly don't see the point. I'll keep oscillating between having the app on my phone and deleting it when it feels burdensome. I'll even make the odd reel (they can be fun if you don't overdo them). But I am going to try to invest more time and effort in this website: my own corner of the internet that Meta can never spoil.

Of course, I've tried similar efforts before and the snag is that my time is limited. But I feel that it's important to try. I want to resume my very popular 'what I've been reading this week' round-ups of interesting links. Perhaps spending a bit less time numbly scrolling Instagram will free up more time for this once again.

Above all, the internet feels too fast now. I want to slow that pace back to human speed.

As always, thank you for reading. I'm very grateful that so many of you have chosen to subscribe by email. I'm aware that email updates may not be as welcome for some of you if my frequency of posting on here increases, so don't forget that you can always subscribe by RSS instead.

Notessocial media

Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

Comments


Related Posts

Members Public

What survives in the record: a Glen Coe hill day from 15 years ago today

Every now and again, I dip into my Lightroom library and journals, curious to see what I was doing 10, 15, or 20 years ago on this day. On the 6th of April, 2009, my brother James had just arrived in Glen Coe and was keen to experience these mountains

What survives in the record: a Glen Coe hill day from 15 years ago today
Members Public

Some phone pictures from a sunny hill weekend (and a few thoughts on photo note-taking)

And now for something completely different. If you want to understand my approach to photos as a working outdoor writer then 35mm film (which I gush about on this blog all the time) is only a third of the story. Another third is my full-frame digital camera – no surprises there.

Some phone pictures from a sunny hill weekend (and a few thoughts on photo note-taking)
Members Public

The magic of cine film

Sometimes, when the light is right, Kodak Vision3 250D can almost look like slide film. There's something magical about the way all film – real, tangible images that exist in physical space – captures the warmth of winter light, but I think Vision3 has something extra that bridges the divide

The magic of cine film

Mastodon