The older I get, the more Twitter implodes, the more I learn about my neurodivergence, the more I work on myself, the more I shift my frame of reference to one informed by abolition and decolonization, the more I’m realizing that the way I have tried to exist in online spaces has been ass-backward.
I think it was almost three decades ago that I installed NetZero on my family’s computer so I could WEE–oooo-BLEEEEEEEEP-cracklecrackle–BEEEP 1if you’ve never had the opportunity to hear a modem dialing in to the internet (or a fax machine dialing another fax machine), I hope you get to hear it at least once in your lifetime my way onto the internet so I could check my email. And then back off the internet so we could use the landline again.
I learned to type on an actual goddamn typewriter and yes I am proud of it.
My understanding of the internet and how to behave on it and what to expect from it was very much shaped by the social media and blogging that I engaged in. When blogging stopped being so common — I think around the time that feed-readers 2you could collate all your favorite blogs with their RSS feeds and read them all in one place. you could print the internet and read it like a goddamn newspaper if you wanted began to disappear — I switched my writing and thought-expression to the shorter character limits of Twitter and I started writing Facebook posts that weren’t very long either. I got really good at sarcasm in 140 characters or less.
this is not a newsletter, I don’t care what substack calls it [edit: this content used to be a substack publication]
I tried REALLY hard to write a newsletter, or some newsletters, any newsletters at all really, and I hated it. I had little kids to take care of since just before my 21st birthday, and I needed money desperately, so I marketed myself as a web designer as hard as I could. It worked fairly well; I had handfuls of clients over about a decade or so, although I never really had enough money for us to live on. But my only solution to that problem always seemed to be, market it harder, be louder, be insistent, get in everyone’s face. And I hated that too. Why would I do that to the people I considered my friends?
We were all trying to make a niche for ourselves on the internet, doing something worth getting paid for, since the economy was a gloomy forest full of ghosts, and many of us had no other options. I charged as little as I possibly could in order to make things for my fellow internet entrepreneurs so their online spaces could look nice enough to convince other people to give them money.
The whole thing was fucked up, honestly. It was not unlike passing ten dollars back and forth around a friend group because people with only ten dollars will give it to someone they love who needs it, the cycle repeating in its stark humanity.
After a while, I knew enough people to feel like I had helped create a community and that I had an obligation to them on some kind of moral level. I felt like I was becoming ‘a big deal on the internet’ and I both wanted it and I didn’t. What happens when you are able to influence the behavior of a group of people? What kind of person do you have to be in order to do the right thing and make good choices?
What kind of harmful beliefs have you internalized to assume that you all by yourself can, or should, influence the behavior of a group of people?
Also, what the fuck kind of person was I, that I could count the number of black or indigenous people I knew on one hand? I never even wondered why. 3it’s because racism
could I be a sociopath? yes. do I want to? NO.
Trying to be a big deal on the internet was too hard. The momentum required to do so would take a certain level of energy, financial ability, and emotional distance to properly execute; and I did not have those things. It’s not that I am incapable of not caring, it’s that I don’t want to be that kind of person. I can’t in good conscience intentionally commodify my relationships. I do have the ability to take advantage of others and be manipulative, like many of us, but that’s not who I want to be. And so I am not able to be a big deal on the internet.
This is not to say that everyone who is a big deal on the internet has necessarily commodified their relationships; in my case that’s the road I’d have to walk, but plenty of other people achieve ‘big deal’ energy because they have written good books, or interesting blogs, or been involved in movies and shows that have big fan bases, or they make popular podcasts, or have been in the public eye for some reason or other. Or they were born into so much privilege that they act like a big deal and everyone around them assumes that this is correct.
fifteen years and one .zip file later
I wanted to be a big deal on the internet because, deep down, I equated attention with worth. I wanted to be worth paying attention to. I wanted to be worth not being alone.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are worth paying attention to that nobody knows about. That’s how society works. We weave a web of connection with the people we’re closest to, and that determines how far our influence can go. Not to mention, doing the math of harm with regard to a couple dozen people is already a lot.
Twitter is being blown up from the inside and I severed fifteen years of connection there. I had a fluctuating amount of followers over the years, sometimes over 2k, sometimes under. When I was still trying to use Facebook for things that Facebook doesn’t want you to do (i.e. not commodify relationships), I had about 900-ish people on my friends list. 4I did Nanowrimo for several years and was also active in the photography community on Flickr for a while I was (still am, last I checked) one degree away from that fucker what’s fucking up Twitter.
And what I have as a result of all of that is a small yet important handful of relationships; a couple dozen people that I consistently remember, who I care about and look for and sometimes get to talk to. I am not a big deal on the internet. But I am fortunate enough to get to be important to a few people.
I don’t need to know what comes next
I’m having fun participating in social media in a new way. I’m enjoying reading posts and books that help me think of many different things in different ways.
I’m enjoying the process of becoming better than I have been, even though it’s hard. There’s nothing quite like knowing that you’ve done right by someone, in a specific kind of way, specifically at that moment. Trying your best is deliciously fulfilling when sometimes it works and you get to know about it.
If there was no internet, no reasonable way to contact and communicate with people outside my family group or neighbors, I could be content to work on being the best kind of family member and neighbor that I could be.
I don’t need to be a big deal. I want to be kind and to be able to make my ancestors and descendants proud of me. I want to be able to stand before my gods before I pass into the sunlit lands and not be ashamed of who I was. I want to leave the place better than I found it.
HERE ARE PLACES I SOMETIMES EXIST
- firstname.lastname@example.org (if you followed any of my accounts, you still are, thanks to the magic of moving/merging Mastodon accounts across instances)
- Nix#1514 on Discord (obviously please tell me who you are)
- m.me/phoenixvkelley on the damn FB Messenger
- +1 734 386 0537 for good old-fashioned texting
- email — nixkelley at proton.me
featured image is a photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash
- 1if you’ve never had the opportunity to hear a modem dialing in to the internet (or a fax machine dialing another fax machine), I hope you get to hear it at least once in your lifetime
- 2you could collate all your favorite blogs with their RSS feeds and read them all in one place. you could print the internet and read it like a goddamn newspaper if you wanted
- 3it’s because racism
- 4I did Nanowrimo for several years and was also active in the photography community on Flickr for a while