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September’s Children

burn it to the ground

Twitter is imploding in case you hadn’t heard. Losing a million dollars a week in advertiser funding. Corporations such as Eli Lily will likely have a multimillion dollar claim against TWTR. For causing them to loose stock valuation through negligence.

Twitter’s cultural, political and market relevance is in it’s twilight. not a moment too soon. Twitter was always a very well managed, and sinisterly marketed bad value proposition. As all Surveillance/Choke Point Capitalism is for its users. Elon Musk’s missteps in the past few weeks have only exposed this to the wider market. It is my prayer that Facebook and all the other overvalued Social Media companies go down in flames.

ActivityPub Explained

What seems to rising in it’s place is not the alt right Trumpian spaces such as Truth.Social, Parler or Gab, as many predicted. Rather it’s the network of sites which speak the ActivityPub protocol. Mastodon, Pleroma, PixelFed, PeerTube and all the rest.

For non techies in my audience, ActivityPub is hard to explain. If you think of your regular social media as say Barns and Noble, or Amazon i suppose. Then Mastodon is like your local library. Superficially they both distribute books. Your library is run by the government or a local non profit for the benefit of the community. Any person or group can start an ActivityPub Server. And they can all talk to each other. For example my Mastodon (like Twitter) account is @piusbird@tilde.zone, and my friend Vantablack is @vantablack@beach.city. Despite being on different sites we can see content from each other, at mention each other and boost (retweet) and star (like), each others posts. There are Corporate run Servers of course. The majority are run by digital community groups or individuals.

Organizing for a Better Internet

These groups are not yet as organize as your traditional civic organizations or non profits but that’ll come in time. Point is that this non profit loose association of individuals and groups, running on consensus principles. Operates a social network that had close to a million active users before the Twitter implosion, and has been growing by nearly half a million users a week since. Most people don’t think such a thing is even possible, yet it’s happening.

Many Mastodon/ActivityPub oldtimers think this sudden rise in popularity is a bad thing. The network was built by queer, disabled, people of color and other gender and sexual minorities.

Specifically because TWTR was unsafe for us. Many in fact are comparing it to Eternal September. Which is a term that Technology Historians use to describe the aftermath of AOL and other Online Services connected to the Open Internet.

The Open Internet

You see before 1993 when congress declared the internet open to anyone.

Being Online and being on the Internet were two distinct and separate concepts the Internet was strictly a defense and university, thing only. There were services like AOL and CompuServe. Which provided News, Stocks, Message Boards, and sometimes Chat and Games. As well as locally run BBSes. But the profit margins on these things, were always incredibly thin.

The potential user base was small. Then 1993 came and the internet became open. Suddenly these small online services had a way to reach a global audience. And all was good for awhile. The eternal September may have disrupted the culture of university elites.

September was good actually

Let’s face it someone like me would never have been allowed on the pre 1993 internet. Let’s start with the fact that my rights to be included in society at all weren’t secured until nearly a year after my birth.

Most states were still actively institutionalizing people with my level of need until the Supreme Court intervened in 1999. and i had to be homeschooled because my rights to education weren’t fully secured legally until two thousand and effing nine.

Because of Eternal September I grew up on an internet where we had Forums and IRC and MUDs, and Blogs and mailing lists. Decentralized and Federated was the internet of my childhood and teen years. And literally dozens or hundreds of other sites, projects and communities besides. A place where you could go to find yourself, try on new identities, and find community even if you were excluded and marginalized away from keyboard. In my youth I rode Dragons in my spare time. Had friends and contacts from around the world, and was a valued member of several communities. Even though i was extremely social phobic away from keyboard.

The Fire Nation Attacks

Then sometime in 2014 it all seemed to just die First it was PernMUSH died, then several forums that were formative. Then most of my non technical IRC hangouts burned one by one.

Facebook groups and Slack and Twitter took their place but it no longer felt the same. And let’s not forget the online games which paid no attention to accessibility issues at all.

I had to play this character marnold, Who was kinda me, but shoved into an itchy suit, told not to do anything weird or controversial least the mythical `future employer` see it. I had lost the space where i could be myself, and so i began to wither and die inside, this was not helped by misdiagnosed mental illness.

But in hindsight the destruction of most of the community spaces that were holding me anchored was the shatter point that, made my world explode. What Followed was three years of hell that only ended when i returned to Church.

And why was this done? Well it was sold as a way to include everyone in the New Great Conversation so that everyone not just elite `techies` like me could have such experiences.

Corporate Feudalism

In reality the big social media corporations were just trying to milk us for advertising dollars. Everyone who has eyes can now see why taking control of the internet away from the hobbyists and the Anarchists was a bad idea. Everything from recent US Elections to the ongoing genocides in Myanmar have Facebook’s dirty blue fingerprints all over it, and rather then helping pull down censorship, and oppression in places like China Western Companies like Cisco and Apple have betrayed the values that allowed them to exist in the first place for a few extra dollars in shareholders pockets. For a long time I was not hopeful that the post 2014 state of things could ever be changed.

Rebirth

But in 2020 shortly after a life changing diagnosis. I discovered tilde.town and ActivityPub, and Treehouse, and all the rest. A new world being built upon the ashes of the old, and it was as if I was reborn.

I effectively was. Pius was born and he is a character who is much closer to the real Matt then my `real life persona` ever was. Through this community I’ve learned that living with a disability doesn’t have to be constant struggle and joyless drama.

That the key to my best life lay not in some mythical future employment. Rather in discovering the things that give me joy and pursuing those when possible. And over the past two weeks i’ve watched in gleeful awe as Twitter collapses and person after person discovers the joy of these communities.

Sure there’s bound to be some trouble ahead. Keeping toxic waste out of our home will be difficult. But if even one person who is where i was in 2014 or even the first half of 2020 has discovered Mastodon or Misskey or whatever and their lives have been made better because of it. I say it’s all worth it. If one person makes a connection to a marginalized group and thereby is prevented from going down the right wing rabbit hole as some of my former friends did, then it’s all worth it. In other words if this is the New Eternal September, then it’s a very good dream, may it never end. But wake me up when it does.

Pius

Post illustrated with AI art, thanks to Xe for letting me play with her bot, and lucidiot for beta reading. What isn’t AI Art is wikimedia commons or memes

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