It's been over a year since the creation of the Yesterweb, which has grown larger than I ever imagined. I can't emphasize how much has happened in only a year's time. I feel like it's important to look back at the past year and try and make sense of the experiences so we can learn and continue growing, moving in the right direction.
Moderation is such an important part of building a community. This type of work is hugely undervalued as well. Modern platforms like Facebook and Twitter suffer from a lack of moderation. This is more easily seen in smaller community spaces, though. If "bad" people join - and no one stops them, their voices can much more easily overpower the "good" ones.
Forums like 4chan are the perfect negative example of what happens without moderation. A place like this becomes a home for trolls, a no-rules "wild west" of the internet where anything goes - including harassment, bullying, doxxing, etc. The leadership of the YW refuses to tolerate a 4chan-like culture and instead works toward building a genuine, friendly and diverse one - and trust me, it's a lot of work.
With any public moderated space, you also have to trust that the moderators are acting in good faith, in the interest of the community (as opposed to personal gain). With the growing number of members and limited time/energy/availability of the mods (volunteers) we've had to make several important and difficult decisions, but everything we do is primarily in the interest of the greater community. I feel lucky to have met so many awesome people who genuinely care about others and want to help make the world a better place.
The community environment has been cultivated to be a welcoming, friendly and helpful space. Several times there have been genuine, respectful discussion and exchange of ideas between two or more people with opposing opinions. It's probably what I'm personally the most proud of - that people just want to be this way, and like it, because my god, it's a breath of fresh air from Twitter.
For the last 10 years, many that are alienated and isolated in their real conditions have relied on social media for building social connections. Doing this 'scratches the itch' of being social without reaping any of the benefits. Different kinds of relationships are being formed on social media, ones that focus on parasocial interaction. Parasocial interaction is a kind of relationship experienced by an audience in their mediated encounters with 'performers'.
An environment like Discord has its benefits because it promotes realtime interaction between people, not profiles or tweets or personalities. It's no longer one person to many followers, but instead many people communicating on equal footing, like hanging out together in a communal space.
Still, a chatroom has limitations that we should keep in mind. Chatrooms, especially large ones, have a varying pace. It sometimes can be slow, and sometimes very, very quick. It can be hard to have an in-depth topic-based conversation, because as the conversation quickly evolves, the original topic becomes pushed up with more messages. It morphs in realtime, like a game of social telephone. Messages can be 'ephemeral' in this way, because while it's possible to search and re-find a message that has been buried, it is not exactly conducive in the same way a forum might be, as far as staying "focused".
Anyone who spends a lot of time on modern social platforms is bound to pick up some bad habits if they aren't careful. This became clear after observing many different people and the way they communicate in the server. We noticed these habits seemed to stand out from the ebb and flow of the chat environment.
One of these things we've come to refer to as voiding, the act of "talking into the void": spilling thoughts, facts, experiences to no one and everyone at the same time. In the context of Twitter, voiding is really all we can do there. We're talking to "no one" and "everyone" at the same. It just become clear who we have reached until after we've done it. The very nature of how this works mean that the thought or expression we are having comes first, and who it reaches comes second. Who it reaches in fact is based on the platform's algorithmic feed, reaching god-knows-whom).
One of the most important initiatives of the Yesterweb is to re-learn how to socialize in a healthy and productive way, a way that emphasizes the people more than the platform.
It's been hard observing all of this, trying to make sense of it, putting it into words, and then of course, figuring out how to use this information in the best way.
It's important recognize the value of others' time in a space like this. Unlike social media, a chatroom doesn't choose the "best" and "recommended" content to show us first. Even (especially) when we address no one in such a space, we are addressing everyone, and need to keep that at the front of our minds. It is a shared space, not individual, spread-out "pods" like Twitter accounts.
The most consistent thing I've noticed throughout the YW's development is how alienated everyone is. I thought I was unusually alienated, but it turned out it's the common experience. Alienation is isolation, loneliness, not belonging to a larger group. As I thought about it more, it made sense that people who spend a lot of time online would be alienated in their real life conditions, whether through their own control or not.
I see people mention online that it's so difficult to make friends in adulthood. This isn't a personal failing on our behalves, but a reflection of the society and conditions we live in.
The degree to which we are isolated depends on many different factors, especially geography - where you're located, and identity, who you are. How your identity fits in with your geography is significant, and probably determines whether you will integrate within a particular community.
Identity is a social relation. It doesn't really have much value or meaning outside of social contexts. If we live in areas that are hostile to our identities, then it's impossible for us integrate. A large portion of YW members fall under the queer umbrella, which means we are heavily discriminated against - and in many places actively isolated.
Regardless of our geography, most of us are separated by others by the very structure of society. The first place we learn to socialize is in school, but it's made clear early on that's not school's purpose. We are allowed to socialize at school only during specific periods of time, similar to our jobs. We have to stay "on task" and focus. Even with more time available, as kids we're too young to learn to utilize these skills effectively, and we simply don't have the time (or energy, or money) to do so. We are also heavily influenced by our circumstances (mainly family/home situation) during this time.
Some of us cope with alienation by using escapism - seeking distraction and from unpleasant realities. The internet makes this much easier to do through easy access to games, movies, fandoms, roleplay, etc. It's highly addicting and terrifyingly easy to give into completely, at the expense of losing perspective of the world around us. It's incredibly tempting, though, especially for those who are isolated and in need of comfort.
That's not to say it's notokay to escape now and then. I think it's possible to microdose on a little escapism (as a treat), if you're able to use self-awareness and discipline to avoid getting "fully" sucked in.
Escapism, like nostalgia, (which is arguably escapism) is not and never was the purpose of the YW. Instead of avoiding the depressing realities, we should be facing them whenever we can, to whatever extent we can. If we can't connect the work we're doing to real life, then it will never have a chance at making any kind of important change in the world. The internet is real life.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the Yesterweb’s purpose or goals even at this point in the game. Here is a reminder of the problems with the current web that have helped to form the foundation we have today:
All of these problems are caused by the exact same things that make us feel alienated in our real lives. Now it has bled into the internet, one of the few spaces that significantly lessens the limits on people who are already the most at risk for alienation in real life.
It's easy to get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of larger goals, no matter where you are. The internet does not exist in a vacuum, and neither do we. The issues we face online are reflections of real life, and we can't lose sight of that.