Saturday, February 6, 2021

Ruminations on Social Media in Woodworking


My first Instagram post, from 2015

 If you read my blog, chances are you saw Mortise and Tenon's recent post "Keep it Real," in which they announced their intention to abandon social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter). The post generated a lot of conversation, especially on…wait for it…social media. I found it thought provoking, and much of it rang true, especially this paragraph:

I eventually got myself down to 15 minutes per day of social media usage: enough for one post and a few responses. It felt so good. I was regaining my life back. In the meantime, however, I noticed Facebook and Instagram moving toward greater and greater control of their users' experiences. It’s no secret that these companies design their platforms to be as addictive as possible. Even many stable and well-balanced people, who are otherwise quite resilient individuals, find themselves sucked into the social media vortex. The hasty skimming and instantaneous reactions that these platforms foster leave no room for reflection within the apps themselves. If you don’t respond instantly, the post will fade away into your feed, likely never to be seen again. Despite the fact that, as of this writing, it is still possible to manually search for that inspiring photo on the author’s page, how often do we do this? In reality, 99 percent of the time we experience the app as it was designed to be experienced: as endless scrolling, feeding emotion-driven gut reactions.

I've never belonged to Facebook or Twitter, but for five years I've regularly posted on Instagram. When I started, it felt like there was a real community of hand-tool oriented woodworkers. I had lively debates with fellow toolmakers; I made some real-life friends, and customers found me. Most importantly, I had total control over the content I wanted to see. Back then, Instagram's feed was chronological, there were no ads, and no "suggested" posts (unless you went looking for them). 

But since Facebook bought Instagram, they've methodically transformed it into what my wife calls "Facebook in pictures." An algorithm determines the order of the posts I see, ads are everywhere, "suggested" posts are forced on me, and finding older posts to view again has gotten to be more and more of a chore. It's simply not much fun any more, and I regularly feel manipulated--which makes sense, because that's really the goal of the platform now.

At the same time, there's some irony here. My business has certainly benefited from Instagram exposure, and Mortise and Tenon Magazine probably wouldn't even exist in its current form without social media: Joshua Klein, I would argue, built that publication largely on the strength of his social media presence.

So, I'm not quite ready to walk away from Instagram completely, but it's time to recognize that things have changed. The idea of an Instagram-driven community of hand-tool lovers was always a bit of an illusion--the people preaching the loudest about community were always focused on building their careers as "influencers"--but now the illusion, for me at least, has been completely stripped away. I'll continue to post occasionally, but I'm going to gradually disengage and minimize the amount of time I waste there.

At the same time, I plan to re-center this blog as the primary way I communicate with the woodworking community. For the new year, I've updated my blog roll, I've added an RSS feed gadget in the top right corner (so you can add me to an aggregator like Feedly if you want), and most importantly, I'm posting more often.

Blogs seem pretty old fashioned these days, and they can't compete with the real-time, frenetic pace of social media. But they offer some clear advantages. Ideas can be explored in more detail, and blog entries are easy to find again, unlike social media posts. There are no ads (at least on my blog, and most that I follow). There is no additional content that is forced upon you. For all these reasons, I wouldn't be surprised to see blogs flourish again, as more people are turned off by the ever-more oppressive manipulation of social media. 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to chime in below.