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.




22 comments:

  1. Firefox, uBolck-origin, Privacy Badger. Learn how to use them and your experience will be greatly improved. I do not see ads on insta (or anywhere), and should faecesbook add them to the feed, I'd do what I do on faecesbook itself: I report them all as sexually inappropriate, and never see then twice again. If I mistyped any word, I'd terrible with typing.

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    1. Blocking ads (called "sponsored posts") on Instagram is more work than scrolling past them…but I think the bigger issue is how Insta has evolved over the last few years.

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  2. Appreciate your thoughts. My participation of Instagram is a mixed bag. When I first started it seemed like a fun close knit community of woodworkers. Since FB took over I find it much less enjoyable. Not sure if I'd jump in today if Instagram was at it's present state. I do occasionally mention a book or something that Tolpin and I are offering. To be honest though, our writing and research is more about the fun of discovery than anything. That's what I hope comes across on my IG posts. I keep passionate about woodworking because I'm always learning. I think it was Churchill who dabbled in painting said something to the effect that if he makes it to heaven he wanted to take the first ten thousand years at the easel to get to the bottom of it. I feel like that about building and design. Look forward to your blog posts. I always learn something.

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    1. Thanks George, I really appreciate that you're reading. I think we're on the same page; I'd also find it hard to wade into Insta as a newbie today.

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  3. I'm a latecomer to the digital world for woodworking (which is odd, I suppose, I'm one of the oldest "digital natives" you'll ever meet). I looked on lots of platforms to see if there was a community and found that instagram had loads of amazing work. Then, the downsides you all have observed, plus there's pressure to post on a regular cadence - 3+ times a week - or your stuff gets deprioritized. So this has some woodworks who I would otherwise "follow" posting regular content that really is just filler; if it's just you working, you're not going to generate enough new material to fit the instagram paradigm. So I unfollowed some folks who were doing genuinely good work but whose posts were mostly junk, by percentage. Blogs are nice, and the long form suits what we do, but it's not centralized in any way. I wish there were a third option. Maybe I'll make one... nah. Back to the shop I go.

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    1. Excellent point about the pressure to post leading to "filler" content. I've been guilty of that myself and don't plan to succumb to it in the future. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Agree with you wholeheartedly Steve. IG has become just another Facebook. I never really got on Facebook in the first place because I never liked it. I tried it but bailed shortly after opening my account. IG is becoming that way for me now. Maybe businesses and traffic could be driven from IG years ago, but these days, expect to pay to play if you want to drive business traffic from IG to your page. Heck my account is a personal not business account but as I look at my analytics on my website where traffic is driven from, 99.9% comes from search engine results. I might get one or two hits on my site via IG per week. I’ve been trying to do the same as you - focus more on my own site/blog and worry less about IG. I think there’s much more benefit to that model. BRING BACK THE BLOGS!

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    1. Thanks for chiming in, Bob. One small thing I disagree on is that I don't think analytics accurately captures the social media influence. If I see something I want to buy on Insta, I'll probably put down my phone and go look up the site on my laptop. I realize younger folks won't do that but most woodworkers are geezers! 😂
      That's beside the point though. We are in full agreement about bringing back the blogs! Like vinyl records, they may still have some life in them…

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  5. Steve, this makes me really happy to read. I've never engaged much on social media and was sad when most of the woodworking blogs I followed started slowly shifting over to Instagram. It made sense though since it is much quicker to post a few pictures and short comments and you all have a living to make after all!

    I've remained subscribed to the blogs that I enjoyed reading and have been elated to start being notified of your recent posts again. I'm glad you plan to blog more regularly, I really enjoy your content. I realize it takes a good deal of effort to produce this kind of content and you are not directly getting reimbursed for it so I am thankful for anything anyone decides to put out. Thanks for everything you give back to the woodworking community, it is appreciated and enjoyed!

    Jonathan

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    1. Thanks for this lovely comment Jonathan, it made me very happy to read it. I am heartened to hear how many people are still interested in blogs, and I hope to provide some good material for y'all this year. Thanks for reading!

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  6. I came late to the IG scene so it appears I missed the golden years. The main thing I've noticed is the abundance of what I would refer to as 'social media woodworkers', everything they do seems to be done to create a pleasable photo for their feed, and nothing more. There's little delving into thought processes and lots of pictures of plane shavings and immaculate workshops that don't appear to be used.
    From memory I mainly tried IG due to the difficulty of finding and inactivity of blogs. I hope that changes.

    Matt

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    1. I think there's still good stuff on IG. It just takes a little digging to find, and the site will actively push you into the crap zone. Find good folks - like voight - and see who they follow. The breadcrumbs will lead you to the real stuff. My IG name is the name I'm posting with here - foozleface - and I'm quite happy with the list of people I've found. I think you can see who I follow that way, and crib liberally.

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    2. Thanks for the comment Matt. It can be inspiring and enjoyable to see posts of nice shavings or whatever, but I agree that it gets old after a while; it's kinda like junk food, not very filling.

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  7. Instagram is superficial. Not much to learn there. Blogs are so much better.
    Thanks for everything you share here.

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  8. I liked IG for ideation, but the % of quality ideas/finds is extremely low vs. effort. Since the M&T post I have been to IG only once. Now I focus on finding content. Ie. Blogs and especially using my FWW and Woodsmith unlimited membership. The value of those offerings is 10x the IG flashes of buy this. Also a call out to the Lee Valley e-articles which have started. Those email how to articles are educational and value creating. Does it help Lee Valley sell tools? Of course it does, but the content is focused on means/methods to help woodworkers vs. selling stuff. Case in point a recent article was uses for masking tape in the shop. So for me... my focus going forward will be "content focused".

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    1. Yep, it's that pressure to post that another commenter wrote about…leads to a lot of filler.

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  9. Don't count on blogs surviving. Like the social media side, they need commercialisation too. Just my optimistic two-cents....

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    1. Oh, I think Word Press and Google will be around for a long time. I bet they will outlast Instagram! At least I hope so…

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  10. Cerebral discussion Steve! In the late 80’s I bought an old wooden bungalow in a crappy section of Santa Clara CA One night I rode my bike to the end of my street I stumbled upon an industrial/warehouse section and deep in a shop was stuffed a hand carved life sized horse like for a Merry go Round. I walked in and introduced myself to two Romanian brothers owned a fantastic cabinet shop. They made everything! Furniture, stairs, armoires ...but they were world class carvers and woodturners. I would (if the doors were opened and never interrupting them) politely show up and just sweep the floors and observe, maybe ask a question about a tool or a machine. It was a four year education I treasure to this day. They invited me to a few big west coast trade shows.. and under my name I had my title as “Sweeper”

    I learned so much in four years and started to evolve in the renovation of my remodel and furniture building. They taught me spindle turning in the weekends and taught me how to sharpen and read wood. It was a breathtaking apprenticeship for me. IG the last year has led to the discovery of cats like these brothers...craftsmen quietly sharing techniques and tool restorations To be invited to a shop tour via a browser is overwhelming. Sure FB ads clutter the skyline and a blog like yours is authentic and not monetizing crap Bravo to you and your blog and hand of commentators I imagine it is a Herculean effort for these people to edit and film their processes Nothing beats an actual cone on one class with a craftsman. Sometimes an interaction on a blog is more purist. Thanks

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    1. Hi Otis,
      I lived in CA for nine years and enjoyed your recollections of a California that I remember, but seems to be long gone. I don't disagree that there's tons of good stuff on Instagram…my beef is with the platform, and maybe some of the more opportunistic/cynical people on there, but not with the many excellent craftspeople. Thanks for reading.

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  11. Well said, Steve. I've been trying a few different things with IG, and it just isn't like it used to be. Perhaps after reading this, I'll try to engage a bit more on my blog. I have been trying out a few new alternative platforms. I really like Telegram, and I even started a page there that I started using like a mixture of IG and a mini-blog. The big problem with FB and the like for me is how commercial it's become.

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