2023 and Social Media’s Winds of Change

Greetings. The last hours and minutes of 2022 are ticking off, and we’re all being drawn inexorably into the new year and even deeper into the 21st century.

In my previous post of early October — Social Media Is Probably Doomed — I discussed various issues that call into question the ability of social media as we’ve known it to continue for much longer. Since then we’ve seen the massive chaos at Twitter when Musk took over, the rapid rise of distributed social media ecosystem Mastodon, and an array of other new confounding factors that make this analysis notably more complex and less deterministic.¬†

It’s perhaps interesting to note that only a year ago, pretty much nobody had predicted that Elon Musk would — voluntarily, single-mindedly, and over such a short period of time — have reinvented himself as a pariah to a large segment of his customers and the public at large, and be in a position to remake Twitter¬†in the image of the very worst that social media can offer.

The lessons that we can draw from this are many, beyond the obvious ones such as that dramatic, abrupt changes in the tech world — and broader society — should be considered more the norm than the exception, especially in our current toxic political environment.

And it’s important to note that no technology — nor the persons who develop, deploy, operate, or use it — is immune from such disruptions.

This includes Mastodon of course. And while the distributed nature of this ecosystem perhaps provides some additional buffering from sudden changes that more centralized services usually do without, that does not suggest invulnerability to many of the same kinds of problems plaguing other social media, despite best intentions.

And this is definitely not to assert that blindly attempting to resist changes is the proper course. In fact, *not* being willing to appropriately evolve with a massive growth in the quantity of users — especially as increasingly more nontechnically-oriented persons arrive — is likely lethal to a social media ecosystem in the long run.

As we stand on the cusp of 2023, there is immense potential in Mastodon and other distributed social media models. But there are also enormous risks — fear of change being among the most prominent and potentially negatively impactful of these.

Given all that’s happening, I suspect that this coming year will be a crucial turning point for social medial in many ways — both technical and nontechnical in scope.

We can try to hold back the winds of change in these regards, or we can endeavor to harness them for the good of all. That, my friends, is not the choice of technology itself, it is solely up to us.

All the best to you and yours for a great 2023. Happy New Year!

–Lauren–