Communication in the Digital Age

The increasing prevalance of computing devices these days is something that interests me greatly… even if saying so has become its own cliche in a certain sense. With such technology being so widely available, the idea of being able to make a video call with anyone in the world is effectively a social norm. In this article, I’m going to share a few of my own thoughts on the matter.

Where is everyone?

I don’t mean with regards to physical location… we’re talking about the digital world, silly. The Internet is packed with chat clients and social media networks that serve as many people’s gateway for swiftly communicating with friends and strangers alike. This doesn’t inherently present a problem, but many of these aforementioned services all have a common flaw: They’re confined to their own boxes. Let’s take a look at Facebook, for example, as I’m sure everyone and their grandma have heard of this gigantic website. Most of my friends and family members are on Facebook, and a notable number of them have made (unsuccessful) efforts to convince me to join this service. However, I uphold moral objections to the way the website operates, and therefore refuse to use it (or “be used by it” as Richard Stallman might say). If I have people whom I’d like to communicate with online, my options become pretty limited if this individual only uses Facebook: Either sacrifice my morals, or don’t communicate online with this individual; and you’d best believe that I’m not going to put up with the privacy-killing word-policing degenerates that are the administrators behind Facebook.

Enough about me though. You could interchange myself, my friends, and Facebook with just about any people or networks you could think of. What it comes down to is the fact that most social networks these days aren’t really networks as much as they are centralised hubs. In any such scenario, social interaction is dependent on compliance with the flaws of any such platform, and in the case of social media giants such as Google and Facebook, anyone who is ethically-consciencious of the technology they use is forced to either compromise their ethics or miss out on quite a bit of social interaction, and I can’t imagine that anyone would want to do either.

Solutions already exists.

To summarize what I’ve said thus far, many of the most well known social media networks out there are dependent on you being a member of the service, and some of the biggest of said networks have some of the biggest flaws. When considering ways to eliminate this problem, a few options come to mind for me personally.

Email

You may think I’m kidding, but I do firmly believe that a solution to the often scattered and disjointed nature of online social interaction has been right in front of us the entire time. Seriously, think about it. Many websites that contain the ability to register for an account more than likely require an email address to sign up. Whether you’re using Facebook or Reddit, YouTube or Minds, or whatever else is out there, you and your social media peers have an email address. The best part about communication via email is that any two email addresses from two completely independent services can send and receive information back and forth with unprecedented ease. Even if your friend is using an email service that you absolutely despise, you can still communicate with them freely, as doing so wouldn’t require you to sign up for the email provider they’re on. Granted, the advent of instant messaging clients such as Skype, Discord, and Wire has presented a form of communication that is no doubt speedier, there’s a certain universality to email that is, to this day, unrivaled by anything like it.

The Fediverse

Again, I’m not one to suggest that we all uproot our centralised social platforms. However, I think the Fediverse is an excellent model of how things could be done, and is therefore worth mentioning here. For those who haven’t heard the term, the Fediverse is basically the link between different instances of GNU Social and compatible platforms such as Mastodon. What are instances, you ask? Well, because the source code for GNU Social and Mastodon are freely available, anybody can run such a service on their own server, with their own domain, userbase, and guidelines; all while still being connected to the Fediverse. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best way to go about maintaining the freespeech of the users. Don’t like the policies of a particular instance? Simply export your data and hop on over to another one. There’s no overhanging incentive to fall in line with any particular instance because each instance can talk to one another with ease. The freedom of each user is in their own hands, and the freedom of each instance is in its moderator’s hands.

The reality of the matter.

This article more or less served as a means for me to organise my thoughts on the subject matter. For as large as the Internet is, getting everyone on to decentralised and/or federated platforms is an unrealistic goal. Our best bet at this point is to lead by example. I don’t maintain an active social presence on any of the mainstream social platforms, because said platforms do not care about their users. If someone wants to talk to me, they could send me an email, join the Fediverse, or talk to me in person (or join me on Minds.com if they so choose). I don’t see it reasonable to comply with the unethical ways Facebook, Twitter, and Google/YouTube treat their users, so I’m simply not there, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Eradicating the power and influence of these big-three social networks is a process that will no doubt take time and patience, but can pay off for each and every user in the long run.