Here Be Dragons

13 April 2024

I’m currently sitting with a 12th house profection year that coincides with the eclipses falling across that very same axis. It’s been real. No doubt I’ll unpack that in greater detail as I begin to see the broader plot points of this timelord period come into view for me.

But today my subject is narrower. I decided to use this eclipse period, with its added spice of mercury retrograde, as an opportunity to withdraw from my digital world and take stock.

I’ve contested the idea that as a person I’m terminally online throughout my life. What I am though, thanks to an ineffable mixture of brain chemistry and archetypal patterning, is a classic obsessive – and the internet is just really useful when you want to know everything you can about a given topic.

I have a sense that I would be largely preaching to the choir here, so to progress my preamble it’s important to note that I was indeed Chronically Online as an early teen. And thank god I was.

This was very much the case until 18/19, where a combination of factors – which I tend to associate with a shift from a venus firdaria to mercury, ferried me away from the digital garden I carefully cultivated, and out into the broad vistas of the real.

And there I spent the intervening years. Many adventures, many misadventures. That was pretty much the way of things until Covid came around. Like most people, tech was the escape route and the lifeline all wrapped into one and it wasn’t long before I remembered how to Be Online, I mean like really surf.

That has proven deeply fortuitous, and has connected me with a score of people I have no other box within which to place other than family. That some of these people are physically thousands of miles from me is frustrating, but acceptable.

But it has created novel problems. We all know social media is the 21st century cigarette, best enjoyed socially and in moderation if at all, but we’re in a different world now – one that has occasionally come to be known as The Dark Forest Internet.

For the uninitiated, that’s a moniker that’s caught on to refer to our post-centralised AI-scraped modern internet society, in which the real conversations and energy are increasingly concentrated in group chats, broadcast on podcasts and taking place behind closed doors on patreons and private forums.

This is a good thing. But it makes what was once a pretty simple strategy more nuanced. How does one digitally detox not from the digital malls and billboards of Instagram, but the cosy living room of your private channels?

I don’t know – but what I do know is that I found it necessary to try – right around the time the eclipses began to distort reality in that familiar, eerie way again.

So I ducked out of my GCs, locked my phone and devices out of social media for 2 weeks, and spent a fortnight without falling into the app-checking loop once. And that part, was indeed, glorious.

No stranger to favouring the most severe possible strategy when faced with a range of options, in the past I’ve fully thrown my phone away, or downgraded to a dumb phone, or any other number of fun luddite moves. But today I find there’s simply too much value to be had in the communities I’m part of, and too many of my important relationships are now online. I can’t unplug anymore, not fully.

Some surprising things happened during my hiatus though. I began to email people, like actually writing letters to them, to their inbox. More astoundingly, sometimes I got replies back. This is not something I now intend to give up.

A further point, less a surprise and more confirmation, was that I really began to leverage the utility of RSS for keeping up with friends’ blogs, reading the news, and everything in between. My own social media feed – no algorithm, no advertising, total oversight.

To those who never bailed when Google Reader went the way of every Google product, this is hardly worth passing comment on. But it took removing the highly saturated and flashy feeds of the big social apps for me to really get back on board with this.

I’m coming into a time in my life where I need to concentrate on what’s in front of me. That makes it apparent to me that while my ‘Online Life’ is important, indeed a vital part, of who I am today, there’s a lot more room to step away from it than I supposed.

Rather, I’m coming to think of it as necessary to integrate it more completely into the whole. The pandemic isn’t over, not by a long shot, but we’re in a new phase now – one that permits more leeway for many of us to move about our immediate physical world. I want to fold my digital life into that new story, and that requires some changes.

The people I know and love through the internet are truly wonderful, but that does not prevent it from being a pretty terrible place to hang out, all things being equal. I’m still figuring out what to do with that, though it’s hardly a controversial take nowadays to remember that these networking tools are best used in service of ‘meatspace’ (fuck me I hate that term).

Next steps for me look a little like this though:

I need to get RSS working on this site. Sadly, that’s more complex than I would hope, and will require me to rebuild it somewhat. I want to do that ASAP really, but there’s some pretty major life things coming (like idk, moving country in 2 weeks) that will delay that.

I’m going to make this more of a general blog. Not that it wasn’t before, but my initial plan for this was to host my essays and more considered writing exclusively. This post is, in that sense, a break with protocol, and one I’m happy to be making.

No more scroll holes. I didn’t miss mainstream social media at all really. I missed some meme accounts on Instagram lol. But I want to maintain a presence on these platforms, to big up my friends’ stuff or whatever, and to keep one toe in the pool. So I'm putting hard time-limit app blocks on any app that is designed to hijack my brain.

Deeper into the dark forest. Accordingly, I’m going to be putting more of my limited online energy into places where I feel it’ll have a greater impact. I want to have more calls with people, and continue my new found appetite for silly little emails.

My good friend Taal has recently launched the private community Householders – with a message board at its heart – on which people ‘hold council on topics of community, family, livelihood, skills, and spirituality’. You’ll be much more likely to find me posting there, than Xeeting or whatever the fuck.

I want to treat group chats more like MSN Messenger. By which I mean, rather than darting in and out of them 100 times a day – I want to log in, hang out, and then leave again. God it was such a vibe. How to achieve this practically today is trickier, especially since WhatsApp and the like have become the main way people keep in touch IRL today, and home to these de facto chat rooms.

I feel my hiatus has enabled me to see just how much of that GC habit was formed by the pandemic – I simply don’t want to spend nearly as much time as I once did in messaging apps, regardless of the calibre of humans involved. The work now is to rebuild my approach to it along new lines. One thing I’m trying out is restricting my visits to these spaces to when I’m on my tablet, thus creating a separation between my day-to-day necessary messaging, and this other mode. We’ll see how that goes.

If you’re interested in trying out RSS, I would recommend the aforementioned Taal’s recent handy guide to curating your very own feed, What to Do Online Instead of Social Media. I also urge you to read Sam Kriss’ own recent experience of giving up his smartphone for lent, which came to me in very timely fashion as these thoughts were percolating: How to live without your phone.

Want to get in touch? Might I suggest you email me. Idk, it could be fun.

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