The airport Starbucks of the digital mind
05: Etsy, tech bros, and Mr. Weapon
Hi! This post took me 3 hours to write, and I’ve been percolating on it for weeks. I really love writing these occasional reflections on becoming increasingly addled by technology and social media. If you enjoy reading these, maybe even find yourself nodding along…consider a patronage and become a paid subscriber by tapping the button below? It’s $5/m and it keeps me writing between freelance design gigs. You’ll get occasional bonus subscriber-only posts for your patronage - I won’t email you five times a week and your inbox will not overflow. It’ll all be chill. Thx and high fivvvves!
Lately my social media feels have an added zombie element to them: I can’t even bring myself to care. I scroll mindlessly at times (and less so than ever, thank frick) and only because I’m just really used to it. Every time I pick up my phone I think “there is nothing on here anymore”. I have learned to leave my phone in a drawer - the very sight of it makes me pick it up automatically. I have also learned to keep a book around to read a few pages instead of scratching the “internet itch”. The somethings I’m looking for in my internet travels are items relevant to my work, to my life, to a sense of community cohesion as a whole. Instead all I get are ads. The internet’s gone fully corporate and it’s one of the most bland, controlled places on earth - an airport Starbucks of the digital mind.
We have lost our opportunity for choice - remember the feeds we intentionally curated? As a graphic designer, Instagram was useful - and I actually want to see things about typography, and keep up with the work of others in my field. As a ceramicist, I wanna see alllll the wheel throwing and process vids! As a human being, I want to know how the fellow humans in my particular community are doing, I want to see their travel photos, their funny stories, their sad stories, their cats. Yes, you can text people but also sometimes you don’t know them that well and social media can be a great way to stay in loose touch. Well: you can’t do anything like this on Instagram anymore. You, person of 2022, must only shop and view influencers instead.
And as independent creators/artists/self-employed folks/anyone who has spent years building up an audience (as one did between ~2009-2020), we’ve all suddenly noticed an epic shift in how throttled we are with connecting online with the people we’ve so organically built a connection with over the last decade. We are all now solidly in the jaws of the algorithm’s black box. It’s a shocker, and I sure hope there’s a way out. If anything, it makes the internet so boring that I wouldn’t be surprised if we all quit it out of the sheer cubicle blandness of the online space. The internet is now made in blank office spaces by people who find that corporate life fits them like a glove. That person is sooooooo not me, and I doubt if you’re reading this that it’s you either.
Rapper Cadence Weapon (an ex-Edmontonian, shout out to my hometown) just did an interview on CBC’s tech show Spark about creatives and the digital tech ecosystem we exist in. I was listening to it in my basement while working on my slightly neglected ceramics practice - Sundays are for ceramics once again - and everything he was saying just hit me like a lighting bolt.
Paraphrasing bits of the interview here:
“We’re experiencing friction everywhere from the tech platforms.”
“People need to post pictures of their face on Instagram, with the next slide being a promo of their gig to get the algorithm to push their post out.”
“I can’t even email the people who follow me on Spotify to tell them I have a show coming up.”
*Cadence Weapon has a Substack you should check out, it’s one way he’s supporting himself as an artist.
Can I ever relate. Etsy, which has been a mainstay for my own textile design project Mezzaluna Studio, has started going blank. I’m not ashamed to admit my Etsy sales have dropped to basically zero this year - this after 10 years of solid sales and new designs on offer. I suspect the reason is that Etsy now wants you to buy ads from them so that your items appear visible in their internal search, and to offer free shipping so your items are “automatically prioritized in search”. And they are raising commissions to 6.5% in April 2022. I’ve got news for you Etsy: 6.5% of $0 is still $0 if people can’t see my things in the search unless I pay you for an ad. I really think the dumbest thing I ever did for my studio was not collect enough emails over the years for my Mezzaluna Studio newsletter. I’m sure many are feeling this way. Posts that usually got 100+ likes on IG now get a modest 18 hearts. I feel like I’m at square one ten years later due to this - maybe you do too?
Mr. Weapon (I enjoyed typing that, we all know it’s Mr. Rollie Pemberton) goes on to tell us about how anytime he crosses paths with someone from the tech industry they are excited to monetize his ideas - “how are we gonna make money off this” becomes the driving factor. And that’s exactly how we wind up with Etsy and Spotify we have today.
The tech bros have got their tentacles in, and their eyes on are share price alone. Let me tell you about being highly encouraged to offer free shipping on Etsy in 2022: with inflation running rampant it suddenly costs me $20 to mail a small parcel to Ontario from Alberta. The tea towel I’m selling is worth $20. Why even get out of bed in the morning with math like that? This is the amazonification of maker culture and it makes me seriously consider quitting selling my work as mail-order on the internet for the first time since I opened my online shop in 2007. To be fair, climate change is also heavy with me these days - the first world has every consumer good it might need. The second and third world has a lot of needs that aren’t frivolous consumer goods. The thrift shops are full. What I do sometimes feels entirely useless. And yet: selling silkscreened tea towels with my own designs on them has been a way I’ve created a niche in the system where I can creatively work in a sustainable way. My head hurts like the meme at the top of this post every time I think about it too hard.
We all have to work to make a living in a late-capitalist system that demands money for rent and for increasingly more expensive trips to the grocery store. How we do that work is up to us - and I’m relatively ok with that part, I suppose because I’m a millenial. I have created independent niches for myself as a creative gig worker for my entire career, and I’ve been remote working from hostel lounges in Europe and campsites on Vancouver Island since 2008. What really gets me is that we’re also stuck in a world where extremely rich people (Sandberg, Zuckerberg, Ek, Silverman, etc) decide that we can’t even speak to the groups of people who have noted that they have a desire to hear from us now unless we pay to play so their platform’s stock price can go up. This can’t last forever. We’re gonna quit the beige internet landscape they’ve made one way or another.
So what fills the void? What is the smooth space of the internet in 2022? I think Substack is incredibly interesting, has made the internet fun again, and I do pay to subscribe to a few newsletters and I love getting them in my inbox! I just revamped my graphic design freelance website and it’s on Cargo, which really feels refreshing compared to Squarespace or whatever other bloated, busted website platforms are out there. Cargo’s philosophy is to help creatives “publish their work as a personal, ongoing archive”. I dig. It feels less shiny, less corporate, and a little bit like Geocities but make it 2022. I so truly miss fiddling with Geocities (rainbow bullets! italic times new roman! hyperlinks in blue only!). It was back when the internet was a wild and wonderful place and a world we will never get back to.
It truly might be easier to just build an entirely new thing made for real human connectivity at this point. I long for a different internet to connect with. Maybe it’s called “real life”? Oh look…my headache is clearing up already…
Choosing fulfillment over perceived success - It’s Nice That
Most people do not think about where colour comes from - Helsinki Design Weekly
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness - by Kristen Radtke