First Post

2020 January

Once upon a time, I had a blog.

It was in the opening days of my final year of elementary school, on a date very much like "2020/02/02", when for reasons lost to the winds of time I registered that subdomain, for I immediately began to write, spread uniformly over the next six months, approximately zero posts whatsoever. It was only in the opening days of the new decade, on a date very much like "2020/01/31", when I published its first post, with an apt and witty title very much like "First Post", expressing exactly the same sentiment, with roughly the same substance, but in 2% the word count. It took until mid-February, in the opening days of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, for the appearance of the second post, deceptively titled "Real First Post"; however, thenceforth, I published a post a day, every single day, for the next three years.

Over 1,000 posts and 250,000 views later, I scuttled my blog in dread of the anticipated International Baccalaureate workload, with only sporadic, lukewarm attempts at salvage interspersed throughout early university. Perhaps you saw the first post in January 2016 after I initially cobbled together this site freshman year, or the first post in April 2018 after I expunged it of various unseemly rants on Google's capricious interview processes (and in that process, cleared the whole shebang for good measure), or almost certainly the infamous "under construction" ASCII train in June 2019 after I wiped the slate clean for the nth time, sinking the rest of the site down with its captain. After each half-hearted resurrection I envisaged a blog brand-new, spiritually disconnected from its previous incarnation, with each author more emotionally and literarily mature than the last. Certainly, I'd rather not associate myself with last year's naive me any more than he'd with the me of the "Real First Post", hence, the frequent expurgations.

On closer consideration, this fantastical vision doesn't hold water. How was it that every time I reread any post, no matter the time-separation, every post seemed so consistently puerile? I'd spend hours fine-tuning my diction and phrase-structure, poring through thesauri in painstaking selection of―I know words―the best words, words that would have me barely a month later cringing in amazement. Compare random posts from 2012 and 2018―no, I'll never reveal my real first blog, you'll have to take my word for it―and subject matter aside, you can't tell the difference, almost as if they had been written by the selfsame me! Armchair experts across a broad spectrum of my head agree that, if not emotional and psychological, at the very least the graph of my written proficiency vs. time, though everywhere continuous, has first derivative negative in times without a blog. The dozen or so posts I've written in university could feasibly map one-to-one to two extra weeks of unwritten daily posts in my real first blog, by cause of the incessant deluge of daily weekly assignments persistently preempting the lowest-priority indulgences of self-reflection and creative writing, stunting my growth mental and literary, trapping me in June of 2013, and in the context of a self-absorbed, angsty 16-year-old these relatively recent posts might almost feel at home. Evidently, there never was a new blog, only the spasmodic gasps of the primordial ancestor on life support, and every subsequent first post was merely a perverse resuscitation of that real first blog with its concomitant elementary-school persona.

One could readily avoid all this hassle by the simple expedient of not blogging, with none the wiser to one's dreadful writing. A guaranteed non-losing move is not to play, especially a meaningless game of baffling circular reasoning in which one must write more in order to not write bad; unfortunately, despite the concerted efforts of every engineering-enamoured educational establishment, I like writing, and I'd like to write good. It's a wholly decadal year, with holly-decked resolutions on tenfold power, so I finally started journaling under the misguided yet persistent delusion that my atrophied imagination could still generate a thousand words an hour, a post a day, every day. Barely a month in, I've already relapsed into skipping entries with empty promises to come through and return―rewriting history―but the silver lining is the rediscovery of my aberrant predilection for assorted techniques of torturing the English language, as well as the barely-perceptible hint of emotional growth stimulated by supposedly daily self-reflection. Therefore, with 10x magnification I've resolved to continue journaling past and future, in the vain hope of maturing into a productive member of society, catching up on a decade of arrested development, and what is a journal but a miserable pile of secrets? If I'm going to write a private post a day anyway, I can afford to publish a public post a month. A blog is but a civil journal.

Diaries don't need QA technicians, but the anxiety associated with a blog post permanently archived in the sepulchral data lakes effervescing in the cloud demands at least a modicum of consideration, a demand to mature not just my thoughts but also their material expression. I'm tired of writing like a whiny teenager, like an attention-addicted affectation-addled analog-antiquated amberjack-actor wretchedly wishing that its worthless words would warp it into some whopping great white wireless whale wading through the wideband waves of the World Wide Web. I know not why my blog was conceived, but chief among the rationalizations for its continued existence must have been the excitement of an unexpected pingback, the tiny dopamine hits of my subscriber count glacially ticking upwards, or the thrill of a new comment, be it "lol ur a pathetic loser lol kill urself lol" or "UAE Assignment Helpare the top-most service provider in assignmet Help get the topmost assignment helpers Servcies from eminent writer our assignment Helper UAE are provider assignmet Helpservcie at best price." Then was a time when blogs and forums were the web, when popularity was measured in RSS subscriptions, when anyone anywhere could write anything at anytime, before ad monetization and affiliate marketing and a million fresh suckers coming online every 24 hours attracted the selachimorphic attention of raving search engine optimizers and style branding marketers and social media consultants in roving shivers, and 2010 was the closing days of that gilded age, a time before Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok, when the largest YouTube channels had two million subscribers, when Facebook had 500 million users and Twitter 40 million, when WordPress and Myspace were more popular than Amazon and Blogger was more popular than Wikipedia and Baidu.

Now, a decade later, Facebook boasts 2.5 billion monthly active users, while Twitter's stagnated at over 300 million since 2015, usurped by Snapchat (350 million), TikTok (800 million), and Instagram (1000 million). "YouTuber" became a word, with at least 16,000 whose "subs" number millions. Gone are the halcyon days of truly distributed democratic discourse, when information propagated through text and words had power independent of kaleidoscopic infographics and subcontracted acoustic engineers, when your ordinary Joe could broadcast his insipid opinions to the unattenuated reception of an entire 'sphere of regular folks whose purple underlined pseudonyms hyper-linked opinions of their own, constituting whole virtual communities that transcended the impeditive medium of any one social networking service provider.

As a First Post, it's traditional to justify its own conception on pain of premature abortion, and transcending mere individual resolutions to grow up is a truly grandiose raison d'être: blogging as a civic duty, as the last obsolete crumbling bastion of independent self-expression on the web. The web was supposed to be free, decentralized, the shining bazaar on a hill where everyone had a seat at the table, so why do we sequester ourselves in walled gardens, cowardly caterpillars camouflaged in domestic succulents, refusing to humour the natural cycle of metamorphosis and fly away? Why do we relegate our highest-bandwidth sensory processing organs to the deplorable task of tracking talking heads at 100 WPM―my limit is a barely-comprehensible 350 at 3.5x speed―pointlessly sacrificing instant seek, copy, find, and 500 WPM reading speed for what? Why do we relinquish the right of free opinion and expression, gifting the 1% our unqualified attention and unparalleled influence comprising the unreserved universe of public thought, an unrequited offering rewarded by clickbait, counterfeit news, and the culture wars?

I've not an inkling, but I'll spill some to whine. The central conceit of social media contra traditional media was the medium-as-community, a bottom-up, organic, grassroots network of free-range, grain-fed users farmed for locally-grown GMO-free content. What rang in the new decade tolled for the old, with its austere linear pipelines of professionally-calibrated nutritionally-optimized high-calorie high-density high-energy feed pumped directly from conglomerate feedlot to consumer intestinal tracts, via newspaper, then radio, then TV; there really was the briefest glimmer in time when the blogosphere just but materialized, the apotheosis of that cyber-communal zeitgeist that renounced corporate broadcasting for independent communities for anyone, self-governing, self-sustaining, self-sufficient, and sovereign. It was a fleeting dream, an ephemeral bubble in the wind burst by the inexorable pinprick of a simple algorithm: maximizing views. Suddenly, community and content rent asunder, authors torn away from their misattributed children, engagement abandoned into vectors for pathogenic memes as social media became mass media vol. 4, the most massive sewer yet, irrigating civil society with its highly-upvoted scum, synthetic fertilizer for us houseplant-costumed larvae wallowing in walled gardens. We had had a hundred thousand communities bloom, at least one for anyone, and in some bizarre masochistic coup tyrannically installed a one world community for everyone. We've regressed into the anteinterretean era, rigid relationship roles subliminally pigeonholing us as producers, as consumers, and the very idea of "community" now, of interacting with our influencer-idols as equals―quaint and laughable!

You might think your little Facebook group a community (Facebook technically calls its Pages Communities), or your local subreddit (technically also called Communities), or your lonely Twitter circle of followers and followees (ironically the closest to a community yet lacking any collective noun, official or not). But when was the last time you read a post by a friend? Not a status update, not a snarky one-liner on the latest chain of reposted content, not a filtered, shopped vacation shot fermented for months, but an actual long-form opinion about anything at all. The feed simply isn't built to share personal ideas, it's built to share photos and memes and birthdays wishes and fake news on unthinking infinite scroll, and any control over what content you see is entombed in a byzantine labyrinth of revenue-draining toggles, courtesy of an unfriendly AI built to optimize for ad impressions and nothing else. All your friends may be on Facebook, but that's not where they communicate thoughtful ideas. If you can recognize your friends by their opinions and perspectives, it's not because they posted on Facebook.

Perhaps the absence of long-form Facebook posts doesn't dismay you, to you whom the algorithmic prioritization of entertainment to information is a feature, not a bug. There's no cause for alarm if Facebook doesn't have blog posts, because that's what blogs are for, and it's silly to bemoan a toaster's inability to boil eggs. But blogs are dead! The global dominance of social media empires and their walled gardens has monopolized the very nature of communication, rendering the very idea of an individual voice extinct. Consider Reddit, perhaps the opposite of Facebook, where instead of reading separate people spreading anonymous ideas, you read anonymous people spreading separate ideas. If you have something interesting to say―like a blog post―you can certainly post it to Reddit, or Hacker News, or any copycat link aggregator out there, and people might remember your ideas. They certainly won't remember you, the author, as evidenced by the majority of readers who barely finish reading the title of a post before spewing their hivemind blather into the abyss of twice-upvoted comments. Can you name the author of any Reddit link you've traversed in the past year, or even the domain it was hosted on? Even if you can, it doesn't matter, because there's no way to subscribe to external content; you're only allowed to see what the whims of the silent lurking majority deign to dole out, predominantly anti-Republican outrage porn and reposted videos whose true creators you'll never search up, no matter how brilliantly produced. Similarly for commenters, which you likely never notice, despite the ability to subscribe to users, save for a handful of prominent novelty accounts rising above the murky deeps of the hivemind. Perhaps in smaller subreddits one can pick out pillars of the community, but to become one yourself is distressingly similar to participation in municipal politics, certainly a barrier to entry too high for us typical viewers of low IQ.

Neither Facebook nor Reddit are communities at all. They're homogenized soups of anonymous stuff either devoid of content or unshackled from their human creators entirely. Again, browsing cat videos and mindless memes is a perfectly respectable pastime, but after depopulating the blogosphere, our alien overlords have left nothing in their wake to fill the gap of peer-to-peer content. The second-last bastion was Twitter. On paper, it had almost everything to be a community: anyone could post anything, you could follow people, they might follow back, and suddenly you have a modern blogosphere with a 140-character limit. In fact, most of my communities did migrate to Twitter for the banal everyday discussion of "hi everyone i just woke up" and "im too lazy to post... g'night!" I personally disgorged over 50,000 inane tweets before realizing that in practice, it's the same as Facebook, as 140 characters simply isn't enough room for expressing coherent thought. And once tweets disappear from your timeline, they're gone forever, left to the mercy of your corporate masters; Twitter only became profitable last year, and if they go bankrupt, all your content dies with it. The Great Library of Alexandria would be but an inner-city kindergarten bookshelf to the fantastic destruction of unarchivable content if Facebook ever shuts down, perhaps the greatest loss in the history of humanity.

The core problem was the insidious transition from producing to consuming, when content creation suddenly became a full-time job, one for which the general public lacks certification, especially given the baffling trend to videotize everything. We're back to the television era, as if the communal Internet had been a figment of the imagination, a hoax invented by disgruntled millennials; Somehow, we've shifted from a web where anyone could write anything, to one where only creators considered writing anything at all, to the point where a friend recently removed all traces of her incredibly wholesome blog because there was no reason to share her thoughts with strangers, and for fear that in future she'd ever regret something she posted. It was that exact conversation that planted the seeds of revival in my head, a sustainable and permanent revival, one without the unrealistic requirements of post a day or an artifical 2500 words per post.

It's been seven years. Welcome back to my blog.