Category: January 2017

A Digital Dark Age

In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.

The quote above comes from the Kickstarter blurb for, where developer Manton Reece has created a service that allows you to create microblog posts (i.e. like tweets) that are actually hosted on your own website, and are fed in to a centralised feed using RSS.

Reading about it (via Daring Fireball) immediately led me to the second Build reference in a week: Jeremy Keith’s All Our Yesterdays, which – for me personally – really hammered home the point that the Internet is a really unstable place.

Much teenage creativity, on my part, had been poured in to writing nonsense on a collection of Geocities sites – and then in October 2009, Yahoo pulled the plug and the lights went out on those and millions of other websites.

See also: Myspace; Bebo; Microsoft Live Spaces; Facebook Notes (ok, still there, but hard to find); and so on. Most of what I personally added to these platforms had no value whatsoever: but I still felt like it was mine. It followed that part of the motivation to returning to hosting my own blog was the determination to be in control: the readership may be greatly reduced (hi, Dad) but at least it shouldn’t disappear without my involvement.

As users, we make the false assumption that what we create is going to be around forever. In fact, the history of the Internet thus far says otherwise on many accounts (pun klaxon!) Hopefully, we might all get our heads around it in time.

When the term [Dark Ages] is used by historians today, therefore, it is intended to be neutral, expressing the idea that the events of the period seem ‘dark’ to us because of the paucity of historical record.


Social Media and Promotion

There are two main problems with a social media exclusive approach to promotion. Firstly, there is a lot of content vying for peoples’ attention on social media, and the news of your gig risks getting lost amidst that content. Secondly, when you’re promoting on social media, you’re broadcasting to whoever may follow you, rather than targeting those people that are the most likely to attend your show.

alecplowman, in ‘Gig Like a Pro, Part Two: Bring a Big Crowd‘ on Ultimate Guitar


I was chatting to a local musician recently who had just ‘launched’ their new EP. (Which broadly seemed to equate to announcing that it was available on social media.) I threw out what I was expecting to be an encouraging question: ‘So, how many copies have you shifted so far?’

The answer was not a high number.

When supporting another friend over the past few years, the broad question of, “What does it mean to release new music?” has come up a lot.

Back in the stone age, my own student band released a CD: that is, we got a few hundred made, and set about flogging them to friends, fellow students, family, and at gigs (sometimes including ones we weren’t actually playing at).

Though Myspace was at its peak, I would say that our fanbase was broadly people who actually came to see us play. And we sold quite a lot of them physical CDs to take home, often coming straight off stage and heading out in to the crowd, cardboard box in hand. The potential base was almost certainly a lot smaller, but I wonder if the conversion rate – i.e. people buying the product – would be considered fairly impressive by 2017’s standards.

I think, for a lot of folk, launching today is reduced to uploading it to Soundcloud or Spotify, and then sticking it on social media. After all, that’s what folk the next tier up seem to do.

However, I wonder if that activity actually hides something: the legwork carried out offline to promote gigs and music, to get out there, make the contacts, and find the human beings who stand as the gatekeepers in what remains of the local and national music scene.

The technology is indeed available now to make anyone an artist. However, that neither guarantees:

a) The product is any good;

b) The music will stand out;

c) Anyone will ever stop scrolling and listen to it.

But then the question is: what can anyone who is starting out do about it?

I’m not sure; but I reckon it probably involves even more hard work than before.

Social Media and Attention Spans

There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.

Craig Mod, ‘How I Got My Attention Back

I met Craig briefly when he came to speak at Build a few years ago – he was both incredibly accommodating, and absolutely the voice that could write this article, in this way, and not sound patronising. He’s a guy who takes the time to think things through.

(And therefore, like a few who comment underneath, I find the mental image of him being the guy who plays ten straight hours of Clash of the Clans is all the more weird.)

Anyway, the discussion in his article gets the heart of something really important – not just the desire to disconnect from the socially networked part of our society, but how fundamentally difficult it is becoming for so many of us to do so.

I dumped most of the core social media apps off my iPhone about six months ago. (At the time, I was probably felt the strongest desire to switch back to a ‘dumb phone’ I ever have, but ultimately three functions kept me clinging on: Camera, WhatsApp, and Google Calendar.) Social media is not really something I want to engage with whilst at home: I’ll occasionally flick through my Twitter and Instagram feeds on our communal iPad (which lives on top of the fridge), most often to see updates from a very select group of friends.

Leaving ‘it’ altogether would, however, be extremely difficult. In work, Facebook and WhatsApp have become integral to how we function as an organisation. I can ignore the former in particular outside of the workplace, but I literally can’t leave. And as a result, I know I am constantly battling the distraction of being ‘always on’.

Craig references this analysis by Microsoft’s Danah Boyd, who points to memes as the origin of the terminal disease which has swept Western culture, robbing us of our attention spans.

InGravity and Grace,” Simone Weil writes, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.” Then is the lack of attention the opposite? Does it presuppose fear and hate?

It had been a long time since my attention was mine.

He goes on to discuss some circumstances he found himself in, and reasonable rules he came up with, to help get his attention span back.

A highly recommended read.

Click To Tweet

You know, like in this article.

It’s been around for a while, but I feel like the proliferation of ‘Click To Tweet’ functionality is somehow symptomatic of a larger problem that I can’t quite put my finger on.

What I do know is that, if your article is peppered with tweetable quotes that you are pushing me to share, my natural reaction is somewhat adverse – and I don’t imagine I’m the only one.

Being Me

“I don’t like being in front of people. Being in a character, I could get on stage and talk for half an hour. Like, my biggest fear is being at a big dinner party, and someone be like, ‘Kristen – tell that story about…’

and then I just immediately go in to the sweats.”

Kristen Wiig

I’ve long held to the theory that we all play characters in our lives.  Perhaps, like me, you might feel like you play characters in many aspects of life: particularly in work and social situations, I feel like I improvise my way through most days.

I’m fortunate to have friends who make me laugh like crazy – but even with them, I wonder: how often am I truly me?

I was just watching this episode of the beloved Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and I completely identify with how Kristen Wiig feels.

I wonder if it is exacerbated by social media? Do we invest so much time in crafting our presented selves online, that we become more and more protected and insular of our true nature?

Or maybe Lucy’s right as usual.