Hope in the Dark Forest

The web has become a dark forest, they say. But we can still appreciate it.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent. (…)
This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest. — Yancey Strickler

Last week, an article about Digital Loneliness has made the rounds. Now I read another one by Yancey Strickler. It’s basically the same messaging—people stay in their non-public spaces, their Slack, their Whatsapp groups, their newsletters, podcasts instead of using public web channels. People are not only annoyed by the many bad players on the web, they’re actually afraid of the predators—people who hunt other people’s writings, photos, thoughts and make them feel bad, or even threat them.

Whenever I talk about topics like diversity, privacy, money, and politics in private channels, people say they wouldn’t want to publish their thoughts on the web publicly because of the consequences they foresee: People threatening them, giving them bad feelings, radically dismissing the thoughts.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

It feels good to be in a private space. But what my audience has shown me is that I can write a very personal newsletter to over twenty thousand readers of which most I don’t know personally. I write it mainly as Email newsletter but it’s written and published first on the web from where my newsletter service (Mailtrain) fetches the content via my RSS feed and sends it to the peoples’ inboxes.

It’s one thing that it’s easy to publish content on tools like Slack, Facebook, Whatsapp. And it feels safe as it’s limited to the individual group. Unless you’re using a really secure app like Signal it’s a false sense of safety though. The companies who provide the apps and websites earn their money with analysing our content and tailor ads to it—and they are included in our conversations as well, by default.

Now, if these companies allow advertisers to undermine our thoughts, if they fail to protect us from bad players on the web, what’s the difference between publishing there or on our own website?
On our website, we have the freedom to write whatever we want, no one else will tailor ads on it, and there’s a good chance that we have an audience that fits our thoughts way better than on social media services.

It feels good to be honest to my audience, it feels like an anonymous friendship between me and the countless readers out there.

To me it feels good to be honest to my audience, it feels like an anonymous friendship between me and the countless readers out there. It takes some effort self-confidence to stand up for your thoughts but it’s worth it.

The web might be a dark forest but there are not only predators out there—but also a lot of friendly creatures who love to talk to us, get to know our thoughts, want to live in a nice and non-harmful society. If you’re cautious, friendly and don’t threaten others, this is what the feedback will be.
Exceptions will happen in life.
It’s still life.
We need to choose our way of living.
Within the web, outside of the web.

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