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March : Tweets




This month's abstinence is Social Media. I don't actually use the platform formerly known as Twitter, but I couldn't resist calling this post "Tweets" after the first two were called "Meats" and "Sweets".


Now.


Imagine you’re in a crowded city park, and all of a sudden, someone stands on a bench and starts shouting. Then someone else is standing on a trashcan and yelling their own opinion. Others start doing the same, overlapping, each shouting louder than the other. Maybe you climb the light pole and announce your presence and perspective, maybe you lay on the grass, or perhaps submerge your head in the fountain. You don’t know any of these people. but you made the choice to put yourself in this… yelling park, where such behavior is accepted and encouraged, so you feel somewhat complicit in the chaos. 


Welcome to social media.


Social media platforms have given us the ability to broadcast whatever we want whenever we want, which would be deemed unacceptable in real-life scenarios. It has been normalized to think other people should stop what they’re doing and listen to what you have to say or look at what you have to show them. 


If I had a friend who bombarded me every time something bubbled to their brain, whether it be a joke, a political stance, a food pic, an overwrought opinion of the kettlebell, a pic of their dog, a hair care routine or the fuel efficiency of their new car… 


I’d have to have a serious talk with this friend. 


About their dog. 


Right. You get what I’m saying, though. 


Yes. Imagine someone sending you, just you, a video of them mimicking a dance they saw in a video someone sent them. Absurd. A one-to-one version of Tik Tok would inspire violence.


Broadcasting to the audience of acquaintances and friends is a stark contrast to the genuine, personal connections we seek in real life. So, why is it so appealing? Why so addicting? 


As I thought about how to approach this article, I felt like I was taking you on a journey… like I am your Virgil, the guide who takes Dante down the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno


The metaphor is almost too appropriate. 


Do you remember the nine circles? 


Limbo

Lust

Gluttony

Greed

Wrath

Heresy

Violence

Fraud

Treachery


Right. 


The internet as a whole is Limbo… it just gets worse the deeper you go. 


It’s easy to go down that list of vices and see how social media has been used to propel all of those terrible themes. I can see how my own life and mental health have been influenced in (some of) these ways through social media. 


So why do I use it? How did I get here? Can social media be redeemed? 


Let’s take a walk into the fire and see where it takes us.



AOL

Our journey begins with America Online. 


I’m going to say AOL is my first social media platform. AOL delivered my first hit of digital dopamine. Logging in and hearing “You’ve got mail” was so exciting. What could it be? Who is writing to me? It could be anything! The potential! I can’t recall a single message from those days. I’m pretty sure it was all garbage. 


AOL was also my first exposure to a “chat”, too, and birthed a pavlovian response to a notification chime. 


This is why we silence our phone. 


I had a couple friends from school that I would chat with, but I am certain I talked to strangers, too. 


It’s terrifying to think about, actually. 


AOL was also the gateway (on our Gateway computer) to broadcasting/self-publishing. Publishing and broadcasting have always held gravity for me. With that same computer I printed my first business card. 


I could be anything I wanted. 


I vividly recall the thrill of realizing I could build my own website to share my thoughts and ideas with a vast (so vast) audience. I remember building that angelfire site, in the early days of the Internet, trying to learn basic HTML…


I could change the color of the text and set the indent however I wanted! 

I was a digital demigod. 


I had the power to publish my unfiltered thoughts for the world to see. And what did the teen me want the world to see? 


A manifesto, naturally…


My site was dedicated to the Autumn Resistance Movement—an earnest, adolescent, creative and hilarious expression of geographic fury. 


Midwest pioneers were quitters!

Fall is a capitalist invention to sell sweaters and football tickets!

The FALL of Man… it’s right in front of your eyes! Wake up!


I wish I could dig the manifesto up… I’m sure it’s awful, but it had some gems for sure. I’ve since found my peace with Autumn (by addressing my extreme seasonal depression).


This is the most innocuous example of the double-edged sword of the internet and social media: freedom of speech without filters or quality control. It's the best and worst part of these platforms—we have the freedom to express ourselves, but so much of what we choose to express is simply… noise. 


Like this post. 


I don’t wholly disagree. 


The internet is full of so much junk, and we can only wish for innocuous noise… the reality is so much darker. It’s no surprise that AI skews towards the ugliest ends of human thinking, given the untold terabytes of trash in the digital ether. 


Frank Herbert was a prophet… set your clocks for a Butlerian Jihad in 8000 years.

Sorry. Dune reference. Let’s move on.


MySpace

As I retrace my steps into social media, I can’t ignore the speed bump that was MySpace. My memories are hazy. There was some guy named Tom who sat like an ape—a fitting representation of the platform's primitive nature. I think my friend Luke was on there, which was funny, because he lived with me at the time. And maybe Dashboard Confessional was on there? It was a brief moment. 


Facebook

Facebook emerged just as I began my career at the bike shop. At first, I didn't understand it… 


You say that every time a new platform arrives. 


True, but when Fb started, it was a platform exclusively for college kids, so I didn’t have to understand it. However, when the walls came down and anyone could join, my perspective shifted. I saw the potential for the bike shop, but in order to have a business account, I needed to have a personal account. 


This is just how they get you. 


I eventually succumbed to the seduction of posting personally, but for the longest time, I was in it for the business. 


Those early days of Facebook for Business were too good to be true. It quickly became a vital tool for our business, allowing us to connect with our local community and beyond. The direct, positive results of engagement, both online and in person, were undeniable, leading to tangible outcomes like increased sales and event attendance. 


It was a revelation, experiencing the power of social media to amplify our message and reach. Our shop was in a small college town in rural Illinois… not a hotspot for cycling… at… all. But on Facebook, we could tell the story we wanted. It didn’t matter what town the shop was in, it was what we showed in the shop that mattered. 


At the time, we still felt like we were sending pictures to the moon and didn’t really realize the difference it was making. Looking back, we were setting a social footprint that expanded way beyond our little corn town. 


Although the term hadn’t been born, or made commonplace, we were wielding FOMO like a sword and… for a time… we were slaying. I won’t give Facebook all the credit. We worked our butts off to try and stay creative, be authentic and promote rad stuff. It was an effective dowsing rod for our business. We could divine our direction by following the likes. The analytics, as rudimentary as they were, were the tea leaves we read to reveal the trends. Underneath it all, we truly wanted to build a community and make people feel welcome. I believe that is what resonated with a wider audience. 


But social media was the trebuchet to our slingshot. It got our message out there. 


This was all before they started to clamp down on business accounts. It was easy back then. People saw what we posted. We could send an invite to every follower for every event… and they would get a notification! 


Every good drug dealer knows… the first hits are always free. 


Those days are long gone now. As I feebly fumble to promote Mordecai on social media, it’s so clear to me that we were utterly spoiled back then. 


After Fb tightened the screws on business accounts and I could no longer rely on the cleverness of our content to garner attention, I quickly lost interest in playing the game. I don’t blame them, they have to make money, but for a small business who couldn’t buy the eyeballs, we had to find other ways to get our stuff out there. 


Regarding my personal use of Facebook, I walked away from it around 2015 when we moved to Madison. I’d moved to Instagram and didn’t like bothering with two platforms. Also, it felt like a party past its prime, occupied only by ugly algorithms. 


So I bowed out for a long time. To be honest, it had some repercussions. There were certain long distance friendships, and even some close ones, that suffered from that disconnect. Those relationships were on autopilot; the platform kept us connected just enough. It took some effort to reconnect those ties later on. 


I have since started to check in on Facebook again, but still keep it at a distance. If there’s one thing I actually enjoy, though, it’s Facebook Marketplace. The shopping algorithm is very entertaining and “there’s gold in them thar hills”. One man’s trash is another man’s new comic book collection. It’s like a garage sale I can peruse without getting out of bed. 



Instagram

Instagram didn’t make sense to me at first, 


See, you said it again. 


Yes, but this is different. When IG launched, it felt like we were voluntarily hobbling ourselves. Instagram didn’t make sense in the same way Twitter didn’t make sense. We could add all the words we wanted on Facebook, so why limit yourself to 140 characters? We could post pictures on Facebook. So why do we need to limit ourselves to just one pic at a time? What’s the difference? The filters? That’s dumb… it’s artifice. It’s makeup. It’s… inauthentic. 


But dang… that one filter made that ride look so epic. 


Instagram was just the next wave to surf. At first, again, it was for the shop, but it didn’t take long for me to start using it more for myself. Honestly, back in those days, there wasn’t much of a difference (this wasn’t a good thing, I’ll talk more about that later). 


Being purveyors of shiny bike bits, IG made it super easy to post the tastiest new inventory at the shop. Since it was the new platform where the cool kids were at, we saw traction when we started posting pictures of the hot new things like gravel rides, fatbike adventures and post-ride hangs. Again, we saw direct engagement, so we kept it up. 


The first hits are always free. 


After departing the bike shop in 2015, we moved to Madison and my relationship with IG changed. I was just a person. I wasn’t a person representing a bike shop (NCC is dead, long live NCC) and a non-profit (AXLETREE lives!)(in spirit). I was just a guy. Many of the people following my IG account were there for the bikes and some of those strangers wandered away. Many did not. My content was still heavy on the bikes, given that bikes are still pretty awesome and still played a central role in my life and career. 


As I mentioned before, my identity as a bike shop person and as a person person were entangled, deeply, and I had to detangle for a while (still am, tbh). I’ve been a user… 


(apps and drugs… both need users) 


…of Instagram ever since, but have grown away (grown up?) and post less than I used to. It’s still fun to post bikes and bike stuff. I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the little dopamine hits from a post picking up a pile of likes. 


I relaunched Mordecai Book Building after taking a year off in 2015/2016. I built a new studio and refurbished a Vandercook #4 letterpress, so I was coming out of hibernation with a lot of neat things to share. I’d never really dedicated much time to building MBB as a brand because my life was too busy in the bike shop days, but it was fun to start telling that story in earnest. Instagram has been helpful to get my little business going and share what I’m working on. I have never really seen a return when I boost posts, so I’m still stubbornly using the platform without paying/playing the game. 


I’ve certainly felt the void of not having Instagram this month. I don’t think a single person has missed me on Instagram, but do worry/wonder what’s up on my Mordecai side. I’ve built a few cool books this month and thought, “oh… I need to post this,” or, “I bet I could sell a few of these… I’ll post them to see if they sell.”. And then, when I can’t/won’t post, I feel bummed. How else will anyone know I have cool things they can buy? 


Luckily, books don’t feed my family and books don’t feed yours, so we’ll all be fine. 


Last Stop

Ok, so… evidently my social media hell only has four circles. 


Instagram is my stop on the social media train. I am too old to snap and tok… I can’t even thread. I have no idea what comes next, but I’m too old/tired/bored to get on board or learn something new. Kind of like how my dad’s stop on the social media train was Facebook and IG was just too much for him. IG is fine for me. I can show myself out. You can leave me here. 


This month I accepted a new position at PeopleForBikes, and when I went to update my LinkedIn page, it didn’t even dawn on me that LinkedIn was social media. I changed my position in my profile and thought, “What the heck, I’ll share my new position in a post… it’s what grown-ups do on LinkedIn.” Still, I was thinking, “I don’t use LinkedIn as social media… this isn’t breaking my fast.”


But it totally was. 


As soon as I posted, I realized I’d been fooling myself. 


LinkedIn is absolutely a social media platform. 


That is clear to me now. When I refreshed the page and saw the likes and comments start to roll in, I tasted that little tingle of dopamine that comes with a positive outcome to a social media post. I had broken my fast. I’d taken a hit. 


There’s ample literature and research regarding social media addiction on the internet, so I don’t need to go too deep on that here, but it’s been a thing for me. I think I’ve been able to manage it pretty well over the years, but with this month’s fast, it’s clear to me that once an addict, always an addict.


Social media dangles the most delicious intangibles in front of its users: validation, affirmation, approval, acceptance, belonging. 


And what’s underneath?


Dopamine. Pure and simple. 


I also think it can be an opiate… it numbs and removes you from yourself in a way. It keeps you distracted with other people’s lives. It’s a unique form of entertainment, because it has that interpersonal aspect. It is flavored by the relationships, with subtle notes of meaning and the slightest spice of authenticity. 


It’s also full of dumb stuff that doesn’t do me any good at all, 


Sure, but there’s something special about it because the content is from people I know (or choose to tune in to). This month, I've tried to fill those gaps in my day when I used to scroll with other digital things, be it sudoku, word games, or angry birds… it just doesn’t hit the same. 


Now that I’m halfway through the month, I will admit I am feeling a little withdrawal. 


I’m leaning into the metaphor here, I know, but in reality I do feel a little disconnected. I have found myself wondering about a few people, so I’ve reached out directly instead of checking their socials. That’s been refreshing. Some friends have reached out to me, too, which has been cool. I’ve even had a couple people CALL ME using their TELEPHONE and it has been FANTASTIC. 


I am enjoying this break from social media, but I’ll re-engage next month. I’ll try to continue being authentic and honest and share what I think is positive and good. 


In Dante’s Inferno, Virgil tells Dante that hard work and honesty are the best ways to establish one's reputation in life and in death. I can try to approach social media that way and maybe, just maybe, make it a little less hellish for my part. 







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