Analog Dreams

Musings of a dreamer who should have never left the analog era.

As obvious as it may sound, I’m finally realizing that the reason I stopped wanting to post my personal work, make TikToks, vlogs, anything that COULD be easy “low effort” stuff is because even when trying to be “authentic”, everything has to be a performance now. And I’m tired of it.

But the “performance” side of things is impossible to avoid if you want anything to come of your work. This wasn’t always the case.

In the 90s, art and videos were made to share with friends. You could submit something to a magazine; if published, people would enjoy it or respond to it, but weren’t too concerned with the name behind the work (if you weren’t a regular contributor). You might have something you made shared on forums in a pseudo “viral” way, but you had more control over it. Or at least, over the attention you received from it.

In the early 00s, you shared things you made more openly and publicly online, but everything was still mostly anonymous. All that mattered was the work, the meme, the impact. When was the last time you saw an image, poem or blog post, video, anything get a ton of attention without it being very obvious who made it? You may not personally know who made it, but it’s highly unlikely you’ve seen something like this in recent years that isn’t branded or pointed to an existing, sustained social account in some way.

Jump to about 2008 and it started being about the person and “following” them. It became a matter of persona, a skill of performance. This was a slow change. It wasn’t immediate, and we still saw plenty of breakout/viral hits from people that we’d never hear from again. But as memes and viral videos got shared, a foundation of “influencer culture” was being laid. Brick by brick, the basic vloggers and comedy skit channels started posting consistently and asking for “subscribers”, followed by gamers and later makeup and beauty creators. By 2010, the idea of “being a YouTuber” had already been solidified – with plenty of kids and teens like myself completely swept up in the idea that we could do something that had our name attached to it online for a long time and have it last beyond a Halo: CE clan leaderboard or short-run Pokémon Elite 2000 forum signature egg shop.

And today.. it’s EASY to find a following and garner success by just consistently sharing your work over time and building it up. Want to get “famous” online as an artist, comedian, photographer, whatever? Just post at least 3 times weekly to the most trendy apps for that specific content type with a consistent username that points to where you are elsewhere, use some clever hashtags or trending sounds, and… wait. Look back in a couple years and see how far you’ve gone. This rarely doesn’t work, other than with people who still have a lot of development left to do in their field.

There are far fewer obstacles in my way for getting what I want with my other work than ever before, and yet motivation has vanished because of the performance aspect. It’s no longer about making cool work and sharing it, it’s about making a show out of it.

In a way, this has 100% democratized many creative fields and made it more accessible than ever to find an audience and have your voice heard. There’s good in that, I will never deny it. It changed my life for the better in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

But with that, it removed so much meaning from the work. While it does still happen, the average person who gains a following for doing a thing isn’t doing so because they make work that stands out the most, speaks to more people with meaning, or is the most skillfully-crafted. It’s the people who play the game. It’s a sales job.

Secrets to success:

Want to gain a following for photography?

  1. Post photos at least 3 times a week to Instagram, Threads, Twitter, and start hosting your own portfolio (probably with some YouTuber’s sponsor code for SquareSpace).

  2. CONSTANTLY be posting YouTube Shorts and TikToks about the “skills you NEED to know to take better photos” consisting of the most basic Photography 101 tips on lighting, composition, understanding shutter speed and ISO. Bonus points if you keep pitching it as a crusade against “gatekeeping”

  3. Constantly show that you’re using a Sony or Fuji camera. You’ll recognize the position of how to hold it on-camera and eventually your muscle memory will develop to the extent that you’ll always hold your camera about neck high, at an angle to reveal the logo, even when you’re not filming Shorts.

  4. Don’t worry about not knowing what you’re doing. Go somewhere pretty or find a hot model friend to shoot, make new Shorts every time you learn even the most basic thing about photography, and teach it as if you’re an expert who’s cracked the code.

  5. Make sure at least once a month you recreate trendy photos that flood your Instagram and all look the same – you never know when someone will pick your downtown Chicago sunset out of the sea of them and happen to follow you. [Just don’t be offended when you see them in the comments of someone else’s similar photo thinking it was you they were talking to.]

  6.  Be sure to spend as much time as possible hyping up new camera and lens releases, debating camera brands with strangers online, and posting your hot takes no one asked for.

That’s it. I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands at this point) of photographers gain millions of followers and turn their “Babbie’s First DSLR” experience into more gear than they know what to do with it and more success than countless lifetime photographers (who don’t want to play the game) will ever do.

Copy and paste these instructions to every niche and topic.

It’s easy. Too easy. Perhaps that lack of difficulty is contributing to the lower motivation, too. I did start my “successful” phase of my career trying to break down walls and make things easier for everyone, so I should want this – but I do enjoy problem solving, and it feels the problems to solve anymore are not ones I like the answers to.

You’ll notice that very little in that list involved taking photos or focusing on improving them. Part of that is because it’s inherent to being a photographer, but also because it’s not required. There’s a baseline minimal level you have to do to maintain the content, but you don’t even have to TRY to become a great photographer to become famous for it anymore.

[Again, photography is just used as an example, this applies to virtually everything online.]

Instead, you have to master the performance. Master chasing trends, inciting argument, getting the attention on you, not your work.

When I go on a trip with my family packing a camera and a lens, the last thing I want to have to think about is the performance. I don’t want to turn my family or my relaxation time into “content.” I don’t even want to make “content.” My photography is my way of preserving memories and creating art. The same applies copypasta’d to my glitchart, design work, cinematography and videography desires, creative writing, etc. Obviously I develop many of my creative skills for and apply them in ways that benefits my job from time to time, but I don’t want that to be the sole purpose for them.

When I’m “on the clock” I perform. I do my job. But then my other stuff I do – even if I WANT to be able to turn it into parts of the job – I don’t want to perform. I don’t want to minmax hashtags & posting times & deal w/ a new influx of toxic comments that to argue with… I just want to make cool shit.

A lot of this is a “me problem” but a lot of it is what I see every artist go through.

As a social media newbie, they post their work as they make it around school/job, build a following, go full time with their shop and TikTok ads and affiliate links, then burn out due to all the *other* stuff that comes with it. They stop making art with anywhere near as much frequency or meaning.

I don’t want to end up there. Being able to create online, share it, help others learn how to do it and get past their hurdles towards being able to do this, it all matters too much to me. 

But I just can’t do it.

I can’t do the persona game. The other guys might be happy to “make a channel about me but pretending it’s to teach you stuff” (paraphrased, but nearly the exact quote from a fellow creator in my primary niche) but I can’t. I can’t scam people, I can’t lie to them, manipulate them. To me the work is what matters, not the cult of personality.

I’d be selling it short to suggest that it’s only the persona part that makes it a performance. Performance is inherent to the very process of posting anything anymore. You have to filter it, make it look good enough, trim it, add flair, do something, and at the very least you have to post it to a platform (if you want eyes on it) that is designed around personal branding, farming likes and followers, and “engagement.” It’s not “difficult to avoid” the performance issue, it’s impossible. You cannot post something to a modern platform without it coming into play. 

Whether it’s a caption, title, tags, thumbnail, editing, cleaning up (or re-cluttering as the new trend goes) your space, making yourself look decent, making sure you have your thoughts together, it’s always there.

Some of it’s a natural part of making something people want to consume. Why would anyone listen to audio you didn’t cut out yelling at your neighbor’s dog to shut up or you mom coming into your room, or watch a video that has a minute of you sitting down and getting ready to talk after you hit record? (Much of early YouTube was like these two examples anyway.) 

It’s always there. I can’t just post a cool photo I took, some thoughts I’ve had, a cool video idea without at minimum, formatting it for the platform it’s going on, and almost always without always being tempted by the notification counter of Likes or the persistence of comments and replies. 

I’ve been driven my entire career life to share my passions and my work with others, yet I literally cannot do so without worrying about performance – else I’d be out of a job. And nothing kills my motivation to post low-effort (but still interesting, based on how many others I’ve seen pop up posting clones of the kinds of stuff I’d want to post) clips to TikTok like that dread that inevitably I’ll be hit with a wave of dumbass 16 year olds who want to argue that I’m wrong about things I’ve been teaching since before they were born, just because I don’t have a million followers or something.

This line of thinking put a concrete ceiling above my head that I’ll never break through. It’s my fault, but it’s still there. I hate being put in a box on a micro level, but on the macro… I boxed myself in big time.

A self-imposed ceiling still feels claustrophobic if you don’t want to compromise your values to get rid of it.

The key to mass success and surviving making “content” online is to adapt, and it’s become blindingly obvious that adapting is not something I do anymore. And there will be consequences for that.

And it’s no coincidence that I struggle with this more and more as evidence shows younger generations don’t even bother trying to consume meaningful work anymore and big corpo wants to replace us with AI. Honestly, I don’t take it personally that the tech bros want to do this – they have been obsessed with “disrupting” (which doesn’t mean what they think it means nor has the impact they think it does) every market under the sun for decades. It’s not personal. But what I do take offense to is that people are okay consuming it. 

I’ve spent most of my day ruminating on these thoughts and putting words to the existential dread that comes with them. It might not be much, but these are my true, honest feelings and processing of how things are changing have changed. It has meaning, meaning to me as the writer. Meaning to you as the reader who might share a similar current experience, past experiences, or gut feeling you couldn’t describe. Meaning to the future as it might predict changes I make in what I do and how I do it as the years progress.

But why would you read something like this written by AI? Willingly? The AI hasn’t lived, it hasn’t felt, it hasn’t decided what is right and what is wrong. It just reads what other people have wrote and colored-by-numbers its way into some filler text to take up the page.

Why would I read what nobody has bothered to write? Why would I feel something about a thought that no one actually had?

This isn’t about AI. If anything, it’s more about the progression of capitalism and the commoditization of art and creativity. It’s about getting old, not keeping up with the times. But ultimately, it’s about meaning and feeling.

If we don’t care, who will?

That’s why I can’t see, to post my personal work anymore. It’s why I shoot nearly a thousand photographs a year (on film and digital), why I’m trying to learn to sing, why I play around with synthesizers and circuit bent analog video gear, why I try to master my videography craft as I turn my space into my dream cyberspace void, why I write and write and write and cannot seem to bother to post it anywhere if it’s not in a work video.

My dreams could easily come true if I just posted a photo every day, if I just made a couple Shorts/TikToks a week on my cool creative projects behind the scenes. If I just submitted my writing to more places, tried getting in art galleries, shilled NFTs or something.

But I’m not sure I’m capable. I might die one day, with a digital vault full of work, thought, idea, meaning – all screaming to be seen and heard – that will eventually succumb to bitrot and never see the light of day. This isn’t the old times, my work won’t find its way into museums and become “classics” after I depart this material plane onto the next. It’ll just dissolve into nothing. Because the work doesn’t matter anymore, all that matters is who has the charisma and salesmanship to push the least amount of effort in front of the most amount of people.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

aka “New Year, New Philosophies” (via Shop blog)

In 2023, I finally got the activation energy to learn and setup Shopify and launch my own shop. After Gumroad cost me thousands of dollars in fees with my OBS Course (while not providing a great “course” experience) and not being happy with the direction of other platforms – I sat out to make my own shop.

Screenshot of Shopify's sidebar, featuring many plugins and modules.

Growing Pains

Shopify is complicated. But it's also really easy.

It's complicated because it's this deep system of different plugins, modules, themes, etc. rather than being an all-encompassing solution itself. In a way that makes it very similar to WordPress, but I had to immediately buy plugins to replicate “default” features I wanted from other platforms I was switching from. (Such as the ability to list free products with a “suggested” price or “pay what you want”, having digital download products at all, or the course system.) Even now I'm still navigating the space to figure out which modules I need to get what I want out of my shop.

It's really easy in that it's a “no code” kind of setup, where everything is modular and GUI friendly, all designed to be as user-centric as possible – with plugin developers being quick to support me fixing issues and such. In this way, I've had a far better experience than similar scenarios in WordPress.

It's a lot of work, and costs more money than most people want to initially pay to just host their shop. I have to pay for Shopify's plan, I have to pay for a plan for the “Name Your Price” functionality, for the Course system, and for MailChimp for a newsletter if I want that. But these are static costs – costs that don't change or scale unpredictably – versus the growing fees and much higher costs of fees from sales on platforms, with the scale of stuff I sell here it's always worth it.

There's even an amazing feature that lets me showcase my product listings below my videos on YouTube! However, this keeps breaking as Google Merchant keeps disabling my account for “Misrepresentation” without giving any sort of clue as to what triggers this. I cannot, for the live of me, solve this. F.

screenshot of the site header

New Look

2024 starts with a new facelift for the shop. I wasn't using the last theme properly, so I spent a good couple days straight evaluating themes and such. That's another “complicated yet easy” part of Shopify: You can pay for really elaborate and on-brand themes, but if you have specific ideas, there might not be a pre-made one yet. There were a few retro-oriented themes, but not quite what I was looking for. So I went for brutalism instead. Perhaps eventually I can afford to pay someone to make a more glitch/analog theme, but for now I dig this. 

I still have a bit of work ahead of me for swapping out images and filling in text spots as I find them, but I'm stoked. This feels more like home and looks GREAT on mobile, too!


My big concern about Shopify comes down to ownership and control. I'm a huge advocate of self-hosting your work and content as much as possible, syndicating to third-party platforms. This has a ton of advantages when it comes to creative control, surviving trends and waves of internet changes, and so on (read more about the POSSE strategy on IndieWeb).

In some ways, moving to a Shopify shop gives me these advantages: I have full control of the content, aesthetics, etc. of my shop and how I interact with my users. It also allows me to still “syndicate” my listings to Etsy or something else if I want added discovery while still pointing people to my own home for it, first. This is all exactly what I want.

But when it comes to ownership, Shopify is arguably as much of a third-party black box as Etsy, Gumroad, etc. The service, tools, plugins, etc. are all hosted and ran through Shopify. I can use my own domain and choose the extra-party services I interact with it, but I cannot self-host my Shopify site. Given the complexity and support requirements, etc. you don't really want to with this kind of thing – BUT it leaves the same glaring problem of me not being in control. If Shopify goes under, cuts services, gets bought by Elon Musk, changes rates, etc. I'm still beholden to their whim. That makes me nervous.

But for now, I'm going to just try to focus on the good and get the most out of it. If I could only figure out this damn Misrepresentation issue.

The Plan

In 2024, I'm hoping to have more offerings to sell here. The OBS Course and usual listings will remain, but I want to sustain my career more on the things I make, rather than ads run on my content.

That means more:

  • Art listings:
    • Prints
    • Sticker packs
    • Pins and buttons
    • Desk mats etc.
  • Courses
    • Resolve?
    • Premiere?
    • Stream Setups?
    • Thumbnail creation?
    • What do you want to learn?
  • Utility crafts
    • (Such as my PS2 memory card holder from Etsy)
  • Lightroom & Resolve Presets

I don't want to overwhelm everyone with options, but I want to support myself as an artist and a creative, not just a guy who makes videos and runs ads. I think that delivers better results for you all, too.

Thanks for everything ~Addie

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

One of the coolest ideas we were taught when learning about the World Wide Web in the 1990s and early 2000s was the fact that sites on the “web” could all be interconnected. The web was going to be a revolution in how we learn, interact, communicate, and share because of that interconnectedness and lack of centralization. From “a series of tubes” to the “networked computers” descriptor to the “Information Super Highway” – the internet being framed as a massive network of interconnected computers all sharing and distributing data to each other across an open protocol specifically implied multidirectional communication. The web of today very much does NOT resemble this. In fact in “Web 2.0” (or Web 2.5 or Web 5 or whatever the hell equivalent we would be in by this point) controlled by corporations and social media hellsites has been built to be kind of the opposite. Social media platforms have transformed from being the cool place to hang out on the internet when you didn’t have anything else to do, to trying to be your entire internet. While virtually every major platform has engaged in this awful behavior – with Twitter and YouTube being other obnoxious and notable examples – Facebook has perhaps been the worst about locking users into a singular platform. [Hell, even just the fact that these websites have gone from “website” to “app” to “platform” give you the hints at these changes in the first place.] Facebook is often heralded as being the entire online experience for populations in many countries – especially those late in getting widespread home internet access. That is fucking terrifying. Between deprioritizing any post that links out of Facebook (or Twitter, YouTube, replace any major platform here) to bullying news outlets and media companies to posting entirely natively on Facebook instead of using their own infrastructure and publications to algorithmically deciding what a user should or shouldn’t like... Facebook tends to be the shining example of everything that can go wrong when someone is stuck in a singular walled garden online. [Thank goodness AOL didn’t stick around and become a retention-focused corporation, eh?]

This problem, however, can be traced to another, much more innocuous, source as well: Landing Pages. Researching anything about marketing online assuredly floods you with tons of blogs, newsletters, ads, and AI-regurgitated nonsense about Landing Pages. They’re a marketer’s wet dream. It sounds fancy, but it’s as the name implies – a page for your potential user base or customer base to “land on” for you to then up-sell them into buying your goods, apparel, courses, or signing up for a paid subscription. If you want to sell things online, you’re supposed to buy advertising elsewhere and make sure you have the most amazeballs Landing Page to ensure whomever lands on it buys your thing. These pages are also a “dead end” on the web. It’s where users go to get cornered into either buying a thing or closing their tab/window. This blog post is an expansion on “Every site needs a Links Page / Why linking matters” via Melon’s Thoughts. Melon describes webpages that link to other websites made by other people as “positive citizens” of the web, and those that do not as “negative citizens” and “dead weight” and I could not agree more. While there are obviously going to be no end of exceptions, It’s pretty easy to tell if a website is there to participate in the web at large or just try to sell you something (even something “free”) by whether or not it links out. Melon writes: “Links are the lifeblood of the web, and linking to other sites is a declaration of independence. [...] Linking to other sites is an act of rebellion; but its also an act of meditation, and of ego death – linking to the work of others is a way of celebrating their achievements and by doing so, gaining dignity for yourself and your work. You deserve to be part of the web, not its final destination; and there is respect in knowing that. Its a two way street, a conversation, and a collaboration.” (Read the rest on their blog, linked above, of course.)

Describing the process of linking out as “ego death” really stood out to me, because that’s ultimately what it is: Ego. Whether you’re an alien with a human mask on running Facebook or a content creator building out a personal page, modern/corporate social media has convinced us all to focus on “me me me”. Describe yourself, link your other profiles on these approved platforms, give us your personal information, upload a photo of yourself regularly. It’s all about the “me” when a website should be participating in the web on the whole. Connecting.

The web used to be optimized primarily for this, too. Search engine performance was, in no small part, determined by the number of “backlinks” pointing to your website or post; the more people who link back to you, the more valuable your page must be for a given topic. Most blog platforms were originally built with this in mind, with Wordpress still having legacy ping/trace back features left in. Tumblr’s entire “post history” is a modern representation of this idea, too, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Marketing ruined this, however. “Number of backlinks” was an easy metric to game after a certain point and thus stopped being a valuable metric. Not being a SEO metric is no excuse to just stop linking to each other, however. As I’ve been exploring the web with new eyes and browsing as much of the “old web” as I can, I quickly noticed a pattern. I get so bored and turned off when everything I find is about a specific person. Context: I really love discovering new, cool shit online. It’s been the biggest thing that kept me glued to a screen since I was a kid. I was a DIGG and StumbleUpon addict. But those kinds of services have gone away, because the majority of the “stuff to find” has turned into “content” locked to a tiny handful of platforms – and thus YouTube and Twitter’s algorithms have supplanted the likes of StumbleUpon, inherent to that shift. Theoretically, places like Reddit could serve as a similar alternative for me. It has much of the required formula for it. The problem is, in the majority of subreddits (at least relevant to my interests/that I’ve found so far) most of the posts are about the poster in some way. “Hey I did this,” “hey guys did you see this, here’s my thoughts” “anger rawr”. Most of the time, I just don’t care. I’m exhausted of hearing about what random people want to argue about online. Thankfully, the about/wiki pages for some of the super-niche subreddits I find sometimes have “the good stuff” in that they link to external guides, blogs, resources on the subject – and those end up being far more valuable and interesting than the vast majority of posts in the sub. [Shouts out to my recent rabbit-holes in r/cyberDeck and r/journaling. Good stuff there.] I felt similarly when browsing many of the pages on Neocities. I’ve been trying to dig in there more, and there are a lot of wonderful pages, but there’s also a lot of “hey this is my page, this is me, here’s more of me, byeeee!” Without linking out to anything else, giving me anywhere else to go once I’ve finished taking in what you’ve said or shown. Sucks. I hadn’t thought about it that deeply before, but it’s genuinely a poor experience when I browse a website and have to close the tab and open up something else, rather than clicking out to a new thing from that webpage, continuing my online journey. That same logic is why YouTube heavily prioritizes long “watch sessions” for viewers and video performance, as videos that keep viewers clicking through to more videos and watching for longer are obviously providing better experiences and thus should get recommended more often. I just want more of that... reaching out to the rest of the web, you know?

Finding individual websites/blogs in this regard can help, especially when you find them in your niche. HackerNews and HackADay are great examples of this for me, and part of what sent me down my renewed CyberDeck obsession rabbit hole. But you’ve gotta be able to find those places in the first place. It’s so much harder to find the cool shit online when everyone keeps trying to keep you isolated to their page.

Even if you aren’t trying to build a community with your particular web page, don’t be “dead weight.” Give a potential reader somewhere else to go. Is your page about your craft or art in some way? Link out to some of the tools you use, outside explainers of the techniques you like, or other people who do what you do. Are you a content creator? Link to other content creators in your niche! Are you hosting a small personal page and blog? Join a webring! There’s always something new you can offer a site reader to keep their web-surfing going. Over on my EposVox site I have some external resources linked on a few services, but then I also have my Cool Tools page that links a bunch of the cool apps and tools that I use for my work and computer use. I hope to do a lot more features like that.

Go ahead. Take the step share something on your website that doesn’t belong to you. Accept that you’re not the most important person in the world and that someone who lands on your page would be delighted to see more cool stuff that you can point them to.

Make the net weird again.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

In the 90s and 00s, we didn’t know any better. Technology was moving so quickly that we were teaching our teachers modern innovations that solved their problems – problems they were trying to teach us workarounds for. Manually pressing enter when you got to the end of a line in Word so it would make a new line? Getting Internet Explorer to work, at all? Little things. Seemingly innocuous things at the time. But those little things added up. There’s an entire generation out there that (at least those who participated and took an interest) had tech literacy and critical thinking instilled in them. Skills that would not only serve them well for the next 20+ years, but skills that would also make them seem like geniuses compared to the generations before and after. People will give a few different reasons for why later generations haven’t been quite as tech literate: Everyone thought they were somehow born with the knowledge, they were given phones too early and not monitored by their parents, it’s not taught anymore. The problem is it was never taught in the first place, and no one just bothered to realize that. In truth, all of those answers are correct, yet completely incorrect.

What even is “Tech Literacy” anyway?

Tech literacy is not: – Knowing how to save and find files in a specific operating system’s file system (usually Windows) – Knowing how to use specifically Microsoft Office – Adeptly writing a professional email – Being able to build your own website – Easily being able to pick a server upon signing up for Mastodon – “Getting” Linux

Tech literacy is: – Understanding what files are, how file and folder hierarchies are structured, and a vague idea of what file extensions/containers are for – Understanding the basics of writing in a text editor/word processor, formatting text, and why/when to use specific formatting – Being able to appropriately cater their tone and presentation online based on time and place – Understanding why managing your online persona/presence/image is important, and the implications and consequences of “acting out” online on your personal life – Being able to troubleshoot technical issues, problem solve when things aren’t immediately intuitive, and not freaking out when there’s a step or two you didn’t expect or haven’t done before – Thinking critically about the tools and services you use, the relationship you have with the creators/managers of those tools/services, and ownership over your data or experiences

Tech literacy is all of these things and more, and yet they were never overtly taught to my generation any more than they were taught to anyone else. Instead, tech education in academia (and beyond) has always focused exclusively on skills. “How to use a computer” or “How to use Microsoft Office” for the purposes of being able to continue completing your schoolwork is about as far as that “education” ever went. As Theodore Roszak discusses in “The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking” – even in the 80s as computers were being rushed into every institution far before they were ready, the entire “culture” around technology first had to involve a bubble of everyone learning the technology in order to be able to use it. Manufacturers like IBM and Apple could sell everyone on the ideas of how computers could make school and work easier or better, but there was still a bottleneck of learning how to use them. Academia never got past this – because, realistically, how can it? If the school doesn’t ensure they’ve taught children to use computers to get them to the point of being able to complete assignments on them – they can’t really expect assignments to get completed. No one stops to think about the “why” when innovation and big dollar signs are thrown around, simply that “this is the new thing and we must all use it.”

Our schools (and workplaces) teach “Digital Skills,” not digital or tech literacy. And if you’re not taught this during your formative years of developing a relationship with that technology, thinking critically about the role it serves in your life – especially with modern tech like smartphones and smart watches meaning that inter connectivity and all of its alerts and harassers and risks are inescapable – then it becomes very difficult to ever learn it.

Maha Bali (2016) explained it this way: “Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on why, when, who, and for whom.”

The Troubleshooting Cycle

So why, then, would a generation of millennials grow up to have more tech literacy than younger generations? Put simply: Because we were on the forefront of the net culture in the first place, we were the ones blazing the trails and establishing norms and figuring it all out. But also because everything kept breaking along the way and we really had no choice but to figure it out on a deeper level if we expected to keep using our computers. Much like how the generations before us would go on to become the Bill Gates, John Carmack, CliffyB, etc. of their era simply because the only way to do anything fun on the computer was to write your own programs and figure programming out on some level – we became master troubleshooters by just trying to do basic things. Computers weren’t great. I have a massive soft spot for DOS, Windows 98, Windows XP, and Red Hat 5 – but things were jank. Shit just didn’t work a lot of the time. And in order to make it work, we had to figure out how it worked.

As I have been able to glean, computer and tech classes don’t really differ that much today than from when I was a kid. The difference is that schools are all running on Chromebooks and iPads now. Devices and operating systems that are simple, locked down, intuitive, and remove most of the control that a user even has on more “actual computer” systems. Inherently, systems that are designed to “just work” and be as intuitive as possible require less teaching and understanding effort in the first place. The smarter the technology, the dumber the user has to be, therefore the value of just “showing them how to use it” decreases. I don’t think older tech education in grade school ever really focused on critical thinking about the bigger picture questions in big tech – but “big tech” was barely a thing yet. Sure there was your Apple, Microsoft, IBM’s of the world, but they didn’t dominate our everyday life as they do now and so much of our online experiences weren’t dictated by major corporations just yet. Older tech education did have some of the ‘90s fear-mongering that had everyone’s parents worried about their kids getting abducted or molested;– we were taught to not share our real information, age, where we lived, etc. (things that are all standard for representing yourself online today). But the big questions more kind of came up through necessity of finding tools that worked for you, figuring out how to fix them or how to ask the right questions to get assistance in fixing them, and avoiding adware and viruses. We would learn with examples only because tools to lock us in and make sure every step was perfectly matched (like today) didn’t exist yet. This also meant that finding creative alternative ways to accomplishing goals were celebrated – meanwhile modern teaching tools for technology don’t allow for such things in the first place. That’s a bigger problem I have with so much modern technology implementations in general: Lack of user control and troubleshooting opportunities. I tried signing up for the new popular social media app BeReal and... ooh boy. While being app-only with no website is an immediate red flag for me that is inexcusable, in my opinion, it got worse from there. I originally signed up on my iPad so I could screen capture it. I appear to have given it my work phone number – because I don’t want my real number being on public-facing social media sites because that’s stupid and should never be required... and then tried logging in with my real number on my phone (assuming I had used it). Well, the problem showed up when there is no sign-in option in the first place! You’re always prompted to make a new account upon opening the app for the first time – much like a mobile game that forces you through an hour of soul-draining tutorials despite having 100+ hours already logged in the game – and it just assumes it’ll detect your info before asking your username and prompt you to log in. Well, it didn’t do that. And, even after multiple uninstallation and reinstallation attempts, doesn’t let me change the phone number assigned to the app after the first time it asked for it. So now I have, quite literally, no recourse for logging into my account on my mobile device to actually use the damn app on my phone. Sure, I could contact email support – but that’s never displayed in the app either. Why can I not try to log in? Why do you hate your fucking users so god damn much that you think it’s acceptable to remove every possible option from them? This kind of “it just works” (until it doesn’t) bullshit philosophy is what actively contributes to making people less tech literate or capable of troubleshooting their systems. We should not tolerate it.

What’s the fix?

Ultimately, school curriculums are a massive, slow-moving beast and one person fighting for change isn’t going to do anything. But I have ideas on how the classroom environment for technology needs to change: 1. Stop relying purely on iPads and Chromebooks for in-school technology. They should be leveraged, where appropriate, but should never be a child’s only exposure to technology in the school. Instead, provide an environment where the children are regularly exposed to different types of computer interfaces (phones, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, TVs vs projector setups, etc.) and safely/comfortable encouraged to explore familiar actions and tasks on these new systems. By growing up during the “changing age” of technology, I was exposed to everything from DOS machines to Windows 95/98 to XP/ME/2000 to Mac OS 7 and early X, to even Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux within my schools. Much how we constantly re-frame basic math problems, history lessons, or language skills in new contexts and alternate scenarios, technology should absolutely be handled the same way. 2. Teach concepts rather than purely tasks. As someone who has created tutorials for over a decade now, it’s easy to just teach someone how to do X thing, but it’s far more difficult to get them to take the time to learn fundamentals. But the longer you wait, the more impossible an obstacle that becomes. Ideas like “file management and safe data storage,” “protecting yourself online,” “how to keep in touch with friends and family” and “how to avoid malware/scams while finding cool new games/apps/etc.” can all be related to things children as young as... 6 years old these days?... are doing every day, while still teaching them crucial technology skills. “File management/safe data storage” is easily related to keeping track of your photos, game saves, TikTok clips, or school assignments. Build scenarios where a student loses access to their homework or the Blackboard-equivalent school software doesn’t accept the type of file they’ve made and guide them to fixing that. 3-2-1 backup rules are relatable to children who have faced natural disasters damaging their homes, had things stolen from them, lose things often, or even have divorced parents that they travel between and don’t always remember to bring everything each time. “Protecting yourself online” is an important understanding for avoiding predators, scams, data leaks and harvesters, etc. and can immediately be related to traditional parental fears of grooming, abduction, etc. but also to more kid-tangible ideas such as not having embarrassing pictures leak out, or keeping a secret journal without their classmates finding it online. (These are, honestly bad examples, but you get the idea and I’d rather move on than continue brainstorming. Let’s save that for the book deal or something.) “How to keep in touch with friends/family” is something everyone wants to be able to do, is especially relevant towards the end of the school year and summer break, and can help teach the value of diversifying online presences, keeping your own form of a contact book or unique online identifier, how to manage and navigate an ever-changing social media/communication tool landscape, and so on. “How to avoid malware/scams” is obvious and still relevant for modern mobile devices, given how frequently my grandmother has managed to load up her phone with adware and other junk. This can be related back to obvious things like downloading Fortnite when it’s no longer on the normal App Store and so on – while teaching crucial skills for evaluating where your downloads come from, the trustworthiness of the site you’re getting recommendations from, that kind of thing. 3. Instead of forcing kids to all have their own unique accounts that every action they take is monitored on and consequences directly applied to them regardless of experience level (I realize this is more relevant to the Windows domain-managed days of old than the modern Chromebook/etc. era) have sandbox PCs for tech classrooms to give students room to experiment with different approaches to finding things without the consequences of unleashing malware or whatever else onto the system. 4. Build assignments that allow students to prove their knowledge while also giving them freedom to explore their unique interests/rabbit holes rather than completing steps. If they can accomplish something for themselves, they will both be more invested and feel more rewarded and thus compelled to take this learning experience and continue applying it in their daily life. 5. Generally, just make it fun and flexible enough to shift with the changing landscapes of technology. Speaking from experience, trying to learn technology from what feels like an outdated context focused on rigid objectives and a lack of relevance to what I wanted to do with technology was never fun or inspiring. You bore the people who are interested in tech and you fail to reach the people who aren’t.

My Next Move

2023 will be a year of tech literacy for me. I’ve always carried the higher-level goal of improving my viewers’ tech literacy via my content, but I do often fall into the trap of focusing too much on the individual tasks rather than the thinking behind them. It’s tough in a landscape like YouTube, as the most effective way to target viewers, get views, get paid and be able to continue doing what I do means making “How to do X” kinds of videos – most people don’t care about the nuance or bigger-picture stuff in that specific moment when they were searching for an answer – but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I think focusing on bigger projects where I can walk more through my thought processes and reasoning for certain ideas more than individual “how to” steps can help a lot. I can still supplement those tutorials on my tutorial side channels and websites so I don’t miss out on that level of traffic and reach, too. There’s a lot of brainstorming involved to make this happen, but it’s important to me and I’ve been trying to figure out the path for years, so it’s time to commit. I think it’s more important than ever to develop everyone’s tech literacy and to stop being spoon-fed our online lives by mega-corps and political propaganda bots.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

I hate sounding like the “old man yelling at cloud” about everything, but I really just want to get my thoughts out about things. This is therapeutic, I guess. Or perhaps it’s because I feel that not enough people talk about these things regularly enough and SOMEONE has to shout it into the void or we risk losing sight of things overall? Is this what Chicken Little was about? Also I recognize that I’m quite scathing in my focus on a couple specific articles here. Unavoidably, someone’s not going to take that well. However, given that my entire point there revolves around the never-ending hyperbole being fed down our throats not just by social media algorithms, but by those very hyperbolic articles... I can’t say I’ll feel bad if anyone’s feelings are hurt. If you put hyperbole out in the world on that scale of a communication channel, you actively incite hyperbole in response. That’s the game you chose to play – if you’re bothered by it, perhaps you actually learned the lesson I wish everyone could learn. God I sound like a shitty grandpa. “Puts hairs on your chest!” or something – I hate that stuff. But here I am. Follow me on Mastodon!

I promise it’s not what you think

Okay, hear me out for a second. You saw the name of this blog post, I know what it sounds like and what you’re probably thinking. But this isn’t that. This isn’t a generational dunk, this isn’t Gen Z vs Gen X or about avocado toast or privilege or entitlement, none of it. I hate the “generation wars” – that kind of nonsense doesn’t help anyone. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s me trying to wave a white flag in the middle of it, so that we don’t miss the big problem underneath the petty fighting. If any generation has major issues on a wide scale that the prior generations are taking a problem with – it’s most certainly their fault anyway, so blaming that younger generation is just a complete lack of self-awareness.

The Hot Take

I think we’re in an era where people (especially “the younger folk” but not at all limited to them) are seeking public validation online in ways that, in a vacuum, feel really creepy. I think we’re seeing an unprecedented amount of self-focused justifications for anxieties and lack of socialization among other issues, being presented as cultural development or some sort of “news” to inform everyone else of. It’s toxic and creepy – but it’s also Gen X and Millennials’ faults, not just the Zoomers’.

I’m talking about things like this:– focus on the headlines and content as a complete item, an artifact of the specific problem I’m describing, rather than as a call-out of any specific writer or etc. for the moment -


Both of these are examples of pretty bad reporting, with the first being far more egregious than the second – but both exemplifying the greater issue. I want to analyze them both within the context of what they mean for communication and messaging.

Lack of Sincerity

Referring back to the piece about signing up for Mastodon... Actually first, let me remind you of my own context: I guess you could say I have a stick up my ass. I am not proud of it, but as goofy as I can be in emotional expression, I take big picture matters, the responsibility of having a publication and influence over the masses, etc. incredibly seriously and struggle to hold respect for those who don’t. It’s a flaw, but not one I’m convinced needs “fixing”, especially when everyone else seems so cool to go along with it. I don’t participate in many conversations where I’m not saying things that I would stand behind or accurately express my feelings on a matter;– and I sure as hell would never do so while writing for a major publication, even IF it’s BuzzFeed. I know a lot of people don’t take BuzzFeed seriously, but they generally do on the actual “BuzzFeedNews” side. The people who go there to be journalists do so to be journalists not to be memes. As someone who has a ton of enthusiasm for the internet populace finally learning lessons about the consequences of “big social media” and owning your data, Mastodon and other alternate social sites’ numbers booming and a tech reporter I respect posts... whatever the fuck you call that post. No, I’m not “just mad” because she “didn’t like Mastodon.” I’m MAD because the article states that she lost her sanity and self-esteem in doing so, and the only road bump/cause she listed was that the email verification link wasn’t working. You know, a common tech outage that happens with even the biggest of services ... A basic tech problem that any online service ever has and will have is what “cost you your sanity and self-esteem” and thus you place that absurd weight onto Mastodon? Look me in the eyes and tell me that doesn’t sound fucking insane to you.

Yes, I know clickbait is nothing new, blah blah. I get it to some degree – though I guess I’ve managed to not “lower myself” to “reading this kind of thing” too often before? That’s how others have put it – but I’m really not comfortable being so dismissive and disrespectful about someone’s current outlet, topic, etc. that their job has them working. I don’t think that’s fair and it’s a shitty thing to do that I’m trying to avoid. But there are some lines of absurdity where I just can’t respect the choices made anywhere up the chain to allow that to be published. I’m imagining: 1. Something needed to be posted about Mastodon or “fediverse” topics quick to get clicks about the trending thing. 2. Writer who is skewed against changing the status quo or losing existing reach doesn’t think it deserves attention. 3. Due to said email verification issues, perhaps too much time had passed to do any sort of real story (even though if this really took “days” then theoretically getting a couple quotes on the subject from people could have been feasible) and thus only a “here’s what happened when I signed up” piece was born.

I’ve made crappy posts in the name of “just getting something up” in a reasonable manner. I’ve made mistakes in my coverage for worse reasons. I get it. Again, while I realize I’m doing it anyway to express how I feel, I don’t intend to just shit on someone’s work. But when I feel that this is really important on a societal level for us to use this historic crumbling of a company to push for better tech literacy over privacy, data ownership, and agency over your online experience with shifts/changes we haven’t had in over 10 years on the internet it feels actively harmful for people to be so damn dismissive of the new stuff over absolutely petty, or frankly made-up reasons.

My potentially-dramatic or disproportionate response is even sillier because I think it instead identifies one of my big problems with online communication from the newer generations (including my own) – which is a lack of sincerity. That article title was hyperbolic. It was over-the-top. It was perhaps trying to one-up the “Mastodon made me cry” style headlines others had run. Ultimately, it wasn’t sincere. As a journalism graduate and someone with the previously-mentioned stick-up-butt about journalistic integrity, the responsibility of having a platform, how harmful modern media is to every new generations – all that self-righteous bullshit – being a big (ish? Don’t know how to qualify) name tech reporter on a big platform and using that to meme on an important new subject in a way that (even by those who understand this lack of sincerity) with 100% contribute towards the hive mind of ignoring good things, new tech, this potential shift, etc... just seems like an absurd decision. What a waste, right? But that very lack of sincerity here is common. From the ROFLMAOs of my generation first discovering new ways to chat in forums, IRC, and IMs to the “I’M LITERALLY CRYING” of younger generations and plenty of other things I haven’t picked up on;– we’ve all been doing it. But for me, the difference comes in the time and place. 5, I guess maybe 10 years ago now, I wasn’t seeing that kind of culture leak into fucking news headlines. Perhaps it’s only natural that it has done so, perhaps that’s an acceptable and normal evolution – but I’ve always seen bigger picture communication and especially news/journalism as being something that would forgo some of those cultural language shifts in favor of being as easily-understood as possible. In my program I was taught to work AGAINST the tendency to sensationalize, make controversies where there are not, or exaggerate in a way that would skew the readers’ opinions in a direction other than their own. Yes, you would be correct in pointing out that this is all over YouTube, too. While I’d argue a lot of the super-hyperbolic clickbait has fallen aside due to performing worse as audiences grow tired of it, video titles do tend to remain a bit hyper-real or exaggerated in the name of posing a compelling value offering. But then it is the responsibility and goal of most (good) creators to deliver on that. I didn’t click on this article about Mastodon expecting to be convinced of a scenario in which someone genuinely felt they lost their sanity or even their self-esteem (though based on everything I’ve said, perhaps it was already low) through their experiences trying to sign up for Mastodon. But I DID expect there to be a delivery of an actual, meaningful point of friction specific to the new service/tool that justified *being hyperbolic about it in the first place! Not “oh boo hoo email services were overwhelmed in a predictable, universal way due to the obviously unprecedented influx of traffic.” Mastodon has a lot of pain points in its UX for new users, especially those expecting a Twitter 2.0. *Picking a server? Can be confusing or frustrating, especially when the new user doesn’t yet understand what role that server serves (and may not ever understand it). *Searching for servers isn’t as great as it should be. *Being bounced between the website to the app to the server-specific signup page could be frustrating. *The official mobile app has a pretty empty-looking home feed until the user knows how to find the proper timelines, and those aren’t even explained well. These are but a few of the plethora of UX confusions facing a new user. This article contained not a single one of these, nothing remotely close. Instead, the article sounded like a grandmother by comparing Twitter to Studio54 and in the same swing basically shitting on anyone who likes hanging out on Mastodon – regardless of who they were or how they ended up there. So not only was it a completely fabricated, insincere headline that would immediately turn off someone who glanced at it and was easily swayed from trying Mastodon, they couldn’t even be bothered to be informational to someone wanting to know what to expect to struggle with anyway!


This lack of sincerity (followed by under-delivering) is not an oversight, it’s not a mistake. The writer would not be where she is at in her career if she didn’t know what she was doing. Instead, it’s merely a consequence of a growing trend of this kind of “culture writing” in fields online. (Realistically these problems I have with this kind of writing has always been there in some form, but usually restricted to tabloids or “lifestyle” columns that rarely touched on topics more hardcore than finding a date to prom, now being made out as actual “tech reporting” where somehow I’m now supposed to trust this person’s opinions on anything after such a post.)

That problem comes from relatability. Younger people including my own generation, to be clear, have always been hooked on the novelty of “being relatable” online. It stems from the early days of it just being magical to find like-minded people online in the first place, with the seemingly infinite potential of the internet allowing friendships and relationships to form that proximity restrictions would not normally allow for. It’s the dopamine hit of having a certain, seemingly unique feeling validated by a stranger online who happened to share it where no one else thought to. That connection to another human being who might be feeling what you’re feeling. There’s a lot of value in that, clearly. That’s what turned so many of us into living-online people in our formative years when falling in love with the internet; especially those of us who couldn’t relate to our in-person peers as much. But also not every feeling needs to be validated, or at least validated strongly or publicly. Sometimes it’s cool to accept a feeling, and then get over it so you can be a productive or functioning human being. I’m sure it was frustrating for someone to keep trying to activate their account and the email validation wasn’t working. I’ve run into similar experiences – even with things I’ve paid a significant amount of money for. It’s fine, even, to express that feeling – but then you move on from it. Once it does start working, you breathe and move forward. You don’t need to openly shit on every product or service that happens to give you a mild annoyance. There’s enough of that as it is.

[As I write this, I’m realizing that this is ironically a MASSIVE part of Twitter culture. The very premise of jumping to Tweet your frustration at a company the moment they annoy you, yelling at your ISP when your internet goes down, tagging the restaurant you were at where you got bad service, or screaming into the void about a very temporary outage only to follow up with “lol nvm it works now” by time support staff can actually reach out to you... That is probably one of the most universally-shared uses of Twitter that everyone does at some point, or on a regular basis. Perhaps that’s leaking through, here, too. We shouldn’t treat that as rational behavior, never should have.]

But it’s “relatable” to express the melodramatic feeling associated with trying to sign up for a service and the system to complete the last step not working properly, so why not share a relatable thing that paints an entire service and its 7+ million user base in a bad light if it means making some lolz and being #relatable? Sure, it’s a feeling we have all experienced, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we need to see represented and normalized. Not every feeling you have needs to be a big thing that you share with others, especially when from the very title it’s transparently hyperbolic to begin with. [I know I’m taking this too seriously, but this exact kind of thing ABSOLUTELY spreads beyond these lower-stakes instances. When we try to make every feeling relatable, instead of teaching people to fucking cope and maybe get over a feeling or two, what starts as an innocent post of “wow this sucked” that seems weird to be mad at, turns into how people communicate about everything – as we see with my contextualization within Twitter, and I think is pretty transparent in plenty of other places.]

Validating and Over-Valuing

I have far less scathing things to say about the writing and reporting in the emoji piece, but I do still have feelings. The primary one being that the only quoted source is an “expert” on Emoji by way of being the editor-in-chief of Emojipedia. While I don’t doubt his credentials of being the expert on what Emoji are and the context with which they’re often referred to online (I can only assume he’s “the guy” to reference, for sure) – there’s seemingly no consideration to actually looking at the psychology at play here. A bunch of Gen Z-ers have decided that the “Thumbs Up” emoji is “passive aggressive.” Except basic reasoning tells you that humans have been giving each other thumbs-ups for centuries and there’s nothing inherent to the action that’s passive aggressive. But you know what IS passive aggressive? Passive aggression. People use and do all kinds of things that are completely acceptable under most circumstances, but can be passive aggressive when used that way. Combine that with the widely-reported, or... accused? increase in insecurity basically every generation, and you have a generation (multiple, even) of kids/teens who have most of their social interactions online and thus lack real world non-verbal context for a lot of things, are already super insecure (hell, I was incredibly insecure until my early 20s and would have fallen into this trap) and see something that is sometimes used as a passive aggressive thing. That’s cool, that’s fine. But you don’t need to take that discomfort and turn it into a global announcement that your generation sees it that way because it’s been used that way. You just kinda... get life experience and get over it. But we now again have multiple generations that spent a lot of time seeking constant validation about everything, emphasizing one’s personal feelings and experiences to “be heard,” and (more or less) applying a TON of social pressure to anyone who tries to “take that away from them.”

The article failed to bring any of the psychological context into the equation. Sure, Emojipedia guy knows his stuff about the emoji themselves – but where’s the context of evolving perceptions of expression, the history of thumbs-up-ing at all, the psychology of a big group of people supposedly all deciding that an innocuous thing is now passive aggressive and the assumed insecurity or other issues that back that up? Would be incredible information to contextualize this conversation — but reporting so often these days falls back to single-source reporting and fails to contextualize anything, even super important world events, and tell people why it matters or how it’s changed over time. We live in an era where theoretically infinite information is available at your fingertips, but it’s buried in infinite noise and misinformation trying to lead you astray. DYOR is impossible for most people (online) for complex topics, and it’s quite literally a reporter’s job to do the legwork for the reader. Back to the prior discussion of lack of sincerity and modern clickbait-y context: This article most likely wasn’t meant to be “that serious.” But it’s a blip in the existing constant generational tension and finger-pointing and blaming; and once again chooses to participate in that bad cycle instead of doing just a little bit of work to contribute to the greater good of breaking the cycle. Just a little extra information goes a long way. While it’s a smaller amount, some people do read the content of articles, and those would be the people who spread to other people trying to address the bad info. It’s a cascading effect. With both of these articles, the content fails to deliver a relatively low-effort, high-reward contribution towards improving the mass conversation on the topic, and thus ultimately fails at reporting. The waves rippling out from that article become many other websites and radio hosts and podcasts reacting to the idea that “Gen Z sees thumbs up as bad” when some of that conversation could have been steered away from the predictable generational wars and blaming, and the magnification of a silly message based on a silly, fleeting feeling.

These are two, randomly-picked examples that I’m not singling out for the sake of swinging exclusively at them in a vacuum, but as representative of constant waves of this kind of content, everywhere.

We’re to Blame

Validation is important to anyone, to an extent. Being heard and having your feelings recognized is important to anyone to an extent. There’s nothing wrong with that until a passing feeling that can be gotten over and grown up from with an ounce of life experience ends up on the New York Times as a talking piece for what an entire generation supposedly demands be changed about online communication.

A lot of this is our fault. And by “our” you can point to any generation before the current, just like the generation being “talked about” here would slot in with most newer generations you have in mind, my own included. But to get more specific, let’s first apply some context... Surely by now you know at least one person who never stops complaining about how “this generation” (without ever knowing which generation they’re talking about) has to have participation trophies for everything and how that’s probably ruined anything from competition to self-esteem to manhood to the entirety of the US of A. It’s always “the kids just HAD to have participation trophies so they could all feel special and were never taught the hard lessons of losing to trying to work hard.” The hilarious truth of all that scenario is that the participation trophies were never for the kids. They were introduced for the parents. The parents who wanted to all feel like their kid did a good job and whatever else. So immediately, you can see the eternal blaming of one generation for the direct actions of another, project and point fingers, yada yada. And, of course, there’s some line to draw of that generation’s parents wanting participation trophies for their kids because their parents worked all the time and expected too much strict rule-following of them and didn’t celebrate their own achievements so they altered their worldview and raised children in a way informed by that scenario. There’s always something, this isn’t surprising to anyone.

[Reminder that I’m speaking in generalizations that not everyone will feel is accurate.]

Translating this down, you could say that Gen X demanded participation trophies so they could feel and brag about what their kids did because they didn’t feel their parents were ever proud of them, but then constantly tell their kids to “get over it” any time they felt wronged, oppressed, silenced, or just generally had big feelings (or opinions on how the world should be run).

Their kids (usually millennials at this point) took that and became the first “feelings” generation as they made more room for the individual. Individualism was huge, with cultures like scene, emo, and goth seemingly soaring in popularity in the early ‘00s and the teenage trope went from driving cars too fast, drinking a ton and partying (rules got a lot tighter from the ‘80s to the ‘00s – though I wish I was older for more of the bike-riding, woods exploring, D&D-playing of the ‘90s) to the edgy, angsty “they just don’t understand me” teen. This is also a time where we saw a huge rise in the normalization or popularity of self-harm and a kind of sub-culture around that. We were also the first kind-of web-first generation. Riding that personality of individualism and finding room for the individual’s feelings, we also were led right into the portal to a globalized super-dimension: The World Wide Web. On the net we could find whole new communities where we could make friends and belong in ways never before possible – further giving merit to the need to take our feelings seriously and make room for expressing them. Be it posters all over the wall or a MySpace page littered with CSS-crafted skulls and blood tears and My Chemical Romance blaring while your Netscape, AOL browser or Internet Explorer 3.5 slowed to a crawl.

While it wouldn’t enter the cultural mythology for another decade and a half, somewhere in this timeframe is also where the “Karen” archetype started to rear its head. The Participation Trophy Parents and their kids (once they became parents) were emboldened to challenge every authority that would dare talk to their kid a certain way, enforce rules upon their kid, consequences, give them bad grades, whatever. It started with a “mama bear” tactic (applied to men, too, but the archetype is obviously a 30-something white woman) to “protect” the children, but would later be frequently turned on anyone that “had it coming” ensuing never-ending memes.

Inherent to being the first web generation, Millennials also effectively established (and revamped over and over) the “Netiquette” for future generations. Rules and laws that dictated not important expectations of privacy, data collection, doing no harm, not wrapping up the entire online experience into singular corporate bubbles, no. Rather rules about respecting the individual’s “opinion”, about “debating” everything, yet actual critique of arguments being “personal attacks”, and the actually deadly one – that if someone has, expresses signs of, or otherwise identifies with some sort of mental illness, you cannot suggest or offer anything that the person could do to better that situation or improve the mental situation, as that’s “ableist” and would cause them to suppress/reject who they are (that depression, eating disorders, anxiety, agoraphobia were just “personality traits” that you can’t be prejudice against or exclusionary of somehow). This relates to the greater point I’m trying to make, but I want to refresh you: From the late ‘00s into the early ‘10s onward, there developed a subculture of the mentally ill that would join together in groups, discuss their mental illness – but as is the case with most lifestyles or hobbies once you find a hardcore group of individuals online in that niche, you become compelled to explore that subject further, get deeply involved, and as happens with the mental illness side... you’re effectively encouraged to stay in that dark place and any attempts at leaving is hostile. It’s like an abusive relationship. Marie Le Conte brilliantly discusses this in her book _”Escape: How a generation shaped and survived the internet,” saying that people in these circles get trapped into not improving their situation, as improving it would mean pulling away from the group – and both the person that might improve and the group on the whole would be incentivized to not allow themselves to lose each other. Normalizing staying in the worst of your mental illness, instead celebrating days where you never leave your bed rather than building each other up and celebrating the days you do. That effect is mortifying. [These circles had tons of popularity early on with sites like Tumblr, but have once again risen in popularity among younger people through platforms like TikTok, where new language has been developed for self-harm and suicide (“unalive”) to circumvent detection and avoid videos or comments being deleted or being shadowbanned on the platform.]

While this is perhaps the most extreme example of this kind of phenomenon (or second maybe to the rise of domestic terrorism under similar conditions), it comes from the same place. We first established the need for room for feelings and momentary existence, then built entire communities around living in those feelings. The internet removes all context from what a person is feeling, doing, or going through when they post, and online communication ends up “branding” us with things we say long after we meant them or cared about them; so feelings that we express in a specific moment become a bigger conversation or expressed personality trait, and if you’re not careful they turn into your entire online persona. This wasn’t a problem in the early, better days, as it was relatively easy enough to just juggle different online personas depending on your mood. Anonymity was the default, communities were decentralized, everyone wasn’t in the same room in the first place. You could go to the grocery store mad and seem angry there, but you grabbed a snack, felt better and could then go to the bank chipper and friendly, and be seen as such. The consolidation of social media and online experiences took that from us. Today most people have one profile per platform, usually the exact same profile across the whole platform – and that profile is generally very transparent. Photos of yourself, talk about your real life, your name attached to it – your job title with the company tagged in it, who you’re married to or dating. You know, all the stuff our parents and schools repeatedly told us not to share while we were sitting in AIM or The Palace being asked “A/S/L?”. With consolidated social experiences and profiles, with zero anonymity, all it takes is a bad enough week to bleed into your online interactions, or enough trolls baiting you into specific responses, and effectively everyone you’d expect to see you now views you as this specific way – and their responses to you will continue to box you into that projected personality. (The whole “if you keep making me out to be the bad guy, I’m just going to become the bad guy” thing.)

Social Pressure

All of this informs a subsequent generation – with even more inherent online dependency, even further reduced in-person socialization, even less coaching from parents to NOT share certain things/act certain ways online, and with a complete and utter erosion of any privacy or alone time thanks to the smart phone – who is shown that your feelings are really important, that everyone needs to make room for and respect them, and that you can’t criticize one another... perfect concoction for a mess. Add in the memory of Karen parents fighting everything for their kids and you create what I’m calling an unprecedented level of “social pressure.” Despite what often seems like claims to the opposite, Gen Z (and the newer) have far more individual power over the people, institutions, and authority around them than ever before. Look no further than the constant paranoia of “cancel culture” held by the people most likely to have done things they need to be publicly held accountable for. Be it calling in the Karen-mom to ruin a teacher’s day to making an Instagram/TikTok/whatever-new-thing-here post to draw negative attention to a business, to everyone being terrified of being made out to be a racist or a sexist or homophobe or general bigot over things that most likely (or at least consciously) don’t have anything to do with those factors:– Newer generations have so much more power and social pressure to make the world listen to how they see the world and expect things to be.

[Again “Gen Z” is a broad stroke including crossover with Millennial as well as the following generation here. There’s rarely hard cutoff divides between generations.]

This isn’t inherently negative. Praise has been given to this very trait by way of discussing how much more social progress is fought for in real, tangible ways by Gen Z versus the more passive activism (“slactivist” I think it was once referred as?) because we laid the ground work for accepting the individual feelings and expectations and Gen Z took that and actually demanded big public deals out of it. By not (entirely) being raised by a generation that kept telling them to “get over it” and to ignore their feelings, Gen Z was able to embrace those feelings and fight for what they believe in. But by never being told to “get over it” or being given time-and-place rules or any of that, that also means that validation of seemingly benign feelings are now sought on a public level from these people who are also getting jobs in major publications and etc. They have no one to tell them “that’s just life” and they have all the social pressure in the world to kind of kick the expectations and (for lack of a better phrase here) professionalism that’s expected in these fields. Combined with the surge in “enthusiast press” over actual journalism in recent decades, every field is now covered by “lifestyle bloggers” (essentially) rather than experts (or expert communicators/teachers) in a given field and we end up with the fucking NYT telling us a universal gesture is now unacceptable to use because it’s passive aggressive and whether an entirely new social networking paradigm is worth your time based on whether person can get an email quick enough or not.

It’s not all bad

As highlighted with the activism/social progress thing, these changes aren’t all bad, they always have some good consequences. But at the risk of sounding like a bitter old man, without being given more guidelines, hand-holding, and being taught actual tech literacy – as in the critical thinking, troubleshooting, feelings-processing, and philosophy behind the tech we use every day, not tutorials on random specific OSes or devices – I can’t help but feel we’re spiraling towards an erosion of any sort of coherent communication. It’s frequently said (again, each generation, just scaled up more for each subsequent one) that the younger generation is insecure and can’t have real, serious conversations — how can they when we accept a barrier to entry for major publications as normalizing hyperbole and melodrama and over-emphasizing mundane feelings because people aren’t forced to go make actual friends to vent to or failed to normalize therapy?

I don’t have the answers. I get stressed to the point of being sick to my stomach trying to postulate a way out of so many directions the world heads toward, as it is. But it’s my hope that have at least one more voice drawing attention to these issues helps encourage people to think more critically about them, engage with these societal problems on a deeper level, and facilitate us to eventually figure out the way.

I’m tired.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

I’ve changed. A lot. I don’t know when it started happening, really. The past few years have been a blur. One minute I was a Halo-obsessed, class-ditching college student falling in love with his new best friend, the next I’m grinding out the “techtuber” lifestyle in a tiny apartment while trying to talk reason into the scummy MCN I worked for, the next I’m striking out on my own as a full-time YouTuber and streamer, then I realize the “Stream Professor” branding was something I should have accepted forever ago, then LTX hit me and shook my world [in a good way], suddenly I was having a kid and buying a house, and now I’m finally embracing more of my queer side, my spirituality, and my artistry.

I hate being stuck in boxes. I always have. It’s something that’s easy to write off: “Oh that’s just the ADHD” – but really, it’s become a core part of my personality, of my brain’s functioning. I went through super-nerd phases, hip-hop and rap phases, goth and emo phases, skater boi phases, hardcore gamer phases, and super techie phases – all just from elementary school until high school. Getting bored of one thing and hopping into another, but keeping each thing as a part of me along the way.

Maybe that’s what’s happening here. It’s hard to tell.

After I was so close to “giving up” on my YouTube career [I don’t even know what that would have looked like given it was my job sustaining myself, heh] going to LTX 2019 and feeling that sense of community and belonging for,– honestly? probably the first time ever,– YouTube-ing on a solo channel is an incredibly isolating activity, especially living in the not-quite-mid-west where no other big gathering of YouTubers are… just sparked something in me that never quite went away. It certainly invigorated me, sparked my motivations and drive back, and pushed me to really evaluate what I was doing on the channel and with my work. From there, I realized that locking down on the “OBS Professor”/“Stream Professor” branding that viewers had been assigning to me since my original OBS (Classic) coverage in 2013 was the “smart” play and really helped me feel like I actually fit the identity that had built up around me online. I had spent 12-13 years on YouTube at that point refusing to be tied to a niche and being unapologetically “me” – with all of the inconsistency and bouncing between interests that came with it – but it was so hard to get consistent viewership on such drastic shifts in content. So instead of running away from the box, I embraced it.

It was easy at first, felt like putting on a new pair of jeans and shoes and being the cool kid at school for the first time (or something, I don’t really know what that would be like) and it was easy to fall into the ADHD hyperfocus on that particular topic; especially since it was something I was good at and I had built up an authority on it, after all. Pair that with CES 2020 coverage and some big-name releases (Nvidia Turing GPUs with new NVENC encoders, big OBS updates, Ryzen 3000 and Threadripper) and I was on cloud nine. Well, for a while.

Some of it was easy coasting once my son was born and we had ~4-6 months of insomniatic zombie states, but once I started feeling human again those familiar itches returned. I wanted to talk about gaming again. I started getting into Pokemon cards again. I had finally started achieving hair styles I liked in 2019 for the first time since high school, and then shaved it off during the start of the pandemic, so I was getting back to that. I’m sure sleep deprivation collated and emphasized all of my ADHD habits into a super-mess, but I needed to scratch those itches.

This hasn’t gone away. I’ve launched new channels, fallen back in love and then come to hate Pokemon TCG again, wasting a few grand in the process, built and rebuilt my studio a few times to cater to my shifting interests as best I can:– They keep growing, after all, adding in glitchart, synth music experiments, crafts, 3D printing – I only have so much room! Currently I have YouTube channels going for gaming, AI and glitch art, with plans for a cooking channel with infrequent uploads (plus the main channel, of course). I started a documentary series with Nebula. But I still want to do more.

  • I want to shoot and edit a music video.
  • I want to sing.
  • I want to learn synth.
  • I want to paint.
  • I want to make a game.
    • I want to make multiple games in different genres.
  • I want to make 3D printing projects that people would buy.
  • I want to write a book.
  • I want to play oh, so much more of my gaming backlog.
    • But I also want to play so much Halo.
  • I want tattoos.
  • I want to work on massive AI art and VFX projects.
  • I want to be a part of something bigger than myself. [No, not organized religion or a cult.]
  • But also I want to be there to see every possible moment I can of my son, with my wife, as I know I will regret every little thing that I miss.

2023 is the year in which all of these changes solidify. The walls of my box will be torn down, ideally never to be put up again. With a shrinking of the financial stakes of my work on the horizon, I have more freedom to explore the not-immediately-profitable ideas I have.

The foundation is already in place, too. I’ve got new channels set up for my outlets. One is already bringing in a fair bit of revenue [or was when I was posting consistently. Techtober fucked that big time, but I should be able to pull it back once tech…vember ends (famous last words)]. I’ve reconstructed my studio again with a now hopefully optimized format that can facilitate my primary work, gaming, glitchart, photo editing and AI art, and 3D printing. Hopefully that’s enough.

I’ve got editors helping out to churn through all the extra content, and I’m really finding my groove with a lot of this. Hell, I’m even broadening my music horizons again which I rarely do. I’ve been writing this while jamming out to some Polyphia. Why the fuck haven’t I heard of them until this past month?!

Also my new studio cat, Render, loves watching me write, apparently. My grey studio cat, Render, looking up as I write.

These changes aren’t enough to qualify as a “rebirth” though, right? Why such bold claims. Well, I started writing this because it hit me just how symbolic the timing of all this is. All of these changes I’m feeling inside and about my own life are directly lining up with Twitter’s ongoing collapse. [This will not age well when Musk Magoo’s his way into keeping Twitter alive somehow, but that won’t stop the change that’s been started anyway.]

Instead of jumping in #NaNoWriMo late, I figured I’d get this blog going. This blog is part of that bigger ongoing change. I think the entire social internet is going through a (probably slow and not understood by everyone) rebirth right now. People are fed up with advertising, data tracking and privacy violations, with the idiocracy of SAAS. People are fed up with mega-corps and rich fuckbois ruining our clubhouses. The internet used to be this magical place where even the most outcast of misfits could find a community and a place to belong. Then we were robbed of our niche, community-ran places in lieu of megacorp profits-driven “platforms” designed to keep you on their site for your every need for as long as possible to wring every possible ad dollar out of you, and still stripping you of your privacy and data to sell that behind your back. Socializing for the anti-social online became “social networking” – which got distorted even further into “social media.” Democracies where literally disrupted. People have been brainwashed into reality-denying cults of not just the flat-earth insanity variety, but of the “election was rigged despite every ounce of proof to the contrary or opposite” variety, or the “he’s a really good businessman despite every possible data point saying he steals from people and only loses money” variety. [Frankly these are mild compared to much of the truth.]

The internet used to be a series of tubes clubhouses where we made our own rules. The hacker and D&D groups from old movies. The internet today is more akin to the monolithic mega-corps that they made cyberpunk movies in the ‘80s to warn us against. I don’t want the Metaverse where when I try to open WinAmp, Zuck’s legless body shows up shouting “I AM THE LAW!” Metaverse Mark Zuckerberg as Judge Dredd, generated by Midjourney AI V4.

The massive shift of users off of Twitter trying to explore what else is out there has finally brought the “Fediverse” or “decentralized internet” to the public eye in a good way. This time, without the blockchain crypto bullshit. Instead of “Web 3.0” let’s call it “Web3.5 II HD Re:birth”. Services ran without advertising, without any tracking of any sort, ran by communities for communities – like it used to be. The advantages of this don’t need to be political OR preachy. You the individual are in complete control of your data, your experience, and (if you want) your own server/instance of the service you’re using. The small niche communities centered around specific things or topics, fansites, personal blogs, etc. it’s all coming back. Not just with Mastodon, but so many other services like PeerTube and PixelFed (and WriteFreely as I’m using for this blog here) allowing people to quickly and sustainably build out massive services dedicated to specific services or communities – while still being completely scalable.

Plus, customization is back. Backgrounds, crazy widgets, personality is now legal on the internet again.

Windows 95 theme for Mastodon.

Look at this fucking Windows 95 Mastodon theme that found! I’m so sick of corporate bullshit profiles on major platforms.

All of this to say this shift has huge potential for lasting impact of people just being humans again on the net. It’s so fucking exciting.

But what does this have to do with my supposed rebirth?

Well, [ADHD hyperfixation or not] I’m all in on this now. I’ve seen the light. I’m not new to Mastodon or federated services in general – I was first introduced to them circa. 2017 – but most of the people I saw really going all-in on them wound up being radicalized people. People who I was friendly or colleagues with at one point that later went down some really dark rabbit holes that convinced them they needed to feed into insane ideologies to explain the world. While I was interested in the concepts at play, I didn’t exactly want to follow these people into battle. Then, the next big wave of “decentralization” talk came from the Silicon Valley Crypto bros and I wasn’t buying into that cult. But I do wish I had “been here all along.”

[Back to the point…]

In this shift, I am giving up a lot. I’ve removed my bookmarks and mobile icons for Twitter – my biggest non-YouTube profile with viewers and colleagues (and TONS of rad artists and photographers I have found and followed along the way) in one place. I’m not deleting my profile, I’m here to watch the site burn, but I’m very much cutting off this kind of networking and communication that I’ve been using since 2009. It’s a big change. I’m losing access to people and a channel with which people had ridiculously easy access to me. [The same (or more) access can be had on Discord or Mastodon anyway].

Despite easy growth and massive potential, I couldn’t deal with using TikTok regularly and the shady shit that happens on it, so I uninstalled it months ago. I’m setting up these new platforms, I’m having to learn and re-learn a lot of things, and I’m losing a lot of “reach” and “clout” along the way. But worth it, and necessary.

These things lining up at once just feels too symbolic to ignore. The internet is going through a major shift, I’m going through a major shift with my relationship with the internet, AND with my own personality and interests. That makes me feel more confident in the decision to cut ties with some of these platforms to help facilitate a healthier internet experience for everyone, and especially myself. I’ve lost way too much sleep, energy, fun, and productive time stressing over poor interactions, comments, and “playing the game” of social media. I was there to make friends and chat, and turning that into a pissing contest with follower counts and shit just ruined it all for me. I knew that for a long time, but I’m finally doing something about it.

2023 me is going to be a very different me. It’s scary, but I can’t wait to meet them.

In the meantime, I hope I can finally sleep. Finished writing this around 3:15AM as render is telling me it’s time to stop.

My grey studio kitten, Render, pushing against my mouse with both paws.

See you on the other side, fellow space cowboys.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

[Author’s note: I originally wrote this in a pocket notebook while waiting in the airport on my flights to and from RetroWorldExpo in August 2022, reflecting upon how much it meant to me to meet up with my online friends in person and how big of a deal these events are for me – even if I only do one every year or so. I originally expected this to turn into a video essay or something down the road; Unexpectedly it’s incredibly timely today in light of current events and the impact they may have on how we approach social media moving forward. I figured it was the best time to explore this new writing platform (which I’m LOVING, by the way) and go on and have this discussion.]

Likes have ruined everything. They were such an obvious implementation, the most effective engagement driver in retrospect;– let people express their feelings about a post. Hell, some are still begging for a mythical dislike button. But such a tiny, innocent feature changed everything. It only took a few short years and a few specific platforms implementing it before the motivations behind nearly everything posted to social and content platforms shifted towards one underlying goal: Get more likes. This wad only exacerbated by platforms like Facebook shifting towards algorithmically-driven feeds, where more engagement gets you seen by more people, thus getting more engagement... the cycle never ended. If you post something to social today – a Facebook post, photo on Instagram, a Tweet, a YouTube video – you track how that post is doing by seeing how many Likes it gets, or who liked it. Getting a like from someone you respect or someone with a lot of followers is a big deal, even if they never once actually say a word to you. It’s now common practice to regularly log into one of these apps or websites just to check on likes or to see if it was a waste of time to post anything. That’s not a normal human or communication behavior. For those of us around on the net prior to modern social media, things weren’t always like this. Sure, Likes existed on forums. They were a nice gesture to show support for a post or thread without saying anything – but they didn’t matter. Virtually no one thought that Likes added value to their life or that their self-worth was measured by it. Instead, you logged back into the forum to see if conversation sparked from your thread. To see what other human beings around the globe had to say about your ideas! I know in the era of Twitter bots and angry Facebook Karens, that’s a scary concept... BUT it’s in that simple distinction that arguably made the pre-social media internet more social. Baity posts or hot takes for Like farming, dunking on others, etc. were frowned upon and quickly shut down in the forums and IRC/IM days because they just soured the mood for everyone and didn’t promote good conversation – I’m not sure how we lost this along the way. The more people that crowd into a once-niche online space, the more bad actors show up, requiring more moderation, not less. But when platforms are run by profit-driven boards and shareholders, you can’t just... ban people!!1!!one!!!1!!eleven!!!i!!!

I’ve seen a lot of videos and blogs lately decrying the death of Instagram and talking about how the app VERO supposedly reignites that “community” feel. I get it, a change in environment can make a big difference in how you feel, and people frequently feel they have a tighter-knit community when they switch to a more niche platform (and shed their bigger audience along the way). Having content feeds based on who you follow is great, and a breath of fresh air – but a brief one. The tools to manage different “circles” of friends (a notable Google+ feature that I miss dearly, and now also a Twitter feature) gives awesome control over who sees what. But the actual act of posting your work? Hasn’t changed. Post the image, farm your likes and an occasion comment. Log in, check for likes. It still feels wrong.

Conversations are meant to be had on small, personal levels. Open broadcast is either shouting into the void or getting lost in the noise. Art is meant to be studied, pondered, contextualized, and appreciated. Reducing everything to gut-reacting and low-effort likes, while feeding content into a dopamine-hit slot machine just... hurts everything. It changes why you do it, how you do it, how often you do it, and how you feel about it. [With “it” being anything from chatting to making art to reflecting on yourself.]

In an interview, Jerry Seinfeld said [I can’t find the exact quote now] something along the lines of that he keeps his new jokes a complete secret for at least 24 hours. He keeps them to himself so he can sit with them and make sure he still likes them the next day – so he has time to form a proper relationship with his work. He does this because by telling it to someone else, getting there reaction to it (positive or negative), that alters the relationship. Someone else’s input changes how you feel about your own work, and you don’t want to do that too early before your own feelings have actually set in. That just stuck with me so much. I don’t know that something more true has been said about an artist’s relationship with social. Not just with social media, but most importantly, their relationship with their own art. That relationship is incredibly important, and distorting that with the fallacies of social media is tragic. I feel this with my own work every day. I can spend AGES crafting a high-tier video, making something I’m really proud of – and the nature of the work means I have to post it pretty quickly and just wait for likes, nasty comments, and to just hope that it earns the views to make it feel worthwhile. Sometimes I can feel good enough about a video that it doesn’t even matter how it performs, but so often does it feel like my efforts and craftsmanship were a waste. And regardless of performance, there’s very little time to just sit with the work I’ve made; as soon as I finish one video, it’s onto the next (I’m usually running behind by that point). That issue affects non-video artists, too. If you spend days or weeks crafting the perfect piece, or taking and editing the perfect photo, you can’t just keep instantly turning around and repeating that cycle to feed the Algorithm Gods.

It breaks my heart to see artists I look up to, who make top-tier work and are constantly improving, who are made to feel their art is getting worse or is less interesting just because they’re getting less engagement on Twitter (or fewer sales of their NFTs, which gets even more toxic and gross). Likes are not a measurement of your work’s worth. It’s also not a measurement of your own self-worth, but we now have a not-insignificant amount of people across multiple generations who end up feeling that way – at least for a phase of their live, usually formative ones. Think of the cliche scenario (that people often mock or complain about) of a teenage girl or young woman who constantly takes, deletes, and re-takes photos of herself and has to keep re-trying based on if it gets enough likes quickly enough – regardless of how busy her “audience” might be at the moment she posts. This sounds amusing to some, but it’s honestly heartbreaking. Her self-esteem, her relationship with such and important thing – the literal image of her own face – is completely distorted by the number of likes she gets on an app, something she has ZERO control over. I know this hypothetical person is usually over-exaggerated, but these people DO exist, and I’m discovering more and more that so so many people’s photos of themselves basically have their entire faces replaced in apps like FaceTune and FaceApp and that’s just... really uncomfortable. It’s beyond unhealthy.

The transition from “social networking” (which was arguably around since the dawn of the internet via BBS and email) to “social media” felt like both a natural shift and an incredible revolution. It brought a lot of good things by allowing people like myself to build their dream jobs, for others to present their work and land their dream jobs, for people to meet their lifetime partners, and to generally democratize creative fields. But it also brought a lot of bad. I grew up in a time where tabloid culture was everywhere. It arguably still is – just handled through social media gossip instead of actual tabloids or fan sites – but it was a little different then. At the time, the subculture of gossiping about celebrities’ lives were seen as people who needed less free time, it was generally seen as a tad more “gross” than it probably is now. Celebrities were a wonderful source of drama before everyone’s drama became sources of entertainment. They got divorces, cheated on each other, and had massive drug and alcohol problems. A lot of these people struggled with the pressures of a job that required constantly being in the public spotlight, performing regularly and pretending to be different people. Shouldn’t it have been obvious that those very things that drove people with infinite money and massive safety nets to ruin might be even more problematic when handled by everyday people? *[The answer is a resounding “yes,” but when our fun hangout places online went from being run by the everyday people to explosive mega-corps that care only about profit and doing everything they can to keep you on their site instead of someone else’s... these things aren’t considered. Zuckerberg didn’t consider how he would impact everyday life (or elections or anything else for that matter) and neither did the people of Twitter when they took a political campaign propaganda tool and turned it into social media, either.]*

I originally wrote most of my thoughts on this back in August 2022 during my trip to RWX in Connecticut. I was reflecting on my existential struggles during a particularly rough period of burnout, as I often do, and just wanted to get some things off my chest. I scribbled these notes in a small notepad I kept in my shoulder bag for the trip, and wasn’t sure if it would ever leave those pages. I didn’t have answers, after all. I knew we were at a breaking point, I knew the very basis of “social media” was flawed, but I didn’t know what to do with that energy.

Tangent Time: Rejecting Social Media Since 2004

I’ve always used social media “wrong.” I got stuck in the ‘90s and early ‘00s: The days of having a bunch of IM accounts linked together via Pidgin running from a flash drive and chatting on forums for lengthier discussion with niche communities was PEAK socializing online for me. I got to keep in touch with all my friends, while choosing what to share and when. The idea of staying in touch with people you’d otherwise lose to the void of time was super appealing, but as an introvert I still had the exchanges under my control. Even as my own job became being an online “content creator” [Which I’m finally seeing why people feel is such a gross label...] I still didn’t run things as a “brand.” My Twitter presence has always been 100% unapologetically me since day 1. If you didn’t like it, you were welcome to not follow or mute/block me. It was my home for outward-facing textual communications, and I wasn’t going anywhere or quieting down. With YouTube and streaming I specifically avoided the obvious-winning strategy: Parasocial relationships. The reason some streamers and creators have such die-hard fans and can rake in so much money from tips is due to that aspect. A parasocial relationship is a one-sided one – the viewer invests time, energy, emotions, and money into the relationship and the creator has no real idea that person exists. They might shout your name during a stream to thank you for a tip, they might reply to your chat messages;– but when they stop streaming and aren’t on other social media, you don’t exist to them, you are not their friend. This whole thing has never made sense to me to participate in, has always made me super uncomfortable (especially coming from the ‘90s where people trying to groom you online were everywhere and avoiding them was basic survival), and my few attempts to leverage it more to boost my success has never really gone over well. I’m not a “friend” of random viewers, my life doesn’t depend on them. I don’t even really consider the “content” I produce to be entertainment, I’m an educator. The more I have to try to appeal to parasocial needs or be an entertainer, the more I feel my work suffers and my goals are unmet. Parasocial relationships are toxic and can lead to some serious abuse – in both directions. Every woman I know in streaming has way too many stories of stalkers and dudes who go way too far over the line in their delusions of being in a relationship with them. And that’s mild compared to the insanity surrounding idol and v-tuber cultures in Korea and Japan. It’s absolutely terrifying over there and everyone seems to be happy to keep partaking in it because it’s an easy source of money. I just can’t, in good faith, do that.

Similarly, I also left TikTok. I didn’t want to. I LOVE the idea of short-form videos for news and education, in my time on the app I learned SO MUCH about so many different fields and really felt like my third-eye was opened to efficient communication and the advantages of micro-content and removing all roadblocks to idea sharing. I’ve pushed for democratization of creativity my entire career, so of course I love the idea of removing every barrier in the way of a real marketplace of ideas. But TikTok came with a lot of bad, too. TikTok isn’t a social media platform, it’s not a great video platform. It’s a slot machine. Every feature, every singular aspect you could possibly interact with as a viewer or creator is designed to give you the biggest and most repeatable dopamine hits possible, and absolutely abuse it. I won’t waste time diving into the nitty gritty, but the moment you find yourself checking it every day, scrolling your FYP waiting for the perfect videos to show up, or posting hoping something randomly blows up due to unpredictable mechanisms completely out of your control... it has succeeded. It’s altering how your brain works to make you crave it and change how you view and do so much. It takes everything I complained about in the main body of this writing and dials it to 11 with zero shame. Historians will look back on the impact TikTok had with horror, maybe like we look at smoking. A completely obvious health hazard that’s 100% avoidable, yet people actively choose to take on that addiction anyway and corporations are all too happy to shove it in your face and profit from it.

Make the net weird again, and bring the “social” back

All this to say, I never really found myself belonging in the social media paradigm. As time went on, my tiny digital portal to a new realm where I fit in, found friends, made lasting relationships, and in some rare cases was even cool no longer felt like home. I no longer fit in, I’m uncomfortable and everything eels foreign. People I was (and could still be) great friends with feel like complete strangers after they’ve been altered by the TikTok Effect, or friends I made as we were all figuring YouTube out over a decade ago went to live in a Gamer House and converted to bro culture while high on their own success. Social media took communication and made it transactional. The people we saw as assholes for only caring about people who could offer something to their life or provide them value were suddenly... everyone. The inherent nature of broadcast-based communication, limited characters, and engagement-driven algorithms completely removed all nuance and transformed how we interact in general. Twitter is, of course, a prime example of this. From the beginning, turning “friends lists” into “follower counts” and replacing smilies and emotes in response to messages that didn’t need worded replies with Likes – along with the public room broadcast nature of how the Twitter feed works – distorted socializing from an interpersonal communication to a weird amalgamation of public speaking, interviewing, and heckling. Twitter as an actual social network was never really going to work. Posts are “status updates” not conversations. Twitter’s success – like so many things online – was in spite of its dysfunction, not because of it. When it was a small, niche site, self-moderating and herd tolerances allowed it to serve as a communication hub for many. Once it became a public forum? Things started falling apart. It’s been falling apart for years, and the more I’ve sat with things and pondered the future over the past week I’ve come to be grateful to Elon Musk. He was the perfect Patsy to put Twitter down quickly. If Twitter falls, this may end up being a crucial step in bringing about the next phase of online discourse, the true “Web 3.0” separate from blockchain and crypto sleaziness.

As so many people flood to Mastodon, culture clash is in full swing. People are so used to the weird ways of “social media” that they’re having a hard time adjusting to the mechanics and etiquette of actual “social networking.” You’re expected to be there to have conversations and interact there – and instance owners are (in most cases, hopefully) going to be happy to remove bad actors to preserve the core of the community. Decentralizing your online social presence means realizing that putting the entire populous in the same room and having them duke it out with snarky quips, memes, and hot takes was perhaps not the best idea for global communication. It means accepting that choosing a specific “time and place” for individual conversations is the way to go. Algorithms to provide an endless feed of other people’s messages to you that you didn’t ask for? Of course that was only ever going to promote conflict and the worst versions of ourselves; that’s out too. It also means putting the power back in the hands of the people. Federated services are ran by individuals, small communities, and organizations. A mega-corp could absolutely run their own instance, and that’s totally fine (and the correct choice over hosting their brand on a public/community instance, for so many reasons) but that mega-corp doesn’t get to control the platform, or influence what you do on it. That’s so powerful. We’re going back to the days of individual blogs, fansites, forums, and so on. There will be some growing pains, there will be some bad actors (Truth Social is run on Mastodon tech, after all – most reasonable instances just have hard blocks against that instance for obvious reasons) but I cannot envision a future that doesn’t involve us moving back towards this model.

If you’re worried about losing contacts: Build actual relationships. Get people’s contact numbers, email addresses, actually communicate with them. Due to my ADHD, I tend to (effectively) forget people exist if they aren’t in my face 24/7 and that causes me to not reach out for long periods of time – but rarely have I encountered someone that I had a true, meaningful relationship with that acted like it was a problem to strike up conversation again years, or even a decade later. What a lot of people are really freaking out about is losing their reach. And yeah, that’s a thing. I have 17K followers on Twitter – not an absurd amount of people, but it’s one of the biggest collection of colleagues and viewers that I have in one place outside of my YouTube channel. It allows me to reach out to other YouTubers and streamers in ways that I might not get through otherwise. Or at least, that is how it feels in an era where our expectations have shifted to places like Twitter being the only place for those kinds of chats. In reality, I’ve reached out to just as many people over email or Discord, and my Discord server is quickly catching up to my Twitter follower count. But really, those numbers don’t matter. My Discord server has been my home since I created it, and more people joining won’t change that. I value my Discord far more than Twitter or Facebook, etc. because it’s a place where real conversations happen. We have channels and categories for different interests and just chat with each other. That’s so much more pure than “following” someone to be “fed” their posts.

Things are going backwards in some ways, but really it’s just revitalizing past ideas with over a decade of hard lessons and new knowledge. I think it’s going to be even better as these crazy decentralized services get more adoption and with it, more adaptability to everyone’s needs.

Let’s make the net weird again.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

My gaming YouTube channel lost_saves will be 6 months old next week. I wanted to reflect on the experience of growing a new channel from scratch and how it has informed decisions on my main channel, my advice for fledgling creators, etc.

Some key takeaways I've had so far are: 1. Suggested views are a neurotic thing to focus on, but are also kinda required in 2022. 2. Posting frequency MATTERS, but it must come with a balance of focusing on the quality of your framing/concepts. A top-tier video is worth nothing if it's framed poorly with bad titles/thumbnails. 3. Waiting is sometimes ALL you can do. And that sucks.

But first, a little context:

My lack of Focus

I have ADHD. I was only first diagnosed in January of this year, at nearly 30 years old. (And I wasn't even formally “diagnosed” as the proper “testing” for ADHD requires... a lot... and had a 9-12 month waiting period in my area. Why bother if we can confirm it anyway and get straight to treatment?) But despite the late diagnosis, it's always been around. Symptoms of my ADHD were blindingly obvious throughout my YouTube career(s), if you knew what to look for. From the impulsive decision to delete my “original” (I had many, but it was the first w/ consistent content) channel in 2011 – erasing videos I will never be able to get back – to the constant game, topic, and niche-swapping on my second channel and repeatedly starting Let's Play series and abandoning them 3 episodes in... it was always there.

Even when I was "trying to be a gaming YouTuber" during the first waves of YouTube, I couldn't stick to one topic or niche.

I’ve also historically described what I called “missed pivotal moments” in my career, where I “could have” had some sort of easy “success” but specifically went another direction. I held a massive fear of niching down on YouTube, as I watched so many first-generation gaming YouTubers struggle and burn out from being attached to a singular game (it was always Call of Duty at the time, that was just somehow the “YouTube game”) and wanted to ensure that never happened to me. (Spoilers: that was always ADHD.)

An example of this was when – early on in my “second” channel’s life (at the time called “tehD3M0L1SH3R” …I know, I know) and I had the opportunity to collab (or “dual comm”) with a huge Call of Duty YouTuber at the time, VikkStar123.

Cringey, my mic sounded horrible, I had no experience recording something like that and was very awkward. BUT it was exposure. My gameplay was solid – granted, this particular gameplay video wasn’t even mine, it was via a friend “NastyGHD” since I was horrible at MW2 and that was what people wanted to see – and this collab netted me my first 1,000 subscriber milestone and things were moving VERY quickly. My first Call of Duty 4 (my CoD game of choice) videos following that release performed very well. Theoretically I could have been on a path to easy viewership. But that frequent itch came back. That voice in the back of my head that freaked out every time it felt like it was being put in a box.

“I can’t just play Call of Duty every day and only post that!” “What if I want to get creative with something else?”

Quietly, without announcement, I sabotaged that “success.” I only posted Halo for weeks, months. It’s what I was having the most fun playing, anyway, I was hooked on Halo: Reach at the time. In the following years, my channel would see many shifts from specific Halo or Call of Duty commentaries to general reviews/impressions videos, my first tech videos and “unboxings” – to me starting my “new” channel, EposVox, in 2012. My old channel became a dedicated Team Fortress 2 channel for about a year, then just became a dumping ground for more lazy videos and live stream VODs. Meanwhile my “main channel” also went through many phases: Started as a co-op gaming channel with my wife, a dedicated Pokemon TCG and Pokemon game news channel, to the tech and streamer-education-focused channel it is today.

2012, after making the EposVox channel but before turning it into a co-op Let's Play channel.

The problem: I wanted the freedom to cover what I wanted as my constant focus-shifting happened, without being boxed in, but that kind of thing is NOT sustainable on a single channel.

The Plan

I wish I could say I started lostsaves with some grand master plan or strategy. I’ve had oh, so many plans for channels – the different niches I’ve tried to lock into – and the truth is, the plans always change. I had a few primary goals for lostsaves, some for myself and one for the content. For myself: I wanted a channel that could help balance out my ADHD focus-shifting, allowing me to still make gaming content without awkwardly posting it on main to not perform well and confuse subscribers. I’ve always been gaming-adjacent, but anything strictly gameplay-focused has historically always performed poorly. I also wanted to experiment with growing a channel from scratch and experiment with growth strategies, etc. to better inform my advice for newbie creators on main.

*(I guess I should note that Holo Quest also exists as a secondary outlet for one of my other ADHD rabbit holes, Pokemon TCG, but that hobby was a money sink that I managed to drop at least $5K into last year without even opening half of what I purchased, and it was way more engaging/rewarding to make that kind of content on-stream, rather than on videos (which I also paid someone to edit on top of the cards cost), so it’ll not be a main focus anytime soon, sadly. That kind of hobby is toxic for someone with my disorder, given impulse control and FOMO is kinda the point.)*

For the content on lost_saves, I had one goal: To share the joy of gaming. Negative, toxic coverage of games used to be a super small, niche thing – with just super-critical work being stand-out on its own. These days, the fun, hip thing to do is to just take a dump on games, gaming news, etc. constantly and it’s just… exhausting. Gaming is meant to be a fun, leisure hobby that gives the good dopamine hits, and it can’t do that when you obsess over the negativity constantly. While critical games journalism is required to keep everyone in check, every creator thinking it’s their ‘responsibility’ to do so – mostly driven by the easy short-term views from taking a smart-sounding dump on a given game or developer is just… enough.

I want to share the fun and the enjoyment that I get and want out of games. Think of it like a blend of JackFrags, Digital Foundry/DF Retro, BeatEmUps, WulffDen, and streamers like Shroud. Some high-tier gameplay (I’ve been playing FPS games for like 20 years, used to compete semi-professionally in Halo, I have SOME skill – at least when I have the time to play consistently and shake off the rust), some collection building/haul videos, some topical stuff. Good vibes.

From a strategic perspective, constant negativity/critical videos is just bad for one’s health (I do want to keep from burning out on this, given my proclivity to hop between interest areas, of course) as well as channel health. So many newbie gaming creators fall into this trap, and it’s strongly affecting many newer Halo channels at the moment. People grew by covering Halo Infinite/Season 8 MCC news and found some quick success, but then were frustrated with the state of the game and fell into the trap of everything just being complaining about the game, 343i, and the lack of popularity. This sours viewers and makes it so the only people who want to watch anything you post anymore are people who solely seek out that kind of critical stuff. And once you’ve caused enough of that damage, it’s hard to get people to come back.

The Goal: Build a channel that I could sustainably post to on a consistent basis that could grow to a point of balancing with my main channel, allowing me to balance out my wavering interests, without hurting my business or my ability to support my family.

The Execution

I struggled to keep up w/ posting frequency at first, but this past month has been great.

Instead of starting lost_saves with a plan, a box to trap myself in from the start, I started it with a feeling. Those aforementioned “good vibes” I wanted to share, and some formats I wanted to test, along with everything I’ve learned over the past decade-and-a-half on YouTube about growing a channel. I’m quite partial to the classic “gameplay commentary” format of the 2009-2012 era of YouTube, but that’s hard to grow with these days, so I had to experiment.

Amusingly, the video I actually launched the channel with was probably the worst example of “hitting the ground running with great content” that I usually preach: It was an edited-down stream highlights video. Not something that’s easy to market beyond your existing subscriber base, and this channel had no such thing. BUT it was preserving the final moments of my favorite game’s online servers before they shut down – is there anything more on-brand for “lost_saves” than that? So I meme’d it up with a dramatic title based on some of the Twitter and Reddit posts I had seen about that night, popped into Source Filmmaker to pose Master Chief for a thumbnail and posted it.

Between sharing to my subscribers on main (An important rule I recommend for anyone launching a new channel: Don’t just link a bunch of people to an empty channel page. Those subscribers are worth far less than driving them directly to a video and letting that video show YouTube it’s generating a lot of subscribers. This is both ideal for the video’s performance itself, and for helping guarantee that your next video will be in those subscribers’ home pages.) and the suggested video traffic from other videos about those final hours, it performed decently well, sitting at about 2.2K views. Average view duration isn’t high since it’s a stream highlights edit and people get bored, but it preserved a memory I wanted to live beyond Twitch, showed the kind of feeling this channel is about, and let me launch the channel without getting stuck in analysis paralysis before I even got going.

The second video was something I had been wanting to make for a long time, combined with some trendy formats I’d seen working among other smaller gaming channels. A look back at a classic FPS title I love, and how playable it is in the current year. An easy format for views in any gaming genre, and let me use up a lot of clips I had been gathering.

(My first few weeks of being on Adderall were… more intense than things were long-term as my brain and body adjusted to it, so I had many nights where I was able to hyper-focus on CoD4 and play at a very high skill level, racking up clips. This quickly adjusted and stabilized (as did my appetite, thankfully) but the first couple CoD4 videos definitely came from back-to-back nights of constant gaming – something I honestly hadn’t been able to do in months.)

IMO the intro was too slowly-paced – I have a lot of trouble sorting through hours of gaming clips and picking the best, I get too tired of the task and wind up choosing sub-par clips out of desperation to be done with it – but overall, the video did what I sat out to accomplish, has racked up over 4K views and still gets a decent amount each month.

Note to self: I HAVE to go back and make this for the other games, soon. I too frequently find a successful format (like Top X lists, etc.) and then get bored of them instead of capitalizing on the easy views to feed into my other work. I get in my own way so frequently.

The next couple months were spent experimenting with more click-grabby video concepts and title/thumbnail frameworks that I theorized might be successful and to test the waters with covering a new game for the channel: Splitgate.

It mostly worked (the “That rusty feeling is GREAT” video was as lazy as it gets from concept to thumbnail, I panicked because I was struggling to keep up posting frequency and just wanted SOMETHING up) and I found a LOT of people asking questions in the ADHD gaming video. Many of which deserve some follow-up videos, but once again I got scared of getting boxed in as the “ADHD Gaming Channel” and decided to not make anymore videos like that – but I have more planned and outlined. I just keep putting it off.

Surprises and Roadblocks

For a little while, I was consistently able to pull 2-3K views per video through the month of March. This was very surprising – especially given that during super rough periods on EposVox, 2-3K views within the first day or 2 can be difficult there sometimes – but the views didn’t feel like a result of my own work.

Since I was purely challenging myself to tackle the YouTube traffic source I’ve been the worst at, Suggested/Homepage recommendations, I hadn’t really made anything that would get search traffic. There’s no real SEO here.

A pattern emerged for those views. I would post a video around 11:15AM (the usual time YouTube says subscribers are most active on all of my channels) and around midnight that night or the following night, the video would suddenly get a BIG burst of views coming from the Homepage, leading to that 2-3K view count – and then suddenly as if hitting a brick wall, the video would cease getting anymore views. Despite CTR being decent, retention being okay, it seemed like a switch was flipped of “that’s enough for you for today.”

Combine this with a few failed attempts at re-creating that magic with content that I truly felt was equally as compelling of a concept and worthwhile titles/thumbnails and… it’s understandable that I don’t feel in control of this channel’s success. Unlike with SEO where you put in the work to target specific searches, deliver results, and can see a consistent feed of viewership – trying to optimize for suggestions is literally a neurotic task. You make so many guesses and assumptions and hopes, and even then you have zero control over whether YouTube’s system thinks its a video any specific viewer might like to expose to them in the first place. And that’s not to mention the fact that your videos can just be shown against any millions of other videos that happen to be more compelling or relevant to that specific viewer in that specific moment – and that still hurts your chances.

This Halo 3 live session video – which is now on its third thumbnail and fourth title concept – could be the best video my lost_saves channel ever sees. It’s a live session that I happened to record in November 2021 because it was so ridiculous, edited by the talented Emzo (once I remembered I had the footage and wanted it posted on this new channel) and is an absolute RIDE of a video. It holds a respectable (though could be better, hence the title/thumbnail changes which I JUST made another of) 4.4% CTR, AVD is 3:03, which not amazing for a 10 minute video is still fine (and average for my main channel, too), and it holds a decent amount of viewers for the first 30 seconds, which is important.

But it just won’t… go anywhere. Tightly edited, narrative pushed throughout the video, multiple engaging and clickable title and thumbnail combos, and what I believe to be a compelling concept/framing in the first place for this audience and… I have quite literally zero way (other than perhaps buying up some AdSense ads to forcibly PUT it on people’s recommendations on YouTube) to get it seen by more people. It’s just… stuck.

That’s a really crappy feeling which is hard to sit with. And frankly, I could theoretically make it worse by changing it to a worse title/thumbnail if I happened to nail it and just need to wait.

Problem 1: Suggested views are generally unpredictable and out of creator control. Trying to optimize for them can be instantly discouraging with minimal recourse to “fix” it.

Then, of course, I ran into some bottlenecks. You may recall from the graphs earlier, that my posting frequency wasn’t great for a while here. I get on my ADHD hyper-focus binges where all I can think about is this specific side project, but then just as quickly, I get yoinked back into “work” focusing on main channel and struggle to keep up with a side project with no immediate ROI. This compounds: If I’m unable to spend more time on it, then I’m unable to grow it by nature of posting less frequently. If I’m gaming less, then I have less footage to use, topics to discuss, videos to make in the first place. And if I’m not making money from it, it’s difficult to justify or afford paying someone else to edit these videos. Most new creators won’t struggle with that last point, and after this month of June going so well with increased frequency, I do believe that with increased frequency and consistent posting lost_saves would be much further along by now. This is both super encouraging, because it means “it’s just a matter of time,” but is also frustrating, because I didn’t do that.

Problem 2: Posting frequency is hard when it’s not your primary focus and isn’t making money (or enough viewership) yet to justify taking time away from main.

Next Steps for 2022

I posted to lostsaves a TON in June. The views graph above is a little misleading, as about 34% of those views were on Shorts. But, this has very much informed my plan moving forward. 1. A minimum of ONE “full video” (not a short/stream) will be posted per week to this channel. I don’t NEED to push myself beyond that, but I DO need to maintain that to keep viewership consistently coming in. 2. Shorts for gaming news whenever possible, and to accompany every main video are a good idea (I’m also doing that second one on main). Shorts views aren’t worth much. They’re fed from a different algorithm (the Shorts Shelf) and rarely lead to subscribers, and the watch hours from the Shorts Shelf don’t even count towards monetization unlocks – but they’re views. They’re traffic to the channel that opens up more opportunities to get people subscribed or watching other content, and that’s a win. Leverage what tools YouTube gives you. 3. Occasional casual gaming streams are going to be nice. I did one from the house while I was stuck out of office this week and it was a chill, good time. Again, the viewership is directly worth very little for the same reasons as Shorts, but it’s more opportunities to engage and attract viewers when I can’t otherwise work on actual content. 4. SEO. I originally sat out to entirely focus on suggested/recommended views – they’re still #1 across all of YouTube – but sustainability requires consistent backlog traffic, which requires doing SOME search-focused videos. I’m thinking once a month I do a tutorial (setting up a mod or something) and find something else to make an easy search video on, and see if I can get views going on days I don’t post more. 5. Companion videos for main. As streaming becomes less relevant, my main EposVox channel is branching back out to more broader tech, which also means more gaming tech-focused things. The PS2 emulator video, Analogue Pocket Review, the CRT video essay, etc. have performed VERY well, despite not being my channel’s main focus. Pairing those videos up with a more gameplay-focused video on lostsaves provides a super-easy gateway to push viewers between channels, and I need to be ready to leverage those whenever possible.

My biggest frustration in this process so far has been a matter of patience. I’m posting good content, it’s doing well, but sometimes the only thing I can do is sit and wait – and I don’t handle that well. There’s no extra buttons to press, no hacks or tricks, no micro-managing. If I’m not working on content (or conceptualizing/planning it) there’s not really anything I can do to make the channel grow faster. I just have to let the system do its job. For someone like me, that’s a terrible feeling.

But hey, after spending way too much of my day writing this out, I think I finally feel that obsession where all I could think about this week was lost_saves… release. Maybe I can finally focus on my main channel’s work for this week so I don’t fall behind.

Be kind, rewind.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!

Layoffs, declines in growth, constant drama. Streaming is in a tough spot right now, and I hate to see it that way – but I'm not sure we're going to bounce back anytime soon.

The Boom was Unsustainable

In 2019, I finally agreed to go along with the branding that my viewers had been assigning to me since 2013: The Stream Professor (often alternated with the “OBS Prof” etc.).

This seems mostly inconsequential, but on the personal side: It was really tough. I've always been paranoid of getting “stuck in a box” and niching down. From refusing to post more Call of Duty for months after collaborating with one of the most-subscribed CoD channels at the time in 2011, to taking 2 years to stop posting gameplay videos despite having 10x the views on my tech content in 2013, to trying to stay focused on broader tech when OBS/streaming was clearly my most-viewed/subscribed-for, until after LTX 2019. My entire career can be summed up as “getting in my own way.”

So when we went into the pandemic in 2020 and streaming started BOOMING in popularity, it was easy to feel like I made the right choice.

This video, released in June 2020, focused on the first of a big wave of budget/cloned capture cards flooding the market and is my second most-viewed video that isn't a tutorial.

While I've remained hard on myself for it, I was honestly unable to really capitalize on the initial boom wave in 2020. Streaming was seeing explosive growth as people were forced into lockdown and wanted something to pass the time, or to pursue a means of making money online while stuck at home.

Me? I had a kid. While originally planned quite well, we couldn't have expected to have a “pandemic baby.” It was ROUGH. From isolation during the final month and process of childbirth, to complications during it and a few months of colic – nothing went according to plan... and I was barely functional most days, much less able to scale up my content output to meet demand. I could have “blown up”, but I didn't. But I was starting my family and I wouldn't trade my son for the world. Just unfortunate timing with it all.

But that didn't stop me from seeing growth from all this, of course. My backlog – which my channel primarily lived on at the time – got a lovely boost and I was able to see nice growth with new content each week.

But then January 2021 hit and all of that backlog traffic went away. Not just back to where it was before the boom, but to far worse. I spent most of 2021 trying to shift strategies and adapt to back-end YouTube changes that de-prioritized backlog content. Along the way, even sitting here in June 2022, I can easily conclude looking at the viewership data for myself and other streaming-focused channels: Growth in “new streamers” has almost entirely ceased.

I think Mixer shutting down – arguably right at the height of the streaming boom – was a more realistic sign of how things were going to go. The number of streamers skyrocketed, but the number of viewers didn't scale with it. Growth, yes, a lot of it even, but not to match it.

Regardless, it was inevitable that so much of this rapid growth wouldn't be able to stick around. Eventually people lost interest, saw that actually growing your stream in a sea of people doing exactly the same thing as you with the same RGB flair as you was impossible, and eventually were sent back to work and out of the house.

Twitch streamer Ludwig moves exclusively to YouTube |

What did Twitch do this whole time?

Twitch on the other hand... What the hell have they been doing? We've seen them be incredibly slow to adjust to drama or bad actors, incapable of making decisions to remove problems from the platform, and they've delivered very few worthwhile updates or changes to the platform since 2019.

It really seems like they just sat on their laurels and took in the free growth without trying to improve, and I think streaming on the whole has suffered for it.

Streamers now see how ridiculous the “working conditions” for Twitch Partners are. YouTube contracts may not be quite as lucrative, but still set people up handsomely and allows them to live a healthy, sustainable life. Plus it allows them way more freedom for content development.

Twitch has pretty far-reaching name recognition/genericism of “Streaming” being “Twitch” in so many minds, even in the mainstream. And yet, they're almost actively throwing all of this away.

While there have been road bumps along the way and not everyone has matched their viewership or revenue from Twitch to YouTube – frankly, every single one of them were making so goddamn much money for people with mostly solo operations that it's impossible to feel any sympathy for that – they all seem to be simply THRIVING regardless due to a tighter-knit community and less exhaustion/burnout. It's been great to see.

The Layoffs Begin

EXCLUSIVE: StreamElements restructures 20% of workforce – Esports Insider

StreamElements just announced that it's “restructuring” and has laid off a significant number of employees who were developing important features for streamers. Given the big push for so many to move from StreamLabs to StreamElements following SL's pattern of awful behavior coming further to the light... this sucks. I'd start learning StreamerBot or Aitum and building your own solutions ASAP. Tutorials soon.

StreamElements Raises $100 Million in Latest Investment Round Led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 | by Chase | StreamElements – Legendary Content Creation Tools and Services

This is even weirder considering SE had just raised $100 MILLION DOLLARS in funding less than a year ago. There's really no reason they should have to lay people off by now – which suggests to me that things are in SHARP decline, and that they're trying to pivot a bit.

Because really, when you think about it, how are companies like StreamElements or StreamLabs making money? For StreamLabs they first spent years ripping off the viewers by tricking them into subscription tiers and refusing to cancel or refund them, and then pivoted to a streamer-subscription model, but the features haven't been that compelling. Especially when most of their actual “software features” worth paying for are freely available in the free/open-source program they used to build theirs ontop of.

With StreamElements, it seems most of it comes via Merch Sales and trying to negotiate brand deals – which both have the unfortunate consequence of being a bad deal for both the streamer and the viewer and only really appealing to very small streamers.

Perhaps SE has turned into a complete money sink in an awkward situation of being a massive user-acquisition basis, but having nothing to monetize.

This will be the first of many layoff rounds within the streamer space you will hear about. Money in this scene is drying up in many ways. It's not “the end”, but it's definitely a rut.

The Future

It's hard to predict the future in any market or environment, and I don't really have a business mind, BUT there's some writing on the walls. + The newbie/beginner streamer was once a gold mine for these companies – from peripherals, to services, to courses, memberships, etc. – but that audience is dwindling or almost completely gone. + Any real money to be made in this space was already coming from the middle-to-higher-tier streamers in the first place – but with the newbie money pool drying up, more companies and products will be targeting those higher-tier streamers and their wallets. + Paid service models where you actually have to pay for worthwhile/crucial features to your stream, instead of having it for free and hoping “the community” will fully back it, or that VC funding will keep it going indefinitely... things cost money. These will be the focus. + Free services that nickel and dime the low-hanging-fruit masses will slow development and/or shut down. + Streaming – especially casual game streaming with minimal deliverable “value” to the viewer, and instead purely relying on parasocial manipulation – will become less relevant and less viable as primary focus, and instead 100% will have to be rolled up into a more developed content strategy.

It sucks that things are rolling downhill so fast. The current estimations for this recession are ~18 months? Maybe we'll see some tide shifts next summer. But in the meantime, we all have to adapt.

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