Relationships have always been difficult for me. All relationships start with meeting someone new, and that’s the part that scares me the most. Later it’s easier, not easy, just easier. But like all of us, I also need to feel connected to someone, to a group of people who share my values and beliefs. It’s hard to find, but we have social media, right? That’s what I thought, and I tried them all. It’s no secret that they’re black holes that suck up every free second. It’s no secret that they’re made and lead by people with whom I do not share values1. But I needed the social connection. Later, I found Mastodon. It was better, it was calmer, it was nicer, and I met awesome people out there.

Unfortunately, there’s also a timeline. Chronological timeline, without any algorithm, it’s less addictive, it wasn’t built to addict us, but it still exploits (consciously or not) the same mechanism of our brains. And even there, there are people I don’t want to engage with. I can block them, but that can happen after we meet, not before. And there is news I don’t always want to see.

Last week I tried something new for me. I tried to move all valuable connections to other channels. I started a group chat with some friends. With some I chat more on Signal and iMessage, with some I exchange more emails. Some are new to my life and I already like them a lot. Last week I spent a lot more time with people I like, people I care about, people who make my day better every time I talk to them, even when we talk about difficult experiences.

I spend a lot more time with them, and… I spend a lot less time scrolling through Mastodon. I checked the screen time on all my devices and Mastodon usage dropped by half. I knew it would go down, but I was surprised by how much. I can tell I am using the service less and I feel better. The social interactions I have now are sufficient for my needs, and at the same time I feel like I am spending time with people who care about me. I feel like we have built something important instead of just wasting time on doomscrolling.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of social media and the Internet. The more I talk to friends around the world, the more time I spend on email and a few chat apps, the more I see that this is the way it should have always been. The Internet was made to connect people, not to scroll through an endless wall of updates. This kind of experience showed me the true essence of the Internet, and I’m so glad I tried it.

I’m not sure if another post about how big social media is wrong and evil brings anything new to the discussion. I really don’t know, but I don’t care anymore. This post is not about how big tech is evil and how they are destroying the world. This post is about the simple fact that we are not as dependent on them as we used to think. The whole new world, the real experience of being connected, is right here, right now, it’s enough to open the email application, select the address, and write a few words to a friend. It doesn’t have to be a long message, just a few words at the beginning. Just a few words.

And then the beauty begins. They respond. The conversation begins, the real connection. Sometimes it will fade over time, sometimes it will blossom. We never know, but that’s the risk we all have to take to build friendships. Social media, no matter how friendly, is always built around the audience, the real connection takes more than a few replies to random posts. Real connection takes time, energy, willingness.

Right now, I don’t know if I’m going to stay on Mastodon or if I’m going to leave, but I know one thing for sure. I’m going to limit the time I spend there, and I’m going to spend that time chatting with people outside of social media, and writing more here (hopefully). It’s no secret that I crave real connection, I thought I would find it there, but I didn’t. I found a great people, a great community, it’s true, I’ve said it many times and I’ll never take it back. But the real connection happens in different places, at a different pace, in the private sphere, in the closeness, even when we’re far, far away.

  1. I even doubt if they have any. ↩︎