Hi folks, I've seen a few posts and comments discussing "what is tildes.net all about?" or even "what does Tildes want to be about?" and I thought I'd throw in a related topic I've been thinking...
I've seen a few posts and comments discussing "what is tildes.net all about?" or even "what does Tildes want to be about?" and I thought I'd throw in a related topic I've been thinking about recently. I am interested in the medium of communication itself, in addition to the goals and general philosophy of Tildes.
To start, the question of "what makes Tildes different from Reddit?" is interesting. One concern about Reddit is the huge proportion of either low-quality posts or attention-chasing memes. And a lot of Tildes users seem to be asking why that is the case; and whether a site like Tildes can be different.
Some say that Reddit is a victim of the profit cycle. As a commercial entity, Reddit must aim to bring in as many users as possible, thereby increasing advertisement revenue. And lowering the bar to new user entry means that you get more and more people who aren't really concerned with making thoughtful, high-value contributions to the discussions.
And there's certainly some truth to that. So by this model, Tildes should be different. It is non-commercial, not profit-driven, and it has mechanisms in place (and in development) that are specifically designed to weed out low-value contributions/contributors.
But still, even at this early stage, when the userbase is small and has been more selectively accumulated, some users are expressing concern that Tildes is showing signs of becoming just another Reddit. True or not -- I don't know.
Beyond the profit goal, another dimension for analysis is the medium itself. "Medium", as in the tools of communication; as in radio vs. print vs. television vs. web forum, etc. In 1985, Neil Postman wrote an interesting book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death" that reiterated Marshall McLuhan's idea that messages are partly shaped (and constrained) by the medium over which they are transmitted. And by extension, some media are better at communicating some types of ideas than others.
Postman was writing in 1985 when television was the dominant medium. He argued that the image-oriented medium of television was best suited for entertainment rather than rational argument or intellectual discourse. And thus the use of television (particularly commercial television) as a medium drifts away from thoughtful, intellectual engagement of the consumer, and toward gripping, decontextualized video clips that imprint ideas on the viewer and keep them coming back for more.
Television is just not as good as print media for communicating deep, complicated ideas that the consumer can engage with. (This isn't to say tv can't do it, but it's just not as good at it.)
So what about web forums like Reddit and Tildes? This is what I've been thinking a lot about recently, and I wonder what other Tildes users think about it.
Web forums are different than television for sure, in that they are mostly text-based, and users can interact with them by both posting text and responding to what others have posted.
But web forums are different from ye olde fashioned books too, in the sense that web forums seem to eschew longer, more highly-structured arguments. (Speaking of that, I hope this post isn't too long!) There seems to be a "king of the mountain" syndrome in web forums, in which posters vie for attention, while watching as posts rise to the top and are quickly replaced by newer, catchier posts.
Is this the fundamental dynamics or metaphysics of web forums? --the rapid turnover of attention-seeking, short posts?
If so, will Tildes get pulled down into that same whirlpool?
I don't think it has to be that way, but I believe it is a strong warning that we have to think hard about how the structure of the medium itself channels the type of content we will see here.
Stepping back further in Postman's argument is his deep concern about the effect of the dominant medium on popular discourse in a society.
When mainstream media is reduced to commercial jingles and quick, entertaining memes, the very foundation of liberal democratic society is at risk. People become uninformed about the important issues of the day, and become disengaged from the democratic process. As that disengagement increases, special interest groups (read: corporate lobbyists) fill the void of providing direction to governing bodies. Citizens then become more disillusioned and even more disengaged. This is a well-documented phenomena called "the death spiral of democracy", and it scares the shit out of me.
When I first read Deimos' "Announcing Tildes" blog post, I saw a motivating philosophy that I feel is one of the most important issues of our time. We don't live in a perfect world right now, but we're in a world that appears to be on the edge of tragic yet avoidable decline; a world in which the values I assume many Tildes users would like to promote are being paved over by entities that only value profit.
I think that Tildes can be really, really important, and it needs the user base to deeply engage in the analysis of what will make it work. What is it about the web forum as "medium" that shapes the content we are exposed to here? And how can we devise the mechanisms that prevent it from degrading into another Reddit? Is a shared motivating philosophy enough, or do we need to re-engineer the medium itself?
So into the discussion of "what should Tildes be about?", this post is a long-winded way of saying that I think part of it should be about discussing how we can we construct a sustainable new form of media that improves society and supports our highest values. What does this next generation medium look like?
Note: just to be clear, Deimos has already put a lot of great thought into this (cf. https://docs.tildes.net/). I'm just arguing that the topic of the medium and the mechanics of the medium should be a topic that all Tildistas engage with.