From couch potatoes to smartphone zombies

The failure of Donald Trump’s blog is symptomatic of the death of the Internet as a “lean in” medium.

Internet visionaries of the 1990s through early 2010s distinguished the Internet from TV. TV was a “lean back” medium, where passive couch potatoes took whatever the three networks gave them. On blogs, Web 2.0, and forums, engaged people “leaned in,” sought information, and engaged in discussion.

But social media algorithms killed that. Now, we take whatever Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram algorithms feed us. Not even Trump’s fanatical followers can be moved to follow him when the algorithms aren’t magnifying his message.

However, Cory Doctorow notes the paradox that the algorithms can bring like-minded people together, and many will get up out of their chairs and get things done, either in BLM protests or in the January 6 insurrection.

Like Cory, I wish social media would just go the fuck away. But I am also aware of that Facebook in particular – which I hate more than all the other social media – is also the one I love the most, because it has brought me together with friends that I would not have connected with you any other channel.

On Wired, Philip M. Napoli says leaned-back couch potatoes have become hunched-over smartphone zombies.

The failure of Trump’s blog tells us that even the kind of impassioned political extremists that form the core of Trump’s base of support are so entrenched in their passive, social-media-dependent mode of media consumption that a traditional blog, absent accompanying social media accounts to generate algorithmic amplification, is incapable of gaining a fraction of the online engagement that a single tweet could achieve. Not even the most public of public figures can break free from the platform dependency that largely dictates the distribution of audience attention online. If Trump’s blog can’t gain traction without direct access to the audience aggregation and amplification tools of social media, then perhaps nothing can.

The failure of Donald Trump’s blog is, then, yet another indication of the massive power that the platform giants hold over the content that we consume. But it’s a reminder that we bear responsibility for voluntarily ceding this power to them, and enthusiastically embracing the push model of the web over the pull. Ultimately, we may look back at the failure of Trump’s blog as the final, definitive nail in the coffin of the original model of the web and the notion of the “active” internet user.

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