The end of an era


Long ago, on a blog far, far away, I wrote about The Fallish Feeling. I defined this as “the fact that everything that you’re attached to, disappears or ends naturally, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This would be the soundtrack:

The last few months, I’ve clearly been suffering from The Fallish Feeling. The pandemic is of course partly to blame: 2020 was going to be the year in which I would finish up a couple of loose ends, and start up all kinds of new endeavors. In reality, all my plans for the year fell through. All of them.

Since I spend 99% of my time at home by myself and only venture into the outside world for medical appointments, my context specific interactions have also been reduced to almost zero. You know, those conversations in passing, with the neighbor, or the cashier at a store, or the person waiting with you at the bus stop.

Seeing that at this time in my life, I’ve been without classmates or coworkers for a while and that over the years, the amount of family, friends and acquaintances has dwindled from “not a lot to begin with”, to “about five”, these “bus stop interactions” have been a very important part of my daily social life.

These days, if I speak to one stranger a month on public transport, it’s often. Also, the conversations aren’t like they used to be: it’s all Covid, all the time. Which I do understand, but find exhausting nonetheless. The only place I do have the equivalent of those bus stop interactions, is on Instagram.

The internet has long been the place where I, independent of my IRL world status, could relatively easy stay in contact and exchange ideas with lots of people. This is why I tried to deny what’s been happening for the last two years as long as I could: Instagram is dying.

I’ve been on the internet since 1996, and I’ve seen many a website, forum or social media platform be launched, thrive and then dwindle. I recognize the signs: No new followers, less interaction, fewer likes, people start posting less, the communication shifts to direct messages, people stop logging in, people delete their accounts.

Right now, 95% of my timeline consists of ads and “recommended for you” posts. There’s still some personal instastories from people I actually follow, but those too are becoming few and far between. Of course some of this is due to the pandemic and people having nothing to share/being exhausted, but this dwindling down of activity started way before Covid 19. When lockdown started here in The Netherlands in March, there was a spike in activity, but that ended sometime in June.

For everybody going: “My time line is fine!”: That’s entirely possible. It all depends on when your friends/interactive followers quit the platform. There’s apparently still loads of people having a blast on Twitter in 2021, while I quit in 2012 after a year of basically talking to myself/a wall/outer space. And where I then moved on to Tumblr, and then Instagram, now there’s… nothing.

As long as I’ve been on the internet, there’s always been a new website, a new forum or a new social media platform to move on to. I have sadly lost people moving from one platform to the next, but a small group of people moved along with me. This time however, there’s no new platform to move to.

Yeah, there’s TikTok, but I’m 45 years old and my life as a dancer is WAY behind me. Also, it’s a platform geared towards kids, as kids are the future (consumers). The painful reality is that the end of Instagram will not only mean the end of me-on-the-internet, but it will also be the end of online friendships I’ve had for sometimes close to 20 years.

I can already hear the “Well, meet up in real life!” In some cases, that would be impossible due to living on opposite ends of the world, or not even knowing who these people are IRL, as they, like me, have an online alias. #oldschool But even in the cases that people are known and closer, I don’t think IRL friendship will happen.

In my experience, there’s a timeframe in which an online interaction needs to lead to IRL meetups for an IRL friendship to be possible. If you live 20 minutes away from each other and never (manage to) plan an IRL meetup in the 10, 15 years that you’re online friends, it’s just not going to happen anymore.

In this sense those decade long interactions that are strictly kept online are quite similar to context specific interactions like holiday friends, that coworker you always have lunch with, or that nice neighbor. As soon as you get back home, or find another job, or move house, you lose touch. It is fairly rare to find common ground outside of that particular context you interacted in and continue the friendship independently of said context.

This of course doesn’t mean that these context specific friendships don’t have any value or meaning. I value my online interactions as much as I value my offline interactions, I am well aware of there being actual, valuable people behind the profile, which makes this whole situation just so sad.

Ever since the internet became primarily an advertising medium, I have been very aware that there would come a time that I would be “too old” to be of demographic interest, and that that would eventually mean the end of my online life as I know it. Now that this moment is closer than ever however, it hurts more than I told myself it would.