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The Trouble with “Finding Your People” Online (tinyletter.com)
118 points by longdefeat on May 20, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Is it still possible to "find your people online", though? Maybe I've missed a few steps by now but I don't feel there's any place online that I would still call "my people".

The old places where we met when we were 15-20 are almost empty. The new place, HN being one of them, have been willingly sacrificed to the making of money. And then there are places like FB, Instagram that aren't really places of finding, more the spam mailbox turned into a feature.

Last but not least there are these isolated group meetings in whatsapp, slack etc. But there I've only found ones that are mostly open and therefore lack the finding part. You really need to know what you are looking for to have any chance of finding such hidden places.

So where's that "finding your people online" place nowadays?

You can probably only find the mainstream places because you're a mainstream person now. It happens to most of us as we grow older.

When you put a lot of effort into a subculture, you'll gradually get access to its more hidden parts. If you're active in the facebook group you'll get invited to the discord. If you poke around the subreddit you'll find the old phpbb forum. And so on. That's the way it always worked, it was just more natural to put the time and effort in when we were younger.

I think a lot of people are keeping that a secret and I do have quite some places I would not want associated with my public persona.

Any place that gets too much attention will at some point succumb to a form of mainstream zeitgeist. That also results in platforms like facebook getting boring outside of private groups.

> The new place, HN being one of them, have been willingly sacrificed to the making of money.

I have no clue what that means. Could you elaborate? Was there a earlier version of HN run as a charity or something? With unpaid moderators?

I have always assumed this was a recruiting service for YCombinator, hence their unobtrusive job ads. Was it an old Usenet group or something? Now that I think about it, I don’t really know where this site came from, assuming my sketchy knowledge is incorrect. I know I personally do not feel it has lost any of its character in the 9 years I’ve been a member.

In fact, HN was originally called "Startup News", so it was even more tied to the idea of making money. And yeah, the idea was always to be a place for YC discussion:

"our hope is that by creating a community at news.ycombinator, we'll be able to get to know would-be founders before they apply to us."


Had no clue! That’s neat to read, thanks.

It's completely possible - I'd argue easier than ever. I think we're in the renaissance of online friends with the rise of Discord. We've had this gap of a few years where we shed our online aliases and moved to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc; which frankly aren't great at providing an avenue to make lasting friendship in my opinion.

For me, Discord has completely fulfilled this niche. In recent years I've developed great friendships with people on there, which has gone as far as meeting IRL (something I didn't even do during my chatroom/IRC/forum days), to even starting a business! The only issue is finding good servers, but a quick browse through Reddit will normally provide a decent starting point, and networking can get you invited to more private servers. There are communities for everything, from specific video games, to entrepreneurship, to fitness, to mycology. My friends IRL are great don't get me wrong, but if I started talking about mushroom cultivation with them for more than 5 minutes their eyes would quickly glaze over.

Don't forget Reddit. The depths of specialized subreddits there is mind boggling.

I'd say the upvoting nature of reddit makes sure it's always about the posts (and only posts that are favourable towards a like/dislike binary metric) and pretty much never about the people behind them.

Old forums would force you to understand the various characters in the place; Reddit, by design, goes out of its way to hide them.

> of specialized subreddits Care to name a few?

For me scuttlebutt. I know some folks really like Mastodon or Matrix for their communities.

scuttlebutt would be great if it wouldn't force this SJW and off-the-grid thinking on everything there. Technologically I also like it a lot.

I depends what your interests are, but there's almost always a channel on one of many IRC networks for any topic. Channels might not always be huge, but a lot of subjects have 30+ people.

Non-/r/All subs on reddit can also be great. Through these you can usually find another message board, chat, etc with another community (often the same people and then some.)

Often when I'm looking for a community that is focused on a specific topic, I search a common, but specific question for that community.

People often say that IRC is dead, but its not -- and it doesn't have to be. Find a channel and get talking. When the next searcher stumbles into the channel, welcome them.. repeat. Before you know it your channel of five or ten is up to 30, then 50.

Ultimately, it takes a night of tumbling down a rabbit hole. I can confidently say that there will be at least one thriving community filled with people with your similar interests. It just takes some digging beyond a search engine alone.

SomethingAwful forums still have a fairly dedicated pool of members who post regularly. Some have been on there for as long as 20 years. I remember recently talking to someone who met his wife on there a decade ago.

They're behind a paywall, with reasonably heavy moderation, so people generally behave ok, despite being anonymous. I guess the experience of being muted by a moderator in front of everybody for being an asshole is painful enough that most learn fast not to do that again.

Seems to me that any gated community of "underdogs" is going to attract a loyal following. It's harder to experience the same feeling in a place like reddit, where it's a free for all, there a lot more members, and someone's seniority is less obvious.

The problem with something awful is their early success went to their head. I was around in the late 90s when SA really took off and became the reddit/4chan of its day.

I know people who used to be massive cheerleaders for SA forums who eventually got sick of the mods. SAs business model used to be banning people for minor infractions and they could then pay $10 to get unbanned. Something as simple as saying "I went and saw MovieX it was 7/10 I thought not amazing" could get you banned for "trolling"

I'm out of the loop now as last time I even spoke to someone about SA was 10 years ago but when they were the top dog of internet forums it totally ruined the culture.

It's not perfect by any stretch. I suspect that right now it's very far into its plateau of productivity, and very far outside of the Internet's spotlight, which made everybody calm down. Lowtax is also not really involved much anymore, so the entire site is effectively on life support.

A lot of creators seem to have migrated toward the Patreon / Slack group model now.

I'm involved in a couple of communities that probably you wouldn't know or care about unless you were really invested in that thing, and which most would not bother to look for.

Try "underground" MMO games or some niche community, that are not on Facebook et al.

Telegram is amazing.

This is a little reminiscent of those who say childhood bullying is good because it teaches people how to deal with bullies. Yes, if we are forced to rub shoulders with people we don't have much in common with, we will get better at doing it. I probably am less sociable with my physical neighbours than I would be in a world where I didn't have any alternatives. But so what? I would rather spend my limited time with those I choose to. The article glosses over this idea that we all need to participate in something with our local neighbours without really justifying it. Yes, we will occasionally need to reach a political consensus about issues that affect the neighbourhood. That doesn't mean we have to be friends, and I'm not sure that tighter community ties would make for better politics - much of the nastiest, dirtiest politics happens among close-knit groups.

If communities define themselves adversarially then that's a problem in itself, and I'd stay away from platforms and environments that create that football-match feeling (that is, twitter). But that's not at all inherent to the notion of one's people. Taking an interest in trains (for example) is something most people won't do, but being part of a community with that interest is never about how much you're not one of the non-train-interested public.

> I would rather spend my limited time with those I choose to.

I think his point is that you _have_ to spend time with people not of your choosing, whether you like it or not, by way of existing.

I think two issues are being mixed up here. I think you're completely right that we do have to spend time with people not of our choosing, and further, I think that it's a very valuable skill to be comfortable around basically everyone.

On the other hand, I think the parent is correct that having to spend time with people not of our choosing does not entail having to subject ourselves to anyone's crappy behavior.

Keeping with bullying as an example, during the time the author was talking about, with boys sitting on the fence waiting to talk to someone, from what I've heard from my elders, that was a time when people who acted innappropriately enough got punched in the mouth.

Mouth punching isn't really an acceptable way to deal with most innappropriate behavior anymore, especially somewhere like school. But we should at least retain the ability to remove ourselves from the company of jerks. We shouldn't extend the definition of jerk to include everyone who isn't like us, but we also should be able to draw lines in the sand if need be.

Oh, I dunno. There’s another angle of this business of relating to some and not to others, bonding with birds of a feather, and fighting like cats and dogs, separating like oil and water.

The premise requires discussing centralized media in the form of (sometimes radio but mostly) television, a period which this article skips and ignores.

It goes like this: On TV, there were people you could watch and love and adore and idolize. They seemed wonderful and perfect because the persona you were exposed to was staged, rehearsed, pre-recorded. Call it the fish bowl effect.

The fish seem perfect as long as they stay on the other side of the glass. They can’t eat you if you don’t swim with them. Sharks and piranhas can be safely admired as long as you stay in your world, and they stay in theirs.

With the internet, this boundary is crossed, as soon as you adopt the perspective of the internet as telephone calls. If the internet is always a telephone call, the network is neutral, agnostic to the content of the call, and thus dialed with the expectation of confidential conversations and implicit privacy, then the fish bowl effect disappears.

But even the telephone call is an abstraction, because it ignored the one-to-many or many-to-many relationships. Telephone calls are mostly one on ones.

So compartmentalized concepts no longer serve us. All options are on the table now. None of this is democratizing. It’s not enough to just shrug and say “It’s the Internet” anymore. It’s not going to bring us together. Not by default. It’s hasn’t made things worse than the worst it’s ever been. It does make some things easier, even if sometimes things shouldn’t be easy at all.

Now that we have packet switched networks, there’s no One True Way for how to use them. Try to think of it as a system of moving sidewalks and escalators, but some of them drop into unmarked fish bowls.

> The fish seem perfect as long as they stay on the other side of the glass. They can’t eat you if you don’t swim with them. Sharks and piranhas can be safely admired as long as you stay in your world, and they stay in theirs.

I think this is a useful analogy, because it serves as a possible explanation as to why there seems to be a 'generation gap' whereby previous generations believe to a certain degree it is possible (and right, even) to separate the artist from the art itself, and why modern progressives are rejecting that (Although this gap is cleaner seen from a political perspective, I believe that to some degree it is also generational).

Previously, culture was seen from mostly a consumptive perspective. The bad people and their actions are 'on the other side of the glass' -- so to speak. Not only do the 'bad actions/opinions' not directly affect them, but they lack any true meaningful ability to change things. Strongly worded letters can really only achieve so much, and all of the information channels are centralized.

I don't know if this makes much sense, it's 3am...

Fascinating. I think I might be one of those of the older generation. Do you have any pointers to get to start to learn more about the modern progressives? I'd really like to learn more.

This makes sense. Thanks for the insight.

> McLuhan: "The closer you get together, the more you like each other? There is no evidence of that in any situation that we have ever heard of. When people get close together, they get more and more savage and impatient with each other."

To riff on this-- I think we are too close together in a massive news feed ('timeline'). Individual blogs gave us a healthy distance.

Good food for thought. A lot to consider there.

I think besides the dichotomy of finding your in-group necessitating more clearly defining the out-groups and the harm that can come with that, there's also an underlying question of whether or not being able to so easily "find your people" is a positive thing in sum. It certainly seems positive for marginalized people and for niche fandoms and geekeries and all the usual ways we think about it, but on the flip side of the coin, the same ease also exists for hate groups and those seeking to cause harm.

The KKK and the nazis managed to form and grow without the help of the internet. Also, finding other people who enjoy talking about cars or writing fan fic doesn't have this sort of harmful in-group/out-group dynamic.

So I'm a bit skeptical of the narrative of the piece, especially because there's no actual evidence provided.

My skepticism extends to the broader narrative of this newsletter.

Illich's alternatives -- especially the conviviality stuff -- always struck me as dangerously Utopian: if only we were all the same, then everything would be great.

He's like that well-meaning stoner who asks "why can't we all just get along" and sort of shakes his head and tells you that you don't get it if you ask how, concretely, we're supposed to "just get along" in Gaza or Darfur or Kashmir or any other place where there's a lot of zero-sum resource/power allocation underlying centuries of conflict. The dismissal of real and concrete harms on both sides of conflict is at least unhelpful and possibly harmful.

Conviviality is a nice sentiment, and the world would perhaps be a better place if everyone shared that sentiment. But sentiment is a starting point, not an actual solution. The world's problems are usually too complex to be solved with pure sentiment, and things will go wrong in unexpected ways if you try.

One concrete example: the modern commercial internet's ad-driven information economy elucidates a major flaw with Illich's "Learning Webs" from Deschooling Society: the company that owns the platform just happens to be an ad company. It's a flaw that even the strongest critics of Illich could never have anticipated in the 1970s.

The point is more general: convivial societies only work if everyone is convivial, and there will always be insanely inventive non-convivial people. Even people who are more-or-less decent folks and even people who adopt slogans like "don't be evil" will end up throwing wrenches in your plan.

>Also, finding other people who enjoy talking about cars or writing fan fic doesn't have this sort of harmful in-group/out-group dynamic.

Purely anecdotally, but I beg to differ. There is more than a little bit of tribal hostility on e.g. Tumblr around various fandoms.

To me, the real issue is that surrounding yourself with like-minded people only teaches you to interact with people you primarily agree with and are comfortable with, rather than the more valuable skill of interacting (civilly) with people you disagree with.

> that well-meaning stoner who asks "why can't we all just get along" and sort of shakes his head and tells you that you don't get it if you ask how, concretely, we're supposed to "just get along" in Gaza or Darfur or Kashmir or any other place where there's a lot of zero-sum resource/power allocation underlying centuries of conflict

It just hit me while reading this that stoners are (often) slackers, and it really does make less sense to fight over resources instead of sharing if you start with this mindset.

The Nazis in particular utilised the mass media of the times, most especially audio, public address, and radio, though also video newsreels and cheap paperback publishing, to spread their message.

During and prior to WWII, german advances especially in audio capture (mic), recording (mag tape), playback (speakers), and broadcast & receiver (radio) were decades ahead of the Allies' own technology.

You don't get the Nueremberg rallies without high-quality mics, massive public-address ampifiers and speakers and cinematgraphy (Leni Riefenstahl). Hitler's ability to broadcast live-quality radio addresses across Germany stumped Allied intelligence -- their best recording technologies were wire recordings and low-fidelity vinyl, both with very obvious artifacts (wire recorder demo here, at beginning of video: https://youtube.com/watch?v=90ihiTwJPCc). The only way to achieve this quality otherwise was to be in the studio, and this clearly wasn't possible.

("Wearing a wire" refers to wire recorders.)

After WWI, Bing Crosby, with support through military and government intelligence, was instrumental in developing US magnetic audio and data tape technology, through AMPEX and 3M.



(There is a further AMPEX-CIA connection through Larry Ellison and Oracle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Ellison)

It was German use of mass media -- though in WWI-- that turned the meaning of 'propaganda" from literally a holy undertaking (the propagation of faith by the Roman Catholic Church) to its present pejorative sense. WWII Nazis capitalised heavily on and greatly extended earlier practices.

Tactical use of radio communications also playe a decisive role in war -- the key differentiator between Grman and French armour in the Battle of France was that German tanks all had radios, and could respond to developing circumstances. French tankers could only play out prescribed batle plans, or act independently and uncoordinated with all other units.

There is actually a long history of the disruptive (and often highly harmful) effects of new and especially mass media, and numerous historical inflection points can be traced to revolutions in information and communications technologies: moveable type and the Thirty Years War, vast advances in printing technology and literacy and the revolutions of 1789-1914, and later ("the long 19th century" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_nineteenth_century), yellow journalism and the Spanish-American War, WWI, tje Russian Revolution, WWII, the Chinese Revolution, Father Coughlan, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War ant ant-war movements, the rise of hard-right talk radio and cable television, and lately, social and mobile Internet.

Today's Nazis and KKK are using the Internet. It's the cheap, high-fidelity, visceral-imact mass medium of the age.

maybe this is a naive view, but imo the ability to find people "like you" is a neutral thing. it can be very good, very bad, or somewhere in between depending on your definition of "like you". I certainly don't miss the times when I was the only person I knew who thought computers were cool.

> the same ease also exists for hate groups and those seeking to cause harm

Which are the only ones you will find if you are looking for something negative. There is a downside to almost everything, so what would you suggest? Force everyone into the same group or allow them to choose?

I don't think this question is hard to answer.

I think the author makes an important point.

----- By contrast, membership in groups of necessity cultivate a rather different set of habits and expectations, certain virtues are inculcated because the group of necessity requires them to function. -----

Thats really the problem with all these virtual activities "on the computer". They beat the real thing by a mile while not providing the psychological sustenance human beings need. Online porn is a million women at your finger tips that will never reject you so why go talk to woman in real life? Why be funny or interesting or well groomed, that's so hard.

Instagram is full of beautiful vistas you can see without breaking a sweat so why go exploring in your back yard?

Games are full of achivments, ones you are certain to get so why work hard at anything real where it might be for nothing?

The problem is that we need all of that real life friction to lead a full human life and we really need to strive to find meaning. We need to sweat, we need to fail and we need to get rejected every once in a while, too. That's the real reason why if you live a mostly virtual life it feels so empty and bad that you want to kill yourself.

Wasn’t this premise part of the story in The Matrix where they initially created a perfect work but the humans didn’t thrive in that. We needed a world with some pain so we can enjoy living.

In discussions about what you’d change in your past I’m fairly unusual in that I wouldn’t change anything, including the bad bits [0] because it’s all part of what has formed the person I am now.

In the plant world a forest fire is often good in the long term as it helps with the distribution of nutrients so allows fresh growth.

[0] I appreciate that for some people there will have been possibly devastating events or rabbit holes they’ve been down from which they haven’t been able to recover and they may well have a different view.

> Wasn’t this premise part of the story in The Matrix where they initially created a perfect work but the humans didn’t thrive in that. We needed a world with some pain so we can enjoy living.

Be wary of arguing from fictional evidence. "Suffering is needed to appreciate happiness" is a deep-sounding meme with not much of actual evidence for it. The utopias described in fiction tend to be either purposefully dystopian (because stories thrive on conflict), or mind-dumbingly boring (e.g. visions of heaven in some religions). It's hard to design an utopia.

>Online porn is a million women at your finger tips that will never reject you so why go talk to woman in real life?

Online child erotica with a million cXXXXXXX at your finger tips that will never reject you so why go creep on primary schools in real life?

Most shallow and cliche thing I have read in a long time.

sure, after all you have the world writing for you. The best minds out of hundreds of million put their stuff online faster than you could consume it all. However, if that wasn't the case and we were neighbors I might be one of the few people that you could even have conversations of this kind with. Instead of flaming me and then going on to the next link you might "settle" for a less then pristine conversation and there is at least a chance we become friends. Meanwhile in the real world: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201...

Well put.


This is a great example of how the in-group and out-group boundaries mentioned in the article are reinforced. "Look at this out-group nerd, writing all fancy! He's not cool like us, the in-group!"

Hey, that's a bit harsh don't you think? I mean, I enjoyed the writing, and if he's a fedora I may as well be a mustache and cigar myself! :)

Your meaning is unclear

I believe they are attempting to criticise the author's writing style by invoking the stereotype of the neck-beard adorned ültra-geek who tips their fedora to a fair maiden and says, "Milady."

If this style of writing is “fancy” to them, they’re going to have an aneurysm reading novels written in the, say, early 1900s.

Thanks, that sounds right!

But on the other hand, given that fedoras are (within that context) the most tip-friendly hat, wouldn’t that mean that the author is a natural writer?...

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