How I'm healing from algorithms
The slow awakening that I no longer have to create around an algorithm's demands
It’s the tail end of Chinese New Year and I’m doing the usual Lunar New Year things: Visiting relatives, overindulging in rich food and, as the first step to heal from years of creative burnout, carving out an algorithm-free space for myself.
I’ve come across a few interesting articles that confirmed my deep, almost conspiracy-bent feeling that algorithms were killing my creativity.
“We fell into the trap where our creations started to be dictated by the metrics of the “algorithm” … Thus, we stop creating what we like to create and become hostage to a creation focused only on results and performance.”
Felipe Zamana, The Algorithm is Killing Creativity. Here is how to save yours.
Algorithms are forcing us to create art that fits into a neat little box — their neat little box.
Food bloggers had to write long, rambly introductions before introducing a recipe. Bloggers threw away short posts because short content was deemed “low value” by Google. When social media platforms said “this is the year of the video” photographers felt pressured to pivot to videos … even if they didn’t like want to abandon their still images.
Just to be seen.
Just to make a living.
I think any creative will recognise that creating to a formula tends to kill your creative soul.
I fell into the trap too. And I was firmly in the cage, unaware, until recently.
Strangely, it was after I embraced Mastodon that I began to entertain the idea that I didn’t have to obey the algorithm’s demands.
Maybe it’s because, for the first time in a long while, I was exposed to the possibilities of an algorithm-free social media environment. That constant downbeat of “my article is going to be ignored” is now replaced with amazement as people actually started leaving comments and talking to me. Mastodon finally gave me the community I craved without me having to dance to the algorithm.
And maybe it’s also because I’m now surrounded by people who had felt as unhappy as I was. Many new Mastodon users are Twitter refugees who have awakened to the downsides of algorithm-controlled platforms. We are like people exposed to sunlight after years underground.
“In the absence of an algorithm there is only your own creative compass,” said Ewen Bell, a photographer I met on Mastodon who wrote this wonderful celebratory piece, Life without the Algorithm. He summed it so well.
To break free from algorithms, I need to dwell in algorithm-free spaces. So I’ve decided to ditch my reliance on SEO and proprietary web builders and gain full control of the content I create. From now on, every content that I create will pulse from spaces that I own and control.
So, for most of January, I was obsessively rebuilding my website.
First, I unfurled my rusty coding skills to create a website using Astro, a static website generator (SSG). Using SSGs will enable me to host my website anywhere and in a format that is ultra-portable: Markdown files.
Next, I began reshaping my personal website into a digital garden. Instead of writing polished, perfect articles, my website will now publish anything I like from now on, short, long, and in various stages of completion. I’m not confident enough with my SSG skills to port over 300+ pages of content, so I’ll be using Wordpress from now on.
My content strategy for 2023 can be summed up in one word: Whatever.
Want to create a post with a photo and a short caption? Sure! Want to write a diary-like entry with no discernible benefit to the reader? Go ahead! Want to create witty headlines without zero SEO impact? Fuck, yes.
If someone were to ask me: “Where will your 2023 content strategy lead you?”
To quote Chrisjen Avasarala, my favourite character in the science-fiction TV series The Expanse, “Wherever I goddamn like!”
What I created
Front Matter — a website wholly dedicated to my professional life. A blog where I write about technical writing, technology, and career tips. It’s a static website and I’m super proud of it! There’s still lots to fix about this site, but I’m getting there.
You’re probably wondering why create a seperate website just for your professional persona, so to speak? Well, I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable that my content about content strategy and job hunting sat next to entries about my struggle with faith or my fangirling about various shows or actors. It sits on a subdomain, so it’s not as if it’s entirely divorced from my website, but I like the clean division.
New personal website — The staging site. I’ve not transferred my domain yet, but you can have a look to see how I’m shaping my future digital garden. This will be my main digital home where everything, including content I usually wrote for social media, resides.
What I read
My mission in 2023, besides healing from creative burnout and lifting my fiction pen again, is to have a Depth Year where I complete uncompleted things. And one of them is reading books that I’ve long neglected.
I’m happy to report that I’ve made good headway so far:
Elantris, Brandon Sanderson’s debut fantasy novel: It was absolutely fabulous. You can read my review for Elantris and the sequel novella at my staging site.
The Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination by Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frankel: The one thing I cannot forget from this expose is how the company has a Gestapo-like unit that hunts down traitors and whistleblowers, and it’s led by someone nicknamed “The Rat catcher.” God have mercy.
What I watched
It took long enough, but I finally watched the first season of The Sinner. Everyone was great in this one. Kept me guessing throughout and the ending was very satisfying.
Speaking of crime movies, everyone loved Knives Out. I liked it well enough; even loved Daniel Craig’s Kentucky Southern accent, but I didn’t quite get the hype. Perhaps Glass Onion will do it for me?
Speaking of movies, I’ve always loved Sin City’s trailer, especially this one. Why don’t we make art like this anymore? Everything seems so bland these days.
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“My content strategy for 2023 can be summed up in one word: Whatever.” - this made me laugh, thank you 😂