Low-Spoon Mastodon Migration

Probably you’re hearing about a less toxic social media environment you’d like to or are being encouraged by friends to try, but the idea of restarting in a whole new thing exhausts you. Don’t worry. You can save your spoons and take this in very, very small steps.

The first step is to know that it is your choice and you can do it if and when you want.

If someone you follow is moving to Mastodon, ask them for the URL to see their toots (the mascots are elephants not birds, so toots not tweets). It’ll look something like this: https://mastodon.cloud/@metagrrrl

Knowing that you won’t lose touch with friends who switch to Mastodon can really help a lot with taking this at the pace which is most comfortable for you.

Another step you can take is to watch this couple minute overview, so you’ll know what they’re talking about:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPSbNdBmWKE

Mastodon runs on many independent servers, called ‘instances’. I find it helpful whenever they say “an instance”, to hear “a community”.

Because each community (instance) sets its own rules, it is possible to find one which matches your values and, most importantly, values you as a member.

Everyone should base their Mastodon account in a community (instance) which will protect its users in the ways which matter most to them.

Finding the right community (instance) seems like a huge task, but it’s not that bad. It’s kind of like choosing your email host; yeah, it’s bit of a pain in the butt to change later, but it’s not the end of the world if you decide to do so.

A great way to start thinking about where you might want to have a Mastodon account is to look at the rules for the communities (instances) where your friends have theirs.

Remember: just like email hosts, you and your friend don’t have to be with the same one to communicate with each other.

Finding the rules for a Mastodon community (instance) is easy because they have a common URL style: just add /about/more to the end of the base URL.

For example, https://mastodon.cloud’s rules are at
https://mastodon.cloud/about/more

You can see some other communities’ rules at
https://mastodon.social/about/more
https://social.tchncs.de/about/more
https://cybre.space/about/more
https://mastodon.art/about/more
https://anticapitalist.party/about/more
https://mastodon.xyz/about/more
https://wandering.shop/about/more
Some place more restrictions on acceptable behavior, some fewer.

Next you might want to explore why this effort could have a payoff for you. Along with the opportunity to be in a less toxic community than Twitter, as far as the rules are concerned, there are some differences in the way things work which help to reduce or eliminate harassment and other negative experiences.

Perhaps the most subtle and important difference is between Twitter’s retweets and Mastodon’s boosts. Boosts don’t include text from the person doing the boosting. There’s no ‘boost with comment’, thus no performative aspect, avoiding “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!”

That doesn’t prevent someone sharing screenshots or linking, but because Mastodon’s reply functionality only broadcasts to people who happen to follow you both, one person’s massive follower count won’t unbalance the conversation.

I described this difference as subtle and important because when the design doesn’t enable and encourage pile-ons, people behave differently. Some of what makes Twitter so often unpleasant seems to be the default behavior of the tool, not necessarily that of the user.

That’s the subtle stuff, though, and there are big, obvious differences which are under your control in Mastodon, and which allow you to change your experience for the better.

You can adjust how public any individual message is.

A toot can be
• Fully public, appearing to your followers, the public timelines, anyone looking at your profile;
• Unlisted, appearing to your followers and on your profile, but not in the public timelines;
• Private, appearing only to your followers and people mentioned in it;
or
• direct, appearing only to people mentioned in it.

Also you can “lock” your account overall, requiring your approval for a new follower to be added.

Beyond that, on Mastodon you have much more ability (though less need) to hide things. Since it’s not commercial, you won’t see ads in your timeline. And your timeline is just messages as they come out from the people you follow and only that — no algorithm messing with what you see.

On Mastodon, if strangers are bothering you, you can block notifications from people you don’t follow. You can also block or mute individuals. You can even hide everything from a specific community (instance), so you don’t see them and any of your followers from there are removed.

Text filters are coming, but are perhaps less necessary than on Twitter because most Mastodon communities have a culture of using Content Warnings. And the content warnings actually mean something here, because of the way they are built into how messages are written and read on Mastodon.

As you write a toot, you just click the ‘CW’ at the bottom (next to where you’d add an image or set how public the toot is) and a separate field appears for you to write your warning. When the toot appears in anyone’s timeline, only your warning appears with a “SHOW MORE”/”SHOW LESS” toggle to reveal the rest of your toot.

What is purely delightful is that another part of Mastodon culture is the use of CW for all sorts of things, including jokes with the punchline hidden. 🙂

That’s not even all the hiding controls. You can learn more on this incredibly helpful page: https://blog.joinmastodon.org/2018/07/cage-the-mastodon/

You can try Mastodon without making any commitment to switching over to it. In fact, that’s what I recommend. Find a community with a set of rules that feel good enough for you to hang out at their gathering for a while. Go to the about page of their community (like https://mastodon.cloud/about) & look for a signup form & its big blue button. Create your account and personalize your profile just a little, probably making it match your Twitter account so it’s easy for friends to recognize you.

Then ‘toot’ something like, “Hi, it’s me. You may also know me over on the bird site as [your Twitter name].”

On Twitter, you can tweet something like “I’m playing with Mastodon a little. You can find me at [your new Mastodon page]” or DM that to friends. If you’re making a public announcement, you might want to put your Mastodon page in the bottom of your Twitter bio.

It is absolutely fine to just let that ride for a little bit. People join Mastodon all the time and if you don’t have connections over there at first, you will likely find them joining you over time. So that they know you are hoping to meet with them in Mastodon, you may want to toot a little something every now and then.

You’ll automatically be set up to follow the administrators of your community and some of them are quite fun. (Eugen of mastodon.social, for example, is an avid booster of cat pictures. Though my personal account is in a different community, I follow Eugen for the cheerful kitties.)

To find others to connect to, try searching for the names or usual usernames of people you know from other social media sites, or for hashtags of things you like. You can even save a hashtag as another timeline column in your view of Mastodon. (I have #mastoart there, for example, and so I always have cool art to look at.)

There’s a lot more you can explore—and I’ll link to some things below—but the steps I’ve described are plenty to dip your toe in the water and find out what this whole Mastodon thing is about.

Personally, though it took me a little while to find the spoons to get it set up, I find it so much nicer an experience that I have more spoons using it than I do using Twitter.


Bonus stuff:

You can learn a bunch more about Mastodon here: https://joinmastodon.org/

In a nutshell, the Mastodon interface is laid out in columns, with compose/search on the left and details (selected toot, user profile, search results, etc.) on the right. Between them are other columns with timelines, the leftmost one being the toots of all those you follow. You can add columns for hashtags you’re interested in by searching for that hashtag and then, when it’s the result on the right, using the controls icon (shaped like sound board sliders) to “+ pin” it. You can choose to have the local timeline (everyone from your community’s toots) and/or the federated timeline (local plus everyone they follow from other communities’ toots) visible, but frankly I find them way too busy to look at. If you’ve ever used Tweetdeck, Mastodon is going to feel pretty familiar. (There are other interfaces for Mastodon, but I haven’t explored any yet.)

One important thing to know about your privacy and Mastodon is that everything you post, even direct messages, are theoretically visible to the system administrators of that Mastodon community (instance) and any other community (instance) to which your toots or direct messages travel. This is not very different from email; odds are extremely slim that anyone would ever access it, but it is technically possible. Fortunately, because all the users of Mastodon are spread across many communities and thus for any community the ratio of users to administrators is much smaller, you can get to know your admins instead of them being some faceless employees of a distant, giant corporation.

If you are someone who’s been a victim of harassment, you may want to limit how public your posts are and “lock” your account so that you can be aware of the rules of the communities where your followers are before you approve them, allowing your posts to appear in the federated timeline for their community (which is made up all the toots from those in that community plus the toots from those they follow, thus potentially you).

In general, people use content warnings in the traditional sense for “US politics”, “violence”, “injury”, “hate speech”, “self-harm” (including suicide because even the word suicide is a drag, so lumping it under “self-harm” is helpful), as well as for “alcohol” and “food”. They also will use the CW feature to be kind to others by hiding very long toots—Mastodon allows messages up to 500 characters—under a short description, and, of course, to hide spoilers relating to shows or sports. (I’ve been especially grateful for that cultural norm as it means I don’t have to wade through pontificating about shows I don’t watch!)

My favorite description of the subtle design decisions on Mastodon is this from https://fosstodon.org/@codesections, “Mastodon makes it as easy as possible to talk *to* other Mastodon users, while making it harder to talk *about* other Mastodon users.”

Oh, and yes, Virginia, there are friendly, funny, and pretty bots still on Mastodon. Not as many as there were on Twitter, but with the recent API changes over there, I expect increasing migration. My favorite, which I heartily encourage you to follow to make your timeline visually nice every day with lovely old illustrations of fruit, is https://botsin.space/@pomological.

Just begin

Rather than agonizing over reproducing exactly the look I have now, what if I just set up an adequate theme and import my thousands of posts to that? What if I switched to WordPress the easy way and focused on my words rather than the design of the page. I mean, I am a writer, not a designer, so yeah. This makes a lot more sense.

Deep calming games

After receiving an alarming medical diagnosis mid-month in January*, I've been very actively using computer games to help manage my situation. This autoimmune disease manifests itself in scores of itchy bumps. The initial treatment is prednisone, the main side effects of which have been insomnia and mood alteration (primarily an increase in anxiety). Games have been enormously helpful in managing both, and in lowering my stress levels overall as I deal with this.

While many games can appear soothing in early stages, they are often designed to increase in intensity, which is counter to my goal of calming my system. Below are a few which I've found which do work, and which have interesting side benefits. There are three key patterns I leverage as I (and my meds) work to reduce inflammation.

 

1. Stillness as a Constant Option

The one absolutely vital quality of a deep calming game is that at any moment you can stop the game without penalty to take a deep breath, let your eyes focus on the other side of the room, or otherwise pause not only your hands but your mind. This can take the form of simply stopping doing anything—as in turn-based games where there is no ticking clock—or changing out of the game screen—as in games which pause and retain your exact position when you switch applications. Some games are mostly turn-based with brief sections that don't allow pausing; Another Case Solved is a good example of that non-ideal mix, but it is just calming enough to remain on my list.

 

2. Impulse Interference

It turns out when you're trying not to scratch, it's possible to divert the physical world pattern you shouldn't act on into a virtual pattern where relief is easily available. The game element you want here is a random or semi-random resource which appears and needs to be 'harvested' or otherwise responded to individually. Collecting the magic fountain energy in Sunken Secrets or the tax revenue in Townsmen are ideal examples. I found that my brain slipped pretty easily from "argh! itchy spot I want to scratch!" to "aha! another coin to collect!" and that, amazingly, the act of touching the resource on my iPad screen with my finger took away the urgency of a specific physical itch on my body. This trick was probably the key ingredient to my getting through the initial awful weeks while I waited for the corticosteroids to begin reducing my symptoms. It's highly likely I would have scarring if I hadn't been able to divert that scratching urge.

 

3. Sense of Positive Action

Maintaining an optimistic attitude during very gradual change is a challenge. When my body is less able and my mind is less focused that becomes even harder, especially in those grim grey hours of the night when prednisone wakes you all the way up after three hours sleep. Games offer a space where I can act toward both short- and long-term goals and feel less powerless. The difference with deep calming games is that this needs to take place within a low-conflict (or at least very low-consequences) mood. When managing anxiety and using mental imagery to reduce bodily inflammation are the goals, tough battles against powerful foes are definitely not my friends. Enter, therefore, games of constructive, peaceful acts which build upon each other. These can range from the very simple—growing my fish and expanding my pond in Zen Koi—to the more ongoing and epic—building my farm and improving things for my imaginary neighbors in Stardew Valley. The tough part here is finding a game with the expansiveness that makes it maximally calming and yet which doesn't require fighting off attackers. (I've got enough of that going on with my autoimmune system, thankyouverymuch.) I am a long-time fan of simulation games, particularly old Windows city-builders and economy-simulators like Pharaoh and Cleopatra, but there are very few around which don't involve (or allow you the option of turning off) combat as a major part of the game. Farming and house-building games are the dominant form now, but many of them are tainted by in-app purchase models which render the games less fun as you progress in an effort to make you spend money to make it easier again. That flaw is what led to my abandoning Gardenscapes and Homescapes, neither of which I can recommend anymore despite their fun aesthetic and sense of humor. For the moment, Stardew Valley, and to a lesser extent Townsmen, is best to fully engage my mind in creating and achieving goals.

*Thanks to corticosteroids this diagnosis is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering.

Familiar lessons from closing a business

Thanks so much for sharing this Bryan! I’m a huge fan of Makeshift Society even though I’ve figured out that I’m one of those folks who gets more work done alone at home. Very glad you all took the opportunity to create this experience—and glad you were able to make this experiment and extricate yourselves from it with relatively minimal pain.

Seems as though about two years is the right amount of time to figure out that the plan isn’t going to work. When I had my one-woman bookstore in San Jose in the mid-1990s I spent roughly that time in site prep (built-in bookcases, signage) and being open. By a couple months before the end I had determined that though the store could pay for itself, it could not pay me. My initial runway was shortened radically when the long-term relationship I’d been in while planning and opening the store and during its first year ended, leaving me with a need to pay my own security deposit and rent for a new apartment, and thus needing the paychecks I’d been getting by without.

Thinking through “What if we learn we’re wrong about something and we need to close in a year or two?” is a great exercise for anyone planning a business. I was able to safely walk away from the end of my grand adventure because I’d planned my payments to my major investor such that I could continue making them while working a post-adventure full-time job. Sure, a painful expense comparable to car payments or hefty student loans, but doable—and enabling me to keep both my honor and my credit rating.

There’s certainly no defeatism in doing this planning. Something hard to predict could turn out to be a major factor—as with the differences between SF and Brooklyn you found—or a huge influence on your market could appear after opening—as occurred for me when Barnes & Noble opened 30,000 square feet of bookstore space in the south bay within a few months of my 400 square foot store opening, or when after I’d managed to pivot to add games to my offering as a funny little sideline called Magic: The Gathering came out, quickly becoming 70% of my business, the supply of Magic: The Gathering dried up for a couple months. You just never know. You make your best guesses, work up a range of spreadsheets, and go for it.

The best thing about sharing experiences like this is how it helps everyone guess better.

Small Business
Planning
PostMortem

[This was a comment on the article “The mystery of the white dress shirt: Death and life of a Brooklyn coworking space” by Bryan Boyer on Medium.]

Media I’ve enjoyed recently

Productivity and problem-solving

Lewis Pugh's mind-shifting Mt. Everest swim (TED video)

Bosses Who Work Out Are Nicer (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Psychology

Gun-Toting Increases Bias to See Guns Toted (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Environment and climate

Jason Clay: How big brands can help save biodiversity (TED video)

Lee Hotz: Inside an Antarctic time machine (TED video)

Rob Dunbar: Discovering ancient climates in oceans and ice (TED video)

 

Politics and philosophy

Nic Marks: The Happy Planet Index (TED video)

Carne Ross: An independent diplomat (TED video)

 

Technology and the Web

Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation (TED video)

Christien Meindertsma: How pig parts make the world turn (TED video)

This was great. Really impressive piece of research. (It never occurred to me that fine bone china has actual bone in it.)

Sebastian Thrun: Google's driverless car (TED video)

Breathe Easier with Electric Car Charging Overnight (60-Second Science podcast)

App Turns iPhone Into spiPhone (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Health

Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics (TED video)

A non-health takeaway from this one: Corporations (or as more benignly referred to, "brands") will be analyzing and acting on our social activity in staggering detail in ways that are not automatically or even always possibly perceptible to us. Individual rights now and in the future will require people with an understanding of the technology and techniques of analysis who are working on our side. We will need watchdogs with deep understanding of advanced analytics.

Mitchell Besser: Mothers helping mothers fight HIV (TED video)

Annie Lennox: Why I am an HIV/AIDS activist (TED video)

Sebastian Seung: I am my connectome (TED video)

Didn't enjoy his presentation style, but the content and its implications are impressive.

Inge Missmahl brings peace to the minds of Afghanistan (TED video)

Wonderful projects and encouraging data on the power of psychosocial counseling to help break cycles of violence.

Mechai Viravaidya: How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place (TED video)

Hans Rosling: The good news of the decade? (TED video)

"The time has come to stop thinking of sub-saharan Africa as one place. Their countries are so different and they merit to be talked about in the same way that we don't talk about Europe as one place. I can tell you that the economy in Greece and Sweden are very different."

It's bigger than that, though:
"There is no such thing as a Western world and Developing world."

"You can clearly see the relation with falling child mortality and decreasing family size."

"Almost 50% of the fall in child mortality can be attributed to female education."

It's this kind of tight focus on the actual data—on what really works—that makes me love and respect Hans Rosling. It also reinforces my commitment to only vote for presidential candidates who place a high priority on the family planning and female education efforts which will drive that reduction in child mortality while at the same time slowing population growth.

Boys Who Lack Empathy Don't React to a Fearful Face (60-Second Science podcast)

Animal Production Practices Create Antibiotic Resistance (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Astronomy

Amateur Planet Hunters Find Exoplanets (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Culture

Amit Sood: Building a museum of museums on the web (TED video)

Monika Bulaj: The hidden light of Afghanistan (TED video)

 

Physics

Large Hadron Collider "Big Bang" Analogies Put Under Microscope (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Biology

Elephants Ask for a Helping Trunk (60-Second Science podcast)

Black Plant Life Could Thrive on Other Planets (60-Second Science podcast)

Box Jellyfish Eyes Aim At The Trees (60-Second Science podcast)

Bat Ears Deform for Better Ping Pickups (60-Second Science podcast)

Body Hair Senses Parasites While Slowing Their Blood Quest (60-Second Science podcast)

Boa Constrictors Listen To Loosen (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Cocktails

Bloody Mary Gives Up Its Flavor Secrets (60-Second Science podcast)

 

Music

You Probably Get That A Lot (TMBG Podcast Video Bonus)

Things that make me joyful, happy, delighted

Clean sheets. Good sleep. Touching my sweetie. Fun sex. Kissing. Good cheese. Watching cocktails being made well. Delicious food, prepared with care. Having a beautiful, useful, uncluttered home. Writing, when it's going well. Learning new interesting facts. Having a good answer. Seeing others getting more focused and relaxed. Green, living things. Craftsmanship. Carefulness. Stillness. Naps. Avocado. Seascapes (in person). Optional-ness. Flexibility. Making or perceiving interconnectedness. My friends or others being clever. Being clever. Kindness. Good design. Love. Floating in warm water. Sitting and reading with my sweetie or friends. Watching semi-random motions (waves, light, birds, swimmers, boats). Northern California hills in spring. Traveling light. Nerd humor.