Internet Escape Velocity | 2402

You know how in the Persona games the main characters get sucked into the television? Internet Escape Velocity is the opposite. 

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2024/03/30/2402-internet-escape-velocity/

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Internet Escape Velocity

This week, I’d like to talk about my concept of ‘Internet Escape Velocity‘.
But before I can do that, we need to talk about community.

For the last five years or so, one of the big online trends online has been the creation of communities. Artists, filmmakers, musicians, even brands were told to build a community around their work.Β  and not cultivate an audience. Just as the meaning of the word ‘friend‘ was diluted and stretched out in nothingness during the 2010s so a similar thing has happened to the concept of ‘community‘.

I’m not saying that this is all bad per-se. It’s just what is happening.

But I do think that the things we now call ‘online community‘ have almost nothing to do with the meaning of the word ‘community’ as we experience it in real life. I think we need a better word to describe what these things are. In fact I agree with Rafa the Builder. β€˜Community’ is the purest form of Internet media. As my friend Wassim Alsindi has said: β€œThe medium is now an assemblage of the message AND the messengers, enmeshed and entangled together.”

Sounds like a particular form of Techno-Social System to me.

Anyways.

For my part, I’ve largely eschewed setting up any kind of community space for subscribers or people interested in my work. Because managing a community is hard, and quite frankly, sucks.

I spent much of my online teenage years as an admin on a PHPBB forum attached to a website dedicated to the local DIY punk music scene. This was around 2001 and this experience shaped my idea of what online communities are.

The forum was inhabited by people who all knew each other in real life. We would see each other every Friday at the local punk venue. Being tied to a real-world place, time, and scene meant that the worst of the forum flame war drama was bound up with real-world interpersonal conflicts and beef.Β 

Vice versa too: the phrase “Chat shit online, get glassed in real life” was a lesson I saw someone learn at 1 am on a windswept clifftop when I was 16.

But this community of people, regardless of its problematic social dynamics, was one that got things done. We organised gigs, charity football events, parties, tours, record releases, and made zines. Facilitated by online technology, but also our physical proximity in real life.

Margate’s punk scene at the turn of the millennium was a community that had escape velocity.

Social Gravity

Most of the creators I support online have a Discord and as a result … I’m in a lot of Discords. But it’s clear to me, half a decade into the so-called β€˜community experiment’: That unless a great deal of energy is expended managing an online communityΒ  – usually by the creator and/or motivated unpaid admins – they will die off.Β 

All online communities begin with a default amount of what I’ll call ‘Social Gravity‘. This then attracts like-minded people towards it. As more and more people join, the community begins to burn brighter. Usually for about a window of six months to a year, but then taper off as social issues are left unaddressed and people subsequently lose interest. The forum, like an old and lonely white dwarf, becomes a quiet social club for social people.

It’s during the initial attractor phase that a community begins to sense that it’s reached potential Escape Velocity.

Escape Velocity

You know how in the Persona games, the main characters get sucked into the television? Escape Velocity is the opposite.

A community vibes based equation of: time, energy, and motivation. That, if balanced correctly, will allow it to manifest things out of cyberspace and into real life.

They might seem cringe in 2024 but the flash mobs of the mid 00’s are a good example of Escape Velocity. Ideas that began on the Internet and acquired enough gravity to pierce the membrane of cyberspace and manifest in real life.

There are many projects that have reached escape velocity in my own media diet:

Josh Citarella’s β€˜Do Not Research’ has yielded art shows, books, and journals etc. The β€˜New Models’ podcast runs events and β€˜The Near Futurelab‘ Discord has all sorts of initiatives that have reached Escape Velocity and spun out into real life or the Internet. And I had my own recent experience of a Telegram group that I’m in Reaching Escape velocity. We put on a conference and published a 56 page journal earlier this month.

It’s important to recognise though, that when a community forms around the gravity of an idea, reaches Escape Velocity and manifests something into real life, it transforms.

Become a Project

It ceases to be a community and becomes a project. The community doesn’t go away, it now travels along with the project – supporting, creating and consuming its outputs. To paraphrase Jenny Odell: A project is the creation of things for people with the context to understand it.

Lots of creators currently shepherd Discords full of talented people. Escape Velocity is a useful metaphor for a community goal, and not a means. Too many places end up missing the peak gravitational moment and instead fall away into a comfortable hang out orbits. 

And this is where Metalables comes in. They are a weak signal for communities and groups of people seeking Escape Velocity after the gyre of the Creator Economy. Yancy Strickler, ever one to coin a catchy phrase, calls Metalabels “Creativity in Multiplayer Mode”.

Escape Velocity is an articulation of the idea that:

We all need to do more, with others, in real life.

And how we get there.

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