ASK THE SOPHIST: Traumatic Post Stress

Indignity Vol. 3, No. 182

ASK THE SOPHIST: Traumatic Post Stress

Ask The Sophist: How Do I Cope With Being Blocked on Bluesky?

Dear The Sophist,
I NEVER THOUGHT I'd need advice about social media. As an aging millennial, I didn't grow up with it, and I entered the workforce at a time when it was mostly optional if not ill-advised to have anything but the most sterile, business-friendly profile. Then Elon Musk happened.

For almost a decade, I had lurked account-less on Twitter, memorizing the handles of my favorite people and acting as silent recipient to their jokes and analysis. This was especially beneficial after the dissolution of media companies like Gawker when all the writers I relied on to provide me with "the news" were displaced. But Elon doesn't let you read the site without logging in anymore, and who in good conscience would open an account now?

I heard Bluesky was like the Twitter of old, with many of the same posters but less overt fascism, and when a code came on offer I leapt at it. For context, I have a book coming out next year, so I'd already come to terms with the notion that someone, at some point, was going to strongly suggest I build my online presence. By now I was resigned to making that happen, and Bluesky seemed like a particularly low-stakes place to give it a shot.

OK, the problem: I've gotten myself blocked by a huge account. Worst of all, I like him! I think of myself as a pretty unoffending presence over there. I mostly do little jokes to no audience, though I have occasionally jumped into the fray of political debates, and this is where I fell foul. My blocker is a power user/major media presence and as a result, at least amongst those I follow, he kind of drives the discourse, with them reacting to his reactions and so forth.

Far downstream of one such debate (the ugly but seemingly never-ending argument over whether protest votes from the left are acceptable during the rise of fascism) someone asked a question which I answered. I was perhaps a bit glib in my comment, in a way that conceivably applied to the power user/major media presence as well. I didn't realize at the time that reply notifications appear to go all the way up the food chain.

I felt bad once I noticed, because I truly didn't mean to cause offense, and I like the guy's writing and I think his analysis is sharp even if I don't always agree. But here's the thing, being blocked has totally broken my feed! Almost none of the political discourse is in context to me now, as everything everyone else is saying inevitably defaults to one of his gated posts, serving only to remind me further of my ignominy.

Can I go anywhere from here? Should I email him to apologize and ask if he'll mute me instead? I use my real name so it's not like I can just make a new account. And I genuinely feel bad! But I hold social media in such low regard as a medium (despite my obvious if historically passive addiction) reaching out to someone for this reason seems rather crass and pathetic.

The Sophist, can you show me the silver lining in this Cloudysky?

A Block(ed)head

Dear SkyFail:
Many people on social media get lost in the thickets of parasocial relationships, in which they mistake the ready visibility of the name and avatar associated with a person for the actual presence of that person. They come to believe they are talking to that person, in association with them—it's called "social media," isn't it?—when in fact they are merely broadcasting alongside them on overlapping channels of a mass medium. It's an easy thing to get wrong, and it has led to much misunderstanding and antagonism through the years.

Through your own conflicted and diffident approach to social media—all those long, lurking years of reading Twitter posts without tweeting—you have managed the even fancier trick of mishandling a para-parasocial relationship. You tried to express a general sort of disdain, and the architecture of the site made it look as if you were disdainfully reply-guying to this specific person, who quite reasonably blocked you for it.

The Sophist empathizes with your embarrassment at being misunderstood. You were still finding your bearings as one kind of poster you wanted to be, and through no particular fault of your own, you came across as another, undesirable kind of poster. You collapsed the context onto your own head, and now your ears are ringing (from the impact) and burning (from the sense that someone has passed judgment on you).

Congratulations! And a belated welcome to the posting life. Those tweets you kept reading and enjoying all those years—those were the result of a brutal process of trial and error, worked out by each user under a system of ever-shifting rules, shibboleths, norms, incentives, and user interfaces. You saw the smooth flow of the great wildebeest herd, the product of a couple million years of evolution under bloody-toothed predation, and you finally decided to join in, only to find yourself in a terrifying, clattering confusion of hooves and horns and dust.

Every good poster, at one time or another, has been rude to someone they didn't mean to be rude to, or tried a joke that didn't land, or accidentally helped inspire a lasting and ever more vicious domestic fascist movement. The really smart people quit social media when something like that happened; the less smart but still decent people learned to post more deftly; the dumbest and most maladroit people seized control of Twitter to punish other people for their own failures.

Bluesky is small and relatively friendly at the moment, because it's still in invitation-only closed beta. But that doesn't mean it's set on easy mode! The site took off, to the extent it has taken off, as a refuge for the incurable veteran posters who couldn't stand Twitter anymore. The Bluesky power users are people who have seen things you wouldn't believe: fandom swarms burning off the shoulder of Orion, glittering threat emails from Bret Stephens, crab Rangoon, things of that nature.

Now that they've made it to the new place, they are not suffering fools, or anything that seems as if it might be even vaguely fool-adjacent. No one believes the site has its underlying moderation tools anywhere close to where they will need to be the day the velvet ropes come down and it tries to open up for business as Twitter 2.0. So for now, people are just blocking, and blocking, and blocking some more.

And you got blocked. That means you're in the game! Remember, the person you admire isn't mad at you. He was annoyed by a string of words he saw on a screen, and he hit the button to stop seeing them. By now he's probably forgotten about it.

The worst thing you could possibly do is remind him, by showing up in his inbox to plead your case. You can't get out of context collapse by chasing after someone into a whole other context! It would simply confirm his impression that he is dealing with someone who doesn't understand anything about where the boundaries are, and you wrote to The Sophist because you do not want to be such a person.

If you want to keep posting, the way through is to keep posting. If this person is truly at the center of the universe of discourse that matters most to you, and if you were truly meant to become a poster, then maybe someday he will see the people who he wants to read talking about a post he can't see, and it will be your post, and—because, remember, he blocked you on the spur of the moment, without especially paying attention to who he was blocking—he may realize he can't remember what the block was for, and unblock you, and see your 300 characters' worth of wisdom and/or witticism.

(But you still won't be friends! Where friends talk to friends is in the direct messages, and Bluesky doesn't even have DMs.)

More likely, though, as Bluesky keeps growing toward a public launch, you'll find someone else to be the discourse-hub you seek. And not long after that the site will get so big it becomes toxic and unusable, and you will just go promote your book on TikTok, where all the real book action is anyway.

Get a good ring light,
The Sophist



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No. 2
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No. 3
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No. 4
Fry an egg so hard that there will be no moisture to the yolk. If fried in bacon use a little of the fat to mix with the egg when chopped. The white should be crisp and a delicate brown which imparts a specially delicious flavor to the sandwich. This is not so digestible a sandwich as others made of egg, but is preferred by many on account of the flavor.

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