I keep on referencing Dark Forests and realizing that people don’t know what I mean, which is fair because the only place I talk about them is in dark forests.
The first place I heard about this was from George who brought it up in one of several dark forests that we interact on. Whenever I go looking for a post to link to as an explanation I usually grab Kottke’s post: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet because the original piece by Yancey Strickler that kicked this off is published on Medium, which is the worst.
For posterity, here’s a link to Strickler’s piece: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet - OneZero
Below is the main quote from it that I think defines our term the best:
“Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent….
This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.
In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.”
And here’s why I’m increasingly finding myself in these forests:
“These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.”
To put this in my own words:
Global public social media is a trainwreck for most forms of communication. Humans just cannot handle the ability to respond to anyone anywhere about anything they’ve tweeted. And in pursuit of Engagement Metrics the algorithms are working overtime to make us angry, bewildered, and extremely in tune to celebrity gossip. I don’t really care who was cast in what movie, but twitter sure thinks I should! Because of that focus it also does an increasingly poor job of community building. If I want to talk about, say, local Ann Arbor and Ypsi whatnot it’s much better to do that within a space designed to do that so we’re not constantly defining our terms.
In response to the general toxicity and business practices of the major players many people (like me!) have opted out and moved their online interactions to smaller, more controlled, venues. Private or semi-private online spaces like slack teams, discord channels, mastodon communities, forums, instant messenger, DMs, email newsletters, and (my favorite one!) personal blogs. Twitter and facebook at one point consumed all of the above. It did an okay job and I like that it was centralized; however, good enough is no longer good enough. Rather than subjecting myself to various algorithms I’m instead finding life in dark forests.