Masochism led me to Mastodon. At first I felt stoned – but the descent was brutal

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One thing about me is that I openly hate change, that is, I’m a baby, and my phone – which hasn’t seen a software update since 2017, thanks for asking for it – regularly does when I try to do things like send an email or message a friend or press any button. My feelings towards downloading a new app are the same as others might have towards skydiving: fear of jumping into the unknown, and also death.

Unfortunately, the other thing about me is that I’m a masochist, which is why I find myself downloading Mastodon – the platform that has been touted, to varying degrees of certainty, as the replacement for a slowly crumbling Twitter now owned and micromanaged by the world’s most needy billionaire.

Related: Joining the Herd: What’s it like to switch from Twitter to Mastodon?

Despite its name, which makes it look like a dating app for metalheads or paleontologists, Mastodon went viral last month. On Twitter, as membership dwindled and advertisers left en masse, mass panic set in. People said goodbye in dramatic messages spreading all their other social media accounts. There was a real end-of-day vibe – one I hadn’t seen since the night before December 21, 2012, the night I decided to pack an emergency bag of muesli bars just in case the apocalypse would actually happen the next day. day and I was hungry.

Enter: Mastodon, the muesli bar of the Twitter apocalypse – a social network promising an experience driven by users, not money; a network without algorithms or advertisements. And people bought into it. An estimated 3 million people have joined in the past month alone.

I need a few weeks to register. Many times I come close – only to be derailed by two hours of stalking my haters on Twitter and clenching my fists at their successes. When I finally tap the app for the first time, it opens up to an illustration of cartoon elephants (sorry, behemoths) which makes me think that I accidentally downloaded Neopets.

I realize its tweet equivalents are called ‘toots’ I want toot toot chugga chugga outta

The first thing it does is tell me to join a server. This is because Mastodon is a fedivers, which sounds like something to do with fedoras (m’astodon) (sorry), though that just means it’s made up of individually moderated groups that can communicate with each other others. Anyone can start a server, and they are mostly focused on geographic locations or interests; the app encourages me to browse them using a series of headings: art, music, journalism, activism, etc. I note that there are no servers under “art” or “journalism”, although there is a server for furries.

I spend about 30 minutes on this choice, only to find out later that I had given it too much thought: you can freely see and talk to people from other servers, though only posts from your own community will show up in your feed.

I’m considering going with the generic Mastodon group, which at 149,000 users seems to be the most popular. But at the last moment I hesitate. My first and only wave of patriotism runs through me: I join an Australian server called aus.socialwhich makes me feel like I’m at a swingers party or an 11th grade ceremony.

Phew. Faucet. Next screen.

It’s a rules page – similar to what you might see in a Facebook group, with different rules on different servers. “Don’t Break the Law (Australian)“, says this page. OK, loser, I think.

Finally, I’m there – and, within seconds, the app started crashing: reloading at random intervals like it was designed to torture me. The cartoon elephants laugh at me with their silly happy smiles. Please, I pray, if you stop freaking out, I promise I won’t laugh at your ridiculous terminology anymore. At the right moment, it stops bugging – and then I realize that its tweet equivalents are called “toots”. I want toot toot chugga chugga out of here.

The next morning, I go back to an empty stream and immediately start following people. There’s no easy way to find your Twitter mutuals on Mastodon, but I’m voracious. I follow people until I’m sure I have an RSI. Editors, colleagues, friends, even – to my horror – politicians (see above, filed under masochism). I follow the people I hate. I follow the people who hate me. I am George Takei.

As far as I’m concerned, Mastodon is a tabula rasa and all social relations are reset. I feel stoned after my next ride.

The days pass. The high passes with them – and is replaced by a sharp descent. I’ve now spent hours on this app and the only things I’ve seen are pets, stunts and George Takei reposting hundreds of toots a day with dense blocks of text that make me miss the limits of characters.

I switch to the Explore tab, which features popular posts on Mastodon. “This one makes me laugh every year,” someone wrote above a Christmas meme that I’m sure has never made anyone laugh.

Everything seems a little… stale? The more I scroll, the more a sense of nostalgia blooms within me for the unbridled madness of Twitter: the last refuge for those of us (me) who want to spend our time watching people devastatingly tell their stories; the only real home of the internet’s worst talk; where cooking is fascism, have coffee is classist and playing fetch is animal abuse.

Perhaps Mastodon will soon be corrupted too; for the sake of all its users who are here for serious (yuck) discussion, I hope it stays pristine in its vision: a utopia that’s nothing like Twitter, and much like the halcyon days of early gossip on Facebook, with photos of cats alongside personal screeds that carry little consequence.

I click on the home screen for a final look and like clockwork it crashes and freezes.

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