by J. Brown
The internet is changing. As access becomes more and more ubiquitous, established norms are quickly becoming outmoded. The usefulness and appeal of social media need to be reexamined across all sectors of culture. And the yoga world provides an interesting example.
The first time I ever shared something with others via the internet was in 2002. It was a short essay entitled “Notes From a Concerned Practitioner” and was sent to somewhere between forty and fifty email addresses that I had saved in an America Online contact list. One of those people happened to be a guy named Leslie Kaminoff who had created esutra, a much more impressive mailing list of thousands of people who were working and interested in the yoga profession. At that time, there were no blogs and people were still only barely embracing email as a regular way of communicating. A list of that size was unheard of and Leslie actually had to make special arrangements with America Online so that they wouldn’t keep shutting down his account.
My essay got redistributed through the esutra list and, in response, l received the largest number of emails in my inbox at one time than ever before, the first inklings of what we now know as a comment thread. By the time I wrote another essay that I wanted to share, lots more people had email accounts and the invent of email newsletter services had been born. Over the next few years, I distributed three more essays to a mailing list of several hundred people that I had compiled through friendships and work relationships.
Then WordPress hit.
By then, my list had grown and I was putting out a well-received monthly newsletter. I remember someone saying to me, “Your newsletter is really great. But you know, email is dead. You need to start a blog.” So in 2007, I set up a WordPress blog and began putting my monthly two-cents’ worth from the newsletter up on the site for safekeeping. Within another two years, the yoga blogosphere started to take off. I remember when Elephant Journal went from being a magazine to a website and I discovered a blog that was aggregating yoga specific content called YogaDork, which became and continues to be an extended home for my musings. Also around this time, Facebook became a thing. We were all having a mind blowing time going online and seeing pictures of all those people we knew in high school and hadn’t thought about in so many years. It was fun and the internet felt like an amazing and powerful new tool.
By 2010, there was a really exciting thing happening on the internet in the yoga world. People were writing all kinds of interesting stuff and the comment threads would get long and have actual exchanges of ideas. The Babarrazzi emerged to expose the same old scandals in new ways. Twitter arrived on the scene and we began to add followers along with our Facebook friends as a new measure of independent reach. I had a few posts go viral and remember spending hours responding to the comments and just amazed at how many people had actually read something I wrote and took the time to write something back.
But its not like it was on the internet anymore, is it?
The majority of yoga blogs that proliferated in the boom time of the last few years have dried up. Surfing my once extensive blogroll affords me little more than nostalgia, as many of the once great sites haven’t posted anything new since sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. There was never any real money to be made from having google adwords in your sidebar and “sponsored content” has gradually squelched the momentum of creative excitement that the technology spawned.
And the platform that Facebook and Twitter afforded us is slowly but surely being co-opted by marketing forces and the bottom line for shareholders. Our communications no longer reach our diligently amassed friends and followers unless we are willing to pay for the privilege, which turns us all into unwitting advertisers. In the “connection economy,” effective marketing is now talked about as “creating community.” As we learn that even our unpublished posts are being recorded and used as metadata, and companies attempt to offer online coupons that also click away your rights to hold them accountable for falsely advertising their products, the loss of privacy and coercion start to no longer feel worth it. The free market appropriation of digital life that we have enjoyed in its infancy seems to be maturing into a less than neutral cyberspace.
The heyday of Facebook and blogging happened for an internet generation that is growing sour on the changing rules and features. Community is not created with Facebook “likes” (see Yoga in a Digital Age.) It emerges from the gravitational pull of unifying ideas and shared common experiences. And perhaps the social media platforms started out as vehicles for unifying ideas and shared experiences, but as our exchanges have increasingly become a way for marketers to monetize our engagement, any sense of community is being sacrificed to the sneaking suspicion that someone is taking advantage.
But all is not lost. Because as the internet continues to go the way of capitalism, a grassroots groundswell inevitably emerges. I can only assume that all the eager yoga teachers who have abandoned their blogs have simply moved offline. And its a vastly better situation that, instead of getting swallowed by the infinite scroll, we focus more on real world contacts with real world friends.
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com