Digital Cities

Discord has become a pretty major part of my internet life in the past year as I’ve descended the Web3 rabbit hole and spent less time on feed-based social media sites like Twitter and Instagram.

With this shift in behavior has come a shift in how I experience consuming social content on the Internet.

Many feed based social products hijack a users’ desire for more content by training them to keep scrolling to “get to the bottom” of the feed. This desire to consume all the information has led me to be fairly careful about not following too many people and limiting my time on social media sites.

Discord has been different - there’s no “algorithm” to be tuned. There is only the activity of the Discord, which carries on like a river whether you are there or not. This can be overwhelming in a crowded Discord and has led me to rethink some of my assumptions about consuming content and social experiences online.

I live in New York City - a city that is alive and electric with energy whether I am sitting at home in my apartment or out experiencing all it has to offer. There are too many interesting things happening in New York to be part of them all. So I have to choose.

Hanging out in an active Discord feels like being in New York. No matter how hard I try, there’s simply no way to be part of every conversation going on at any given time - I just have be happy with the place and people I am hanging with at any given moment. Trying to keep up with every message in every channel all the time is impossible.

After feeling overwhelmed with keeping up with the 100+ Discords I have joined, I decided the only way to stay sane was shift my mindset toward one of presence, immersion and participation, not one of distraction and consumption. This approach mirrors how I think about living in NYC.

So why has this been obvious to me about living NYC but so hard to apply to my Discord behavior? Discord at its core is a text based chat product. The primary the medium of social products on the internet has been asynchronous text and pictures - this is a limitation that I think contributes to a feeling of scattered distraction because it’s so easy to be in multiple places at once while you’re participating in this way. Contrast this with spatial environments and 3D mediums - these feel like more like the real world where presence and immersion is baked in. It’s hard to be in multiple places at once - ever tried playing two video games at a time?

My shift in mindset has been healthier for my relationship to the internet. I’m much happier as a citizen in a digital city than I was voraciously vacuuming up as much internet content as I could fit in my brain (and not participating). I’m glad Discord helped me hit the breaking point and caused me to rethink my assumptions here.

As our digital cities (Discords or otherwise) continue to grow and evolve, I hope we think more about the relationships we have to our real cities and try to emulate the best parts of these as we design our digital cities. I think the result will be more meaningful communities, authentic relationships, and happier participants.