Of Course Meta Should Get Into ActivityPub, Or: Say Hello to Techno-NIMBYs

Growing up, I thought of society as split into two groups: Scrooge McDuck-level rich people and the rest of us. The rest of us were decent and just wanted a fair shake, but those stupid rich people kept messing it up for us! As I got older, I was able to loop in another stereotype: rich people don’t care about anything except tax cuts, so they stop progress. But the rest of us care about parks, schools, the environment, and so forth, so we love progress and vote for Democrats.

Well, the Scrooge McDuck level rich people are my friends now. You can still make money as a doctor or lawyer, but the crazy rich folks these days have RSUs at FAANG companies and talk earnestly about retiring by age 30. And I used to think these people were progressive because they love gay people and switching out their avatars on social media to express solidarity with the latest cause that we’re all doing absolutely nothing about outside our feeds. But alas. Our progressive values are too often skin deep.

I remember the first time I was surprised by a tech nerd being what I not-so-diplomatically now refer to as a “techno-libertarian fuckwad.” It was the year 2000, we were watching the Bush/Gore/Nader presidential returns come in, and I saw a friend of a friend say he didn’t care who won. Wait, what? Why? Here’s his paraphrased summary:

“Listen, both Democrats and Republicans are coming after Microsoft, my employer. Either way they’re coming after my livelihood, so whatever.”

Gosh. Forget that George W Bush and the conservative agenda was like the Trump administration of that era – anti-science, anti-progressive causes, pro-tax cuts at all costs – the only thing this guy could think about was his RSUs and his personal wealth? How Scrooge McDuck! You don’t get to shrug off the Bush administration’s win and then act shocked when every cause you care about is set back a decade. But he did!

I hoped that maybe he was an anomaly. I held out hope that he was just uniquely obsessed with money, stock grants, getting promoted to the next level, all of that. I hoped that most of his co-workers could see that past a certain amount of lottery-esque wealth, it’s obscene to claw for more. I hoped people understood that getting paid well should allow you to think bigger thoughts than your paycheck. How naive.

I went to work for the same company, Microsoft. It turns out his attitude towards wealth was pretty standard there. Then I went to work at Twitter, and holy crap. It dawned on me that when you’re rich — and I include myself — many of your progressive values never make it out of #politics in Slack. We want housing to be cheaper … until we buy a house and want the value to go up. We want black lives to matter! But … you know, as long as my job is safe. We hated on Walmart for poor business practices! But, I mean, two day shipping from Amazon is pretty great so it’s different.

Take every rich tech worker and ask them if they’d do the same work for a non-profit. Some percentage of them will tell you they would, because some percentage of people will lie about anything. They’ll spin some yarn about how they believe in “the mission” or whatever. Bullshit. They work at those jobs because they pay really well. And if they paid half as much, they would leave.

We, the progressive tech workers, love the idea of being altruistic. We love the idea of everyone paying their fair share. We love the idea of a better world. Just don’t fuck with our RSUs.

I have friends who work in non-profits and they’re like farmers listening to city slickers extoll the virtues of the simple life. Sure, it’s all fun to talk about driving a tractor for a living if you’re a tourist, but no one actually follows through and buys the farm. Just like how no one goes to a non-profit. It’s too hard to make that little money.

So what does this have to do with Meta and ActivityPub? It’s about talking big versus actually putting your skin in the game. That shift can be scary if you’re more interested in thinking big idealistic thoughts than doing hard work that has actual tradeoffs.

ActivityPub has toiled in non-nerd obscurity for years. The thinking is that it’s a cool concept, but too complicated, and never going to make the leap to the mainstream. Some people were more angry about it. Those SHEEPLE with their MAINSTREAM TASTES and their DUMB FACEBOOK FEEDS don’t understand how great the fediverse could be. UGH. Morons.

Replace “Facebook” with “World of Warcraft” or “Taylor Swift” or “Windows” and instead propose “EVE Online”, some acid jazz indie band that only plays on Tuesdays if you know the morse code password, and some Linux distro powered by kombucha and you see the same attitude everywhere. It’s not about taste, it’s about caste. It’s not saying “this is better,” it’s saying “I am better.”

But just like when your hipster band gets big, or Apple is no longer the scrappy underdog, or SNL dares do anything after its first season, the only thing people hate more than the mainstream not “getting it” is when the mainstream does, in fact, get it. Because then its popularity grows, and that’s scary when you are comfortable with the old thing.

There’s a rumour that Meta is going to try making an ActivtyPub concept to see if it has wings. And all the techno-NIMBYs are out here like THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD. Personally, I love the idea. If ActivtyPub is a great concept, ok, then let’s prove it. Let’s try it out. Let’s see what happens.

Unless what you’re saying is you want to talk about changing things but are not a fan of going much further. There’s a word for people who get upset when new things are attempted because they lack the safety and clarity of the old things. That word is conservative. And it’s pretty common amongst Scrooge McDuck types.