The Octopus votes early and often
thinking about quiet boycotts, and dollars, and clicks
Geminus, our 18yo, came home from his class at the local community college last week lamenting that he'd forgotten to bring his coffee. When I asked why he didn't just get coffee there, he explained that there was a boycott because of anti-unionization corporate policies so he couldn't get it from the cafe on campus. We brainstormed a little about other places on campus to get emergency coffee, and then we both went on to do other things.
Later, I was thinking about that conversation. We actually have several family boycotts of long-standing. Some are for companies that donate to or otherwise support anti-LGBTQIA policies and laws (including death-penalty laws abroad). Some are for their economic impact--past or present--to local economies.
The Octopus is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
They're quiet boycotts, it's not like I announce them all to the world, or expect other people to join in. The point isn't actually to take down the corporations or nonprofit--although I will gleefully dance on the grave of the chain bookstore that drove our two main local bookstores out of business.
The point is voting with our dollars. We don't contribute to their profits, because by funding them, we're funding their policies. If we support protections for LGBTQIA people, why would we be simultaneously giving money that will go, in part, to causing harm? Even knowing that our relatively small transaction doesn't make that much of a difference--it still feels better to avoid giving them money. No matter how much we might like the coffee, the craft supplies, the sandwiches, or the low prices. It's not worth it.
I tend to think about the online environment in a similar way, except there the currency for my voting isn't money but clicks and attention. Because, unless I'm paying a company for their product or service, I'm not the customer, I'm the product.
That's a business model that really feels uncomfortable to me. I'm increasingly convinced that there's something inherently immoral in the way that social media corporations' algorithms work. I value civility and thoughtfulness and moderation, which in the current climate of the online world is too boring to drive clicks.
I'm not sure how, in the larger world, that can be changed. Luckily, that's also not something that I'm in charge of. I just have to figure out my own actions, and how I operate in the world. Because ultimately, the online world is just an intangible aspect of the real world.
Last year, I very happily deleted those accounts that I had because I was supposed to, or because a community that I wanted to be a part of existed there, or because it was "essential for business." It was freeing to let them go, because that conflict between my actions and my values had been creating a drag that I was so used to I didn't even notice until it was gone. I miss some communities, but not the platform that they were a part of, especially since the platform made it difficult to maintain my connection to the communities.
The benefit, of course, is that I have to be more deliberate in connecting with people, both personally and professionally. Which, in turn, means better, deeper, more meaningful, more authentic connections and communities.
I thought that I was only giving things up with this quiet boycott, but it actually made my life better.