The Slow Enshittification of Reality

googly eyes on an apple vision headset

Put your augmented reality headset to one side because I’m about to have a big moan about big tech and social media again. It’ll be fun, honest.

Surveillance Capitalism’s New Favorite Toy

If you believe that augmented or virtual reality is not a means to push ads directly into your face, then boy, do I have a pair of goggles I’d like to sell you.

Yes, this was the week where the world’s trendiest mega-corp tried to give augment reality the iPhone treatment with the Vision Pro. That is a headset that the company expects users to wear pretty much all the time and pay a cool $3499 to do so.

From a short-term business perspective, the decision induces a lot of head-scratching. After all, we’ve already seen the likes of Meta waste billions on similar projects, only for the general public to remain unconvinced.

Meanwhile, the far more lucrative world of AI, which Apple completely ignored in their recent presentation, is right there for the pickings. And the initial reaction to Apple’s announcement was a combination of memes and a freefall in their stock value.

So why do these tech giants continue to force an issue that no one beyond the tech-mad is seemingly interested in? Well, as some commentators noted, perhaps that alone should set alarm bells ringing.

Let’s be clear about a few things. I think this tech is neat. Silly and impractical for sure, (and how about that uncanny valley eye display, right?) but kinda fun. And I’m not going to suggest here that Apple will (or won’t) start beaming ads into people’s faces or selling your eye movements to some evil marketer.

But if they succeed in giving this tech mass appeal? If the smartphone gives way to the smart goggles? Well, all bets are off. After all, we’ve seen this all before.

Thanks to smartphones and other IoT devices, surveillance capitalism is now a daily aspect of modern life. From the unconditional and faulty algorithms that make up bossware to the buying and selling of user data, the unbridled tracking of user devices, and the proliferation of adtech, the open web has been reduced to a mere fairy tale. And big tech has made a pretty penny as the enabler of the corporate net that has taken its place.

We, as users, didn’t sign up for any of this. Instead, we sleep-walked into it. Because, at the time, the internet’s services and the hardware that powered them weren’t half as terrible as they are now.

Google search didn’t become the no.1 search engine via ads. It did so by being a quality search engine. The ads, SEO obsessiveness, and tracking all came later. Likewise, Facebook became popular because it offered a minimalist UI that allowed you to easily stay in touch with friends. Again the ‘enshittification’ came later.

YouTube, Windows, TikTok (apparently), Twitter, and Reddit (more on that later) have all been through this same process.

But why am I bringing this up concerning augmented reality?

Right now, we’re in what you might call a new investment or user-friendly stage of the enshittification process. Companies like Microsoft, and Meta, who increasingly make a lot of their money on screen time, as opposed to products, would just love for that screen time to become a permanent state of affairs. So is it any wonder such companies are pouring money into these products?

Don’t get things wrong, marketers are already frothing at the mouth to get into your field of vision. Augmented reality ads are already a thing. So are virtual reality “brand towns” and “brand experiences.”

But I'd wager our friendly tech overlords are only starting to experiment with the many possibilities that come to mind once they’ve got their devices firmly attached to your face.

In Apple’s showcase for Vision Pro, work-life was one area they really focused on. So what, we should ask, happens when bossware is inevitably integrated into augmented reality? What takes the place of keylogging when our eye movements are making the decisions? Just how much surveillance technology and adtech do you think a cheaper knock-off of the Vision Pro (which will only ever be available to the most privileged) will contain? What does social media’s gamification of self-worth do to a person once it exists in their constant field of vision?

Are these scare-mongering predictions? Or are they qualified assumptions based on the problems we already have?

We don’t need augmented reality to give us online radicalization, data breaches, privacy intrusion, and a warped sense of reality - these things already exist on the web. But it does add a new dimension to them all. I don’t think it is ‘anti-tech’ to be concerned about these things. I think it’s common sense.

I’m not saying we can’t have nice things, but maybe we should keep an eye on the salesman so desperately shilling those things to us.

The Enshittification of Reddit

Speaking of enshittification, let’s talk about Reddit for a moment.

If you’ve stumbled into the realm of Reddit lately, you will know that things are getting a little hot-tempered over there. That is, ever since Reddit brass decided to, for all intents and purposes, kill off the platform’s third-party apps.

Reddit recently decided to start charging for API access. Fair enough, perhaps. After all, most of Reddit’s third-party apps don’t show ads. What that means is no money for Reddit. But Reddit has decided to pull a Twitter and entirely out-price everything on the market, with Apollo developer Christian Selig noting that the changes would cost him around $20 million a year.

“I don’t see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable,” he added in a statement, “I hope it goes without saying that I don’t have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card.”

It’s a sorry state of affairs, not least because Reddit owes a great deal to these third-party developers. Reddit didn’t even have a mobile app until 2016, and the one it finally produced leaves much to be desired. The third-party apps have not only kept a sizeable portion of Reddit’s user base onboard but have provided moderators with the tools they need to moderate and delivered features needed by users with accessibility issues (which Reddit’s app does not).

So why is Reddit doing this? Well, all signs point to the people behind it wanting to cash in.

Reddit is expected to file for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) later this year. And, since much of their income comes through advertising, the hope appears to be that they will make their brand look more lucrative to investors if users are forced to use the app.

Perhaps Reddit has underestimated the reaction this move would inspire in users. A terrible misjudgment, considering this is the same userbase that took a meme stock and made it headline news. And now huge swathes of the site will be going dark in protest of the changes.

Hopefully, Reddit sees sense and listens to their fanbase. But it is hard not to feel they are on the same slippery brown slope towards enshittification as the many social media platforms before them.

Time will tell if this is the case.

Is This Indieweb? Part Two

This post is a continuation of last week’s bit about the IndieWeb. If you haven’t read it yet, go read that (or don’t), then read this.

Perhaps one of the most integral parts of Indiewebyfying your site is syndication. That is the idea of posting your “content” to your website first and then syndicating (i.e., re-posting) everywhere else. Or, in some cases, doing the opposite (posting your writing, tweets, etc., elsewhere and then backing up to your site).

The IndieWeb peeps have a couple of acronyms for this: - POSSE (Publish On (your own) Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) - PESOS (Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site)

Terrible acronyms aside, why bother with this anyway?

Here’s the thing about platforms (or “Silos” as the IndieWeb calls them), they’re all doomed. They will either fade into obscurity (see MySpace or Bebo) or change beyond recognition (see Twitter, Reddit, or anything owned by Google). In the meantime, users are left at the mercy of the ever-mysterious and frustrating algorithms, ever-reducing service, and conversation-stifling rules. Or, in the case of a place like Substack, a complete lack of basic moderation:

So, it only makes sense to de-tangle yourself from the constraints of the social web, even if (especially if) you’re trying to actively reach people as a creator. If you don’t, you might even end up losing everything.

However, until the web decentralization event/revolution occurs, a lot of people aren’t going to know where to find you. That’s where syndication comes into play.

This linkblog is an example of syndication in action. I publish it on my website and RSS, send it out as a newsletter, and then throw any relevant excerpts up on Medium. Eventually, I’d also like to make a condensed version of Mastodon. I’m also going to be republishing my Medium essays to my website.

If I were smart, this process would be entirely automated. And that’s a big part of what the IndieWeb is trying to achieve.

But whether or not you use syndication, the IndieWeb folks are also keen to keep the web social. And a crucial part of that is web mentions.

You can think of web mentions as a cross-site notification and comment system. Basically, it enables webmasters to talk to each other and offers a means for them to display conversation. It also enables you to leave likes, make reposts, and more or less everything else you can do on social media.

You can find a complete guide to web mentions here:

And here’s a guide specifically for neocitizens:

(Just a quick note: I am not a developer or cybersecurity expert. So if you are considering implementing any of this stuff, please do your due dillegence. There may be potential security risks involved that should be considered:

But now for the big question: Is my site on the IndieWeb?

Well, yeah, I guess it is. Or at least, in principle. I have a website and a domain. I also “syndicate” my writing. I even have some of the microformat stuff set up and ready.

I don’t have web mentions, and honestly, I’m not too bothered by the idea. Perhaps I’m a little too starry-eyed for my old web, but I don’t feel any urge to make the blogosphere look more like social media. But I think the principle is interesting, at least. And it is on my radar.

But anyway, if you’re interested in learning more about this stuff (Yes, there’s still more to talk about), give the IndieWeb site a good look through.


Just wanted to say a quick thanks this week to everyone who has supported In The Margins so far. Quite a few of you have reached out with kind words, and some of you even opted to receive these posts in your inboxes.

I do a lot of writing online. But this linkblog is basically an unfiltered just-for-me kind of project. So it’s genuinely neat to see some of these ramblings click with people. So yeah, cheers.

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In The Margins is written by Mike Grindle. It is and always will be cost-free, ad-free and junk-free. If you wish to support its existence, consider sharing it with your friends.

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