Saturday, November 19, 2022

On Twitter

I’ve never had a Twitter account, mostly because the site has always struck me as a cesspool.

Most of my online presence is here or on Facebook, because I am old.

The average age of Facebook users is something like fifty these days and getting older every day because people younger than that are dropping it like their grandmother’s china, though I still find it useful for doing what it was originally sold as doing which is keeping up with faraway friends and sharing funny pictures. I no longer engage in political arguments there, as all that I ever got out of that was older and there are only so many drooling idiots one cares to swat down in a single limited lifetime, but as an easy and effective way to stay in touch with people it’s not bad.

Most blogs dried up around 2011 and no new ones have been started since before Obama left office, so it’s only us old timers keeping the craft alive. Thanks for sticking with me.

I have an Instagram account to which I have never posted anything so there is no reason to follow me there. I use it to find funny memes, vintage photos (some of which end up in the slide shows for my history classes), Great British Bake Off contestants, Voces8, and whatever friends and family have an account and are willing to let me follow them. I got SnapChat to be able to talk to my children. I have a Pinterest account from 2014 that has exactly one post on it (a picture of Grumpy Cat with Peter Capaldi’s eyes photoshopped onto it) and a Tumblr account with none, neither of which I can access anymore because I don’t remember the passwords. Nor can I remember the password to the TikTok account I have.  Someday I may make a Reddit account, but today is not that day. Tomorrow does not look good either. There are any number of other sites and services out there these days, but they are all for people younger and more in tune with the culture than I am so I will let them pass.

But Twitter? No.

Twitter is where the Enlightenment dream of perfect communication leading to utopia went to die. It is where we discovered for a rock solid fact that you will never get Shakespeare no matter how many monkeys there are typing away. It is Exhibit A on why the aliens will not visit and why whatever version of God you happen to believe in will not save us.

And now it’s going away.

Elon Musk, a parasite on the hard work of others whose main function on this planet is to disprove categorically and forever the entire idea that wealthy people are somehow smarter than the rest of us, has managed to crash the entire thing in less than a month, burning $44 billion in the process and providing a shining example of the actual (as opposed to rhetorical) business skills of billionaires in real time. It’s been fascinating, in a grim sort of way. But according to several different analyses that I’ve read – from system administrators, politicians, engineers, and lawyers alike – the damage already done to that platform as it bleeds experienced and capable employees is going to be fatal even if it continues to function for a while. Much like those radiation victims that you read about from the early days of the Atomic Age whose internal organs were fried even if their outsides still looked healthy, Twitter is a dead thing walking and the inevitable will take place in due course.

On the one hand, this will not affect me directly. As noted, I don’t have a Twitter account, nor will I be signing up for a Mastodon account to replace that non-existent Twitter account. It’s a manmade disaster affecting an island I will never set foot upon.

On the other hand, it did serve a function. Much like Facebook, once you strip out the disinformation, the rabid hordes of assholes, and the sheer toxic wasteland of commentary that seems inevitable in such platforms, it did provide a useful forum for a lot of people. Government agencies used it to communicate quickly and widely. Artists got word out of their art. Historians used it to fact-check lying politicians in real time. Comedians (professional and amateur alike) provided laughter to a world in need of it – a lot of the funny memes on my Instagram feed are just screenshotted Twitter exchanges, after all. On and on. These will be hard to replace.

It will leave a hole when it goes, in other words.

It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude, to revel in the misfortune of a billionaire who has added nothing to the world and the demise of a platform that has caused such damage since 2016, but that’s not the whole story and I’m not really sure what will happen once it disappears. Much of value will be lost.

I have no solutions to this. Just these thoughts.

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