Twitter is doomed. No, not because of all the mean twits that hurt your feelz, but because it has been poorly run despite its popularity and will never be adequately monetizable. It’s a business, and when a business can’t make money, it ceases to exist. I know, it seems that anything you like and use ought to be able to make money, but unless you’re willing to pay by the twit, it’s doomed. Doomed.
Meanwhile, the New York Times tech guru, Farhad Manjoo, realized that twitter has gone past its peak and is now in its death spiral.
Twitter, the well-known but less-well-used social network of 140-character quips about the news, is polarizing. You’re either an addict, or you don’t get it.
And if you get it, explaining what it is and why you’re on it — and why you can’t stop looking at it even though you’re supposed to be tending to your 3-year-old at the park, on the swings, where she’s just fallen and hit her face, something that actually happened to me — can be a challenge even in ordinary times.
Well, not everybody who uses it is addicted and a shitty parent.
Historians and media theorists will one day study whether the journalistic corps’s devotion to a platform that prizes cutting remarks over nuance and empathy was ultimately good for the republic. But for news addicts like myself, little of that mattered.
The thrill of Twitter in 2016 was visceral and habit-forming. It was the show that never stopped, the fireworks display you couldn’t keep your eyes off even as it grew dangerously bright and transfixing, and then set the whole town on fire and invited floods and locusts and plague, too.
Not everybody who uses it lacked the capacity to differentiate crap on the twitters from actual news.
But what now? As a business, Twitter had not been having a good run before the presidential election reached its spectacular conclusion. New users aren’t joining the service and longtime denizens have been using it less. When Twitter tried to sell itself this fall, nobody wanted to buy it.
Both potential users and would-be acquirers seem turned off by its complexity, its ugliness (Twitter has become a haven for misogynists, racists and other trolls), and most deeply its apparent uselessness for people who aren’t clustered in the bubbles of tech, politics and media.
And that’s why Manjoo writes for the Times. But he’s not unfair about it, at least to the extent this matters:
Olivia Nuzzi, who covers politics for The Daily Beast, told me that even though she found Twitter to be “a very upsetting social media platform” that allowed people to bombard her every day with the most ghastly content, she considered it vital to her job. “If I’m not on Twitter for 30 minutes, I miss a story,” she said.
Manjoo conflates two very obvious things: Twitter is a medium of communication. What gets communicated has to do with humanity, not Twitter. Disney didn’t buy it because people suck, and Disney, a business that understands how to execute successfully, didn’t want to be associated with a medium outside its control. Disney has a message, and the Twitters wasn’t built to control the message. It wasn’t a good fit.
As to what people twit, that’s who people are. Most people suck at twitter. Most twits range from incomprehensible to insane. There are remarkably few witty, funny, thoughtful or informative twits. Those that are can be great. Most aren’t.*
But aside from what gets communicated, Manjoo’s point about the twitters being a problematic medium is worthy of greater scrutiny. He characterizes it as an addiction, which may well be the case for him, but has little to do with other people. Most of us can walk away, ignore the tone of a new twit, shrug off the 27 @ twits from some random idiot who hasn’t figured out that their loneliness isn’t a reason for our attention. Dunning-Kruger is highly underrated.
Rather, twitter is a reflection of the combination of two trends that have been coming for a while. The first is simplification. For a lot of people 140 characters pretty much maxes out the entirety of their thought capabilities. In the early days of twitter, the hype was that it was “micro-blogging.” This was silly, as it was never suited to intelligent thought, but hypers gonna hype. That said, some people grasped the discipline necessary to use twitter effectively and made the most of it as a communications medium. Most didn’t. They didn’t have the chops.
The second trend was over-stimulation. You know those minivans with screens for the kids in the backseats, so they wont annoy their parents (who are busy checking their Facebook pages)? Kids were reared on the need for electronic babysitters, constant stimulation, to keep them at bay. Their attention span was reduced to seconds, and the never-end of shiny things became their norm. Twitter, as Manjoo notes, is a constant, another twit is just a moment away, and we can’t possibly miss it or…something.
As tech success remains the focus of so many, our future is they are to be believed, we’ll get no end of the twitters, or the Facebooks, which Manjoo views as far better because you can control your bubble to create the impression that all those “ghastly” people don’t actually exist. Already, there’s the alternative of Gab, whose founder, Andrew Torba, just got tossed out of Y Combinator for a politically incorrect twit. Different sensibility. Same technology.
Has this barrage of stimulation, combined with the reduction of communication to its basest level, served us well? If it costs you the health of your three-year-old (yes, I’m talking to you, Farhad), then surely not. Get your priorities straight. If it makes you stupider by feeling empowered by knowing that there are others out there in the ether who share your stupidest thought, so it can’t be as stupid as you would have believed if you were alone in your parents’ basement without anyone saying, “you go, girl,” then it has served you poorly as well.
But to the extent that we’re burning out on this constant barrage of overstimulation, of mindlessly bad twits, of addiction to whatever shiny thing all the cool kids are playing with, then maybe we needed the twitters to get it out of our system so we could return to a world where we didn’t salivate like Pavlov’s dogs every time a tone sounded. We’re not there yet. Not by a long shot. But a guy can dream.
*Is there a correlation between the ease of the medium and the poverty of the content? I suspect there is, as people react before thinking, twitting nonsense and then defending their nonsense to the death with twits of ever-increasing vapidity. I see some smart people who twit some incredibly foolish things. Or, maybe that’s the best they can do, even if they spent a day honing their twit to the very best it could be. Who knows?