Twitter, Twitter, Gab, Gab, Gab

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?

19 thoughts on “Twitter, Twitter, Gab, Gab, Gab

  1. Mike G.

    I think part of Twitter’s downfall came about because of their heavy handed use of the ‘ban hammer’ against some of it’s most popular users for some perhaps ill conceived tweets that just hurt some people’s feelz while at the same time, allowing most tweets of a more egregious nature from the “right people” slip through with no consequences.

    I think your point about electronic stimulation is also valid. We had books or magnetic board games to keep us occupied while traveling, or else, shut up and watch the scenery. But then, the interstate system was still in its infancy and we had the Burma Shave signs to read along a lot of the routes we traveled as well as being closer to roadside attractions. (You could actually see them from the road as you drove by.)

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve written about the bannings, and think they reflected an ill-conceived view of how to sanitize the place, but it will die under it’s own weight regardless. I used to stare out of the window in my mother’s ’61 Impala convertible (without seatbelts and with her smoking away in the seat next to me). I saw a lot of America that way.

      1. Ex-EMT

        What, no riding backwards thru America in the back of a station wagon with a rear-facing seat?

        Could riding backwards into the future be symbolic of something?

        (Yes, I know I will get a pithy response, which is why I asked)

  2. Nigel Declan

    Marshall McLuhan would likely agree that there is a correlation, though I, of course, dare not pretend to fully understand what he meant.

  3. Patrick Maupin

    Well, not everybody who uses it is addicted and a shitty parent.

    But are the addicted shitty parents the ones that provide enough eyeballs to actually give twitter critical mass and make it an attractive platform for others? The snowball effect has to start somewhere.

    YMMV, and obviously already varies from that of Manjoo, whom I still maintain is an idiot. But I digress. From this non-twitterer outsider’s viewpoint, twitter is the slot-machine of the internet.

    You put in a tweet, pull the handle, and maybe you hit the jackpot and are rewarded with a lot of responses that validate your existence.

    Is there a correlation between the ease of the medium and the poverty of the content?

    The length limit is actually paramount.

    If you only have so many words in you, and you really love the ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink sound of the slot machine paying off (so much so that you delay medical attention for your child), maybe you play the equivalent of the nickel slots so you can stretch your few words into a lot of handle-pulls.

    The length limit also provides cover. It’s not that you said something really, really stupid; rather, it’s that 140 words wasn’t sufficient to fully elucidate your thesis.

    So the length limit will pull in the players — then what?

    Any dedicated slots player will have his superstitions and rituals for increasing payout; with any media, it turns out that there are some rituals, starting with being provocative, that actually work, and work quite well.

    Faithfully follow this recipe of feeding the ever-present proclivity for provocation back into the 140 character loop, and you’ll bake a perfect content-free grievance machine.

    Such a machine isn’t really that difficult or expensive to build or maintain, and could easily be done on a hobby basis — but for the perfect dessert topping of trying to get rich quick, you can always add censorship and lord-of-the-flies type status symbols. Capriciousness in these things only adds to the slot-machine vibe, so will further excite your base.

    Unfortunately, the adults in the room don’t want to spend their entire lives in Vegas, so if you excite your base enough, you might find that there is nobody else left, so maybe at the end, you don’t really have the business opportunity you thought you had. Your snowball’s melting.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Sorry, I bought the last half dozen. There’s one I could give you though; it makes my butt look fat.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    #I Hate Twitter and Instagram. I have tried to be apart of it. But, I just end up deleteing the app on my phone. Twitter is beginning to feel like MySpace.com

    1. SHG Post author

      The occasional brilliant twit is brilliant. You just have to suffer the rest until it happens. Kinda like comments, now that I think about it.

      1. maz

        And presidential candidates, for that matter. And Supreme Court decisions. And…

        …and i guess we’re simply restating Sturgeon’s Law yet again.
        Except I’m pretty sure Sturgeon was overly optimistic.

  5. Dragoness Eclectic

    I have a short attention span, which perversely means Twitter is not useful for nor interesting to me–too much garbage to wade through for the occasional bit of pithy content, and I don’t have the patience for that. I find that blogs with thoughtful content in (relatively) short posts interest me the most. Tell me something I didn’t know before, offer insights I hadn’t considered, tell me I’m wrong with reasons why, and I’m interested.

    Oh no, I’m talking about myself again! Speculation: this may be true of other people with actual short attention spans and low tolerance for useless crap.

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