Out of the blue, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner announced he was quitting the bench to spend his waning years reading hand-written pro se habes crying for the denial of doooo process and the peculiar flavor of Nutraloaf. Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.
Twitter works on the same principle. When you send out a tweet, the reward is variable. Depending on the number of followers you have, your tweet will normally not be retweeted or retweeted only occasionally. From time to time, you will hit the jackpot—a media personality (or his or her factotum) retweets it to thousands of followers, generating a cascade of retweets and likes. At other times, you receive a small reward of a few or dozens of retweets or likes. I suspect the power curve strongly resembles the slot-machine version.
And with that harsh analogy, Eric Posner quit twitter.
I suspect the real reason that the chattering class—the academics and journalists who filled my feed—uses Twitter is that they are afraid of falling behind. If everyone tweets but me, am I no longer important? Does my opinion no longer matter? In this sense, Twitter is the Instagram for intellectuals—a negative-sum game that users play purely because everyone else does.
And with that, the twitter account of @EricAPosner went dark. But the deep thinker wasn’t yet done deconstructing the slot machine, the Instagram for Intellectuals. Next came the Lutherian listicle.
TWENTY THESES ABOUT TWITTER
1. People sign up for Twitter for two reasons: to obtain information and to exert influence.
2. Twitter serves these functions poorly. If you want information about a specific topic, a Google search is a more efficient way to obtain it. If you want information about current events, you do better by reading a newspaper.
3. Twitter provides information poorly because tweets are mostly driven by the latest outrage and are hence redundant. The rare tweet that contains an interesting or unusual idea is lost in the cataract.
4. Twitter is a poor device for exerting influence because of #5.
5. No tweet has ever persuaded anyone of anything.
Granted, there is an excellent likelihood that Posner’s expectation of the twitters differs from that of mere mortals, such that the twitter he sees is a different color, shape, dimension, than what you or I see.
Posner signed up for twitter to “exert influence”? Well, that could be the root of his disappointment, as set forth in #5. Was there a reason why he would be more influential in the ether than he was in real life? While it’s impossible to ascertain Posner’s reach on twitter now that his account is deleted, let’s assume he followed, and was followed by, the very important members of the chattering class. If they weren’t buying what he was selling, does the fault lie with him, them or the medium of transmission?
6. Twitter’s real function is not to help people obtain information or exert influence.
7. Twitter’s real function is to enable people to obtain validation for their beliefs.
8. People send tweets with a single overriding purpose: to get the tweet “liked” or retweeted.
This is revealing, as this may be true for 12-year-olds and academics, but not for grownups. There are definitely substantial groups on twitter of people desperate for confirmation of their ideas and validation of their self-worth via being “liked” or retweeted, especially by someone of importance to them, like Kim or Kanye.
But there are a great many other purposes served by social media, from seeing very funny things to cute cat pics, learning of the existence of people wiser than yourself to learning that people you thought were smart are kinda dumb. Hitting the jackpot of viral RTs may be the goal for some, but this, #9, may be Posner’s Viagra but not mine.
9. When your tweet is liked or retweeted, you enjoy a dopamine surge.
10. It doesn’t matter why the tweet is liked or retweeted, or even if the person on the other side read your tweet. You enjoy a fleeting illusion of mastery.
Perhaps it’s just my un-bluechecked status or trivial number of followers, but I neither get, nor enjoy, any fleeting illusion of mastery. Quite the contrary. I cringe a bit when twits are liked or retwitted, wondering how my thoughts will be translated by those on the twitters to align with their vision of the world. If I’m supposed to get a dopamine surge, I feel cheated.
13. Tweets are either snide or outraged.
This seems to reveal the most about Posner’s hate on twitter, that the reaction to his dissents isn’t the tummy rub of a changed worldview that he desires, but that tone thing that academics and feminists hate. They’re so finely attuned to, always ready to scold those whose tone offends them. Sure, there are snide (often referred to by the woke as “snarky”) twits, and there are tons of outraged twits, though they usually derive from the wrong side of the argument.
But there are brilliant twits. There are hysterically funny twits. There are informative twits. There are enlightening twits. There are idiotic twits too, but so what? Posner fundamentally misunderstands social media, and because of that, promulgates negative theses about this dreaded medium. If you don’t like a “snide” twit, ignore it. It magically goes away in a few seconds and @Snuckleberry178 will cease to ruin your dopamine high.
Better still, should social media not fulfill your high expectations of mankind, you can always x out, even turn the computer off. You see, social media is as real, or as unreal, as you want it to be. It will go on without you, and will disappear without you, as you choose it to be. Whatever horrors it dishes up today will miraculously cease to exist tomorrow.
Rather than delete his account and put a significant amount of time and thought into explaining the psychological mechanism of the slot machine, the laundry list of evils that twitter perpetrates on the fragile psyche, Posner could have just enjoyed the twitters for what good it brings and ignored it for the stupid. Instead, he deleted his account. You know why? Because Posners are quitters.