I love the Internet. I mean I really love this place. I love it because deep down it is just an interconnected network of computers. There is no single application that drives this place. There is no platform or architecture that is required. Ultimately, you can make this what you want. I keep coming back to John Gage, a researcher with Sun Microsystems1 in the 80s and 90s who coined the phrase, “The Network is the Computer”2. It’s a quote that feels almost quaint now, but it still echoes a fundamental truth about the Internet. This whole network we’re in is just a computer of sorts. It is a computer made up of other computers all connected and communicating. Twitter is just one of a billion applications running on this computer. It uses a bit more resources and draws a bit more energy, but it is just an application. You can turn it off and there are a thousand other places to go.
It is too easy to forget that in this era where most people only visit the same few sites over and over again. Indeed, there is a certain myopia surrounding social media. It centers on the assumption that without this platform or that one, the world stops. I am sure that Meta and Twitter would like you to beleive that. It isn’t true, though. It never was, and it never will be.
A very rich man-child, patron saint of other man-children and their assembled throngs, bought Twitter yesterday (assuming the red-tape is cleared). If you were on Twitter you might have either thought the world was ending or the second-coming was nigh. Ultimately, neither are true. Twitter will continue to putter along. For some, things will not change. For others, harassment will get worse. There will be some who leave3. Others will stay and watch the platform make pivot after pivot trying to stay relevant and profitable most likely by further exploiting those users who remain4.
Unless your profit margin is directly tied to Twitter (in which case you were already in a bad place), that should be the end of it. I know we want to hold these platforms up as some Habermasian public spehere, but they are not. They are private companies funded by the worst people in the world. They’re not even really tech companies. They’re marketing firms ran by finance bros.
There are other places to share and communicate. You can even create your own places for almost nothing or literally nothing. We need more of that. I don’t always agree with Eli Pariser, but his comments on Twitter in the New Public Newsletter and his thoughts on the need for more online parks (mixed public and private online spaces with robust tools for proper control and stewardship) are spot on. Change is happening. Blogs and websites never really went away despite all the effort to say they did. There are federated social media spaces (I have one!) that allow for image sharing and micro-blogging with solid tools for content moderation and filtering. There are newsletters and podcasts and matrix and discord servers. Heck, IRC is still going strong in some circles. It’s not like giant social media is dead, but it isn’t the only game out there.
I don’t worry about Twitter because I don’t have to worry about Twitter. It could turn off tomorrow and my life would be no different - maybe even better. I do worry about Twitter’s employees who now work for someone with a track record of worker abuse and mismanagement. I worry about those who will be victimized by right wing hate mobs that were actively organizing on Twitter even before Musk and who only feel more empowered now that he has purchased the company. I do think that Musk and his financiers have a lot of challenges ahead. Musk bought a platform that has been struggling to manage the impossible. His promised fixes are laughable, but also exactly what should be expected from someone who is so removed from any practical point of view as to be an alien. Twitter has a ton of challenges to overcome in the next decade, and adding Elon to the mix only compounds them.
Luckily, Twitter is not my circus and the hate mobs that use it are not my monkeys . I can just open another application and move on with my life.
Sun Microsystems was a really cool technology company that built server and network hardware and software in the early days of the Internet. They were eaten by Oracle - a company known for for forcing the fork of multiple open source projects that they came to be in control of through their acquisitions. In short, I am not a fan of Oracle for so many reasons. ↩︎
Apparently, CloudFlare has trademarked the phrase because of course they have. ↩︎
This what I am doing. Twitter was rapidly becoming the equivalent of Meta for me. I have an account, but I log in rarely and never post or interact. I expect that is how it will remain. ↩︎
If the past is any indicator of the present. ↩︎