The collapse of Twitter

On legitimate surprise

A game that sticks in my mind is “You Are Jeff Bezos“, a free text-based adventure where you wake up as Jeff Bezos and try to spend all your (Jeff Bezos’) money. One option is “Buy Twitter and delete his account”, for 50 billion dollars. This game is from 2018, so it’s referring to the traitor in chief, scourge of democracy. A wish fulfillment fantasy.

Back here in the real world, Trump got banned in 2020, and it seemed like Elon Musk was doing the reverse, buying Twitter specifically to unban his account. That’s what I thought would happen, and perhaps it still will. What I did not expect, is whatever mess is going on now–an exodus of users, employees, and advertisers.

The surprise is worth noting. It would be easy for an Elon-hater to claim that they knew this would happen all along, but did they really? It’s okay to admit that Elon Musk surpassed expectations.

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Video essays are like blogs but more so

Blogging has been declining. I don’t have much evidence, aside from Google trends, but it’s fairly obvious from personal experience. For example, atheist blogs used to be a huge cultural force, with big celebrities and countless indie blogs, and now it’s sort of a backwater with a few networks of marginal relevance, and a mostly dead indie space. And no other blogosphere has replaced what atheist blogging once was.

Maybe his just has to do with my personal circles? As a reality check I tried looking up the question. I learned, according to Google, that blogging is bigger than ever, and is still a great way to make money by advertising your product! Okay, so I should specify that I’m not interested in all blogs, because marketing blogs can go die in a fire. I’m talking about personal blogs, and more specifically essay blogs. Essay blogs are declining, that’s what I meant.

Essays aren’t dead though, because it is now popular to present essays in video format. The video essay is a booming genre, and I for one think it’s great, for the same reason essay blogs are great.  But there are also some significant differences.

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Too many topics, not enough time

Like many writers, I have a long list of ideas that I never got around to writing about. I’m not very consistent about writing them down, but still the list gets longer and longer, until I start deleting old ideas that no longer make any sense to me. Some of them I missed the moment to write them, or they required more research than I had energy to put into it. Some of them were just bad and non-starters.

Here is a short list of ideas that I made after deleting the ones that I’m obviously never going to write about. If any of these interests you, let me know, your comment might cause it to happen!

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Blog effort justification

I hope bloggers don’t feel attacked by this…

As a blogger who is often in a position to plug articles from other blogs, I know that bloggers are like to promote the essays that they feel most proud of. And the essays they feel most proud of, are often the longest ones, the ones that they put the most effort into. However, I rarely believe these are the best essays they produce. Indeed, sometimes they are the worst.

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Two corners of the internet

Transcript: The thing to understand about the plastic crazy straw design world is that there are two main camps: The professonals--designing for established brands--and the hobbyists. The hobbyist mailing lists are full of drama, with friction between the regulars and a splinter group focused on loops... Caption: Human subcultures are nested fractally. There's no bottom.

Source: XKCD

I like to talk about what it’s like to blog, and I’ve contrasted it with other platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter. However, it should be emphasized that Tumblr and Twitter are really not that far off from blogging; I complain about them because they sit in my own personal uncanny valley of social media. We risk overgeneralizing if we only look at blogs and blog-adjacent platforms. Even XKCD’s observation about fractal subcultures seems a bit biased towards blogging, and I’m not sure it’s really accurate as a generalization.

So the purpose of this post is to explore two other forms of internet interaction, which to me seem exotic. Each of these forms of interaction is used by a member of my immediate family, and I’ve been watching how they engage with it.

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Reblogging, the root of evil

A straw on the camel’s back

“Cancel culture” is a bad and incoherent concept, run into the ground by conservatives who use it to attack any sort of cultural criticism from the left, while excusing any analogous criticism from the right. At the same time, I do see people on the left also use “cancel culture” as a way to discuss legitimately worrying problems, such as Twitter pileons. Such leftists do not necessarily accept the “cancel culture” framing uncritically, but you can’t not talk about it. You can’t talk about Twitter pileons without talking about cancel culture, because it’s burrowed into all our brains, and we’ll recognize it even if you don’t say it. And I don’t know what to do about that.

I have wondered if it might help if we just rename the problem. We’ve changed the name before; we used to call it callout culture, and now we call it cancel culture for some reason.  Although, that didn’t seem to help things at all.

Another approach is to shatter the “cancel culture” framework to pieces, and talk about the pieces individually. So, in the spirit of being the change I want to see, I will discuss just one piece: the reblog. Not really the root of evil–the title is hyperbole–but nonetheless an important structural element of the social media platforms that have it the worst.

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Blogging and ambition

When I started blogging in 2007, I had ambitions of being popular blogger with a certain amount of authority. Those ambitions burnt out within a year or two, as I realized I did not actually want to be a famous blogger, and would rather satisfy my own preferences in blogging. Why did I have such ambitions, and why did they burn out? More broadly, how do other creators experience ambition, and are there differences from my own experience?

Okay, so 2007. Towards the end of the Bush administration, when Bush reached peak disapproval. New atheism was just getting rolling, and blogs held a particularly important place in the conversation, much like lefttube or twitter hold an important place today. I was an undergrad, and had been reading blogs myself, starting with Phil Plait, Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers, and branching off into many smaller ones.

My ambition was to become as well-known as the big names, or perhaps at least one of the smaller ones. It’s hard to remember why I had this mentality, especially since I now see it as irrational. I suppose I had a lot of opinions to share, and believed my opinions were the Good Ones that would transform how we thought about stuff and resolve all the issues that bloggers argued about. I have always been very modest, and though nobody throughout my education would ever let me forget that I am “smart”, I have never felt that my opinions are super valuable just because they are my opinions. Nonetheless, in my experience reading blogs, there were countless places where I thought bloggers and other readers were missing something important, and I felt I could supply that something if only people would hear me.

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