the end of the timeline era

Glenn Fleishman:

With Mastodon, you’re not dealing with a giant, faceless company — or a constantly in-your-face CEO — making arbitrary decisions that are often impossible to understand or appeal. Instead, you join a Mastodon server — called an instance — run by an individual, company, or organization.

An individual, company, or organization equally free to make arbitrary decisions that are often impossible to understand or appeal. In a related article Fleishman writes,

Each Fediverse instance is its own Little Prince world that can choose to engage with other servers through federation, the interchange of information stored locally with other servers remotely. There’s no one in charge and no single place to go for definitive truth about the network.

“There’s no one in charge” on Mastodon-as-such, because Mastodon-as-such is just some open-source software, but there is very definitely someone in charge on any instance you join, and whoever that is can ban you any time for any reason or none. You can only escape that by creating your own instance of Mastodon, which possibly 0.01% of its users have the chops and resources to do.

Mastodon has certain virtues, at least for some, but let’s not attribute to it powers it does not have. In almost every respect Mastodon functions precisely as Twitter did, with, as I have said before, every single one of Twitter’s perverse incentives. And if you’re not running your own instance you’re not one whit less vulnerable than you were in Elon World.

People who are tempted by Mastodon should at least consider this from Luke: “I’m on Mastodon, but I’m bored of what I call ‘the timeline era.’ Scanning an unending stream of disconnected posts for topics of interest is no longer fun, I prefer deciding what to read based on titles, or topic-based discussion.” There are more things on the internet, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your timeline. And off the internet: far, far more.


The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok | Cory Doctorow

Here is how platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a “two-sided market,” where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them. 

A scathing and utterly compelling treatise, dedicated chiefly to pointing out the comprehensively obvious fact — which hundreds of millions of people seem determined not to face — that TikTok obeys the same enshittifying logic as every other social media platform: “TikTok … is just another paperclip-maximizing artificial colony organism that treats human beings as inconvenient gut flora. TikTok is only going to funnel free attention to the people it wants to entrap until they are entrapped, then it will withdraw that attention and begin to monetize it.” Ergo: “It’s too late to save TikTok. Now that it has been infected by enshittifcation, the only thing left is to kill it with fire.” Q.E.D. 

‘Luddite’ Teens Don’t Want Your Likes – The New York Times:

For the first time, she experienced life in the city as a teenager without an iPhone. She borrowed novels from the library and read them alone in the park. She started admiring graffiti when she rode the subway, then fell in with some teens who taught her how to spray-paint in a freight train yard in Queens. And she began waking up without an alarm clock at 7 a.m., no longer falling asleep to the glow of her phone at midnight. Once, as she later wrote in a text titled the “Luddite Manifesto,” she fantasized about tossing her iPhone into the Gowanus Canal. 



why liberals should read smart conservatives

Liberals should read smart conservatives not because they need to be convinced by conservative arguments — though let’s face it, sometimes they do — but rather because conservatives frame issues differently than liberals do. They describe the conditions of history, and the circumstances of our debates, in a language that’s strange to liberals. And dealing with these alternative framings can be very clarifying indeed. 

An example: in The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties Christopher Caldwell argues that the grief over the assassination of President Kennedy led to more sweeping legislation than JFK himself would have dared to pursue: “A welfare state expanded by Medicare and Medicaid, the vast mobilization of young men to fight the Vietnam War, but, above all, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts — these were all memorials to a slain ruler, resolved in haste over a few months in 1964 and 1965 by a people undergoing a delirium of national grief.” And he then claims that this set in motion a dramatic transformation of the American legal and political order — a transformation that we have inherited: 

The changes of the 1960s, with civil rights at their core, were not just a major new element in the Constitution. They were a rival constitution, with which the original one was frequently incompatible — and the incompatibility would worsen as the civil rights regime was built out. Much of what we have called “polarization” or “incivility” in recent years is something more grave — it is the disagreement over which of the two constitutions shall prevail: the de jure constitution of 1788, with all the traditional forms of jurisprudential legitimacy and centuries of American culture behind it; or the de facto constitution of 1964, which lacks this traditional kind of legitimacy but commands the near-unanimous endorsement of judicial elites and civic educators and the passionate allegiance of those who received it as a liberation. The increasing necessity that citizens choose between these two orders, and the poisonous conflict into which it ultimately drove the country, is what this book describes.

Now, it is probably true that only someone who questions the wisdom of “the de facto constitution of 1964” would frame our recent history in this way; but it is certainly true that this framing is powerfully illuminating: it yields insight into both the nature and the intensity of our current political differences. You may not interpret or judge those differences as Caldwell does, but even so, he has presented their causes in ways that ought to earn your assent. 

Another example: Mary Harrington is not just a conservative, she is a self-described reactionary. But some of her recent work is, like that of Caldwell, extremely useful, especially her argument — in, for instance, this essay, which has many links to her earlier work — that what I have called Left Purity Culture (see the LPC tag at the bottom of this post) operates as a kind of de-personalized and even de-humanized swarm. And in certain recent controversies, especially the ones involving Twitter, that swarm is confronted by a version of what she calls Caesarism: 

The Biden administration is fond of talking about “democracy” versus “autocracy”, but it might be more accurate to talk about swarmism and Caesarism. Swarmism is a kind of post-democratic democracy: a mutant form of liberal proceduralism, characterised by collective decision-making in which no one is ever individually accountable. Instead, consequential decisions are as far as possible pushed out to supposedly neutral procedures or even machines. When NGO officials whom you can’t vote out of your political ecosystem talk about “our democracy”, they’re talking about swarmism.

Caesarism, on the other hand, looks substantially the same at lower levels. The main difference is that you get named humans in key decision-making roles — complete with human partiality, eccentricity, and occasional fallibility. Twitter was, until recently, a key vector of elite swarmism. And to swarmists, such rule by a named individual, rather than a collective and some committee-generated “guidelines”, is by definition morally wrong. This core assumption oozes, for example, from this report on the takeover, with its empathetic depiction of the anonymous, collegiate collective of sacked Trust and Safety workers sharply contrasted with the autocratic, erratic individual Elon Musk. 

This, like Caldwell’s framing of American history since the 1960s, is not just interesting but useful. It helps me to think about the structure, as it were, of the debates over Twitter. Now, I might prefer a swarm to a Caesar — and Harrington herself doesn’t see anyone to support here: “I’m not cheerleading for Musk as Caesar. Just because I dislike faceless proceduralism doesn’t mean I have much appetite to see political authority gathered into the mercurial hands of a transhumanist billionaire who wants to implant microchips in human brains.” But whether you take the swarm’s side or Caesar’s side or no side at all, this is a very helpful way of describing the conflict, and is a description that neither a a swarmist nor a Caesarist would have been likely to discern. 

Ezra Klein: “A town square controlled by one man isn’t a town square. It’s a storefront, an art project or possibly a game preserve.” Yep. 

oh, okay, one more post

On these matters. This from Roald Dahl’s story “The Great Automatic Grammatizator” (1952): 

“That’s exactly it, Mr Bohlen! That’s where the machine comes in. Listen a minute, sir, while I tell you some more. I’ve got it all worked out. The big magazines are carrying approximately three fiction stories in each issue. Now, take the fifteen most important magazines—the ones paying the most money. A few of them are monthlies, but most of them come out every week. All right. That makes, let us say, around forty big stories being bought each week. That’s forty thousand dollars. So with our machine—when we get it working properly—we can collar nearly the whole of this market!” 

“My dear boy, you’re mad!”

“No, sir, honestly, it’s true what I say. Don’t you see that with volume alone we’ll completely overwhelm them! This machine can produce a five-thousand-word story, all typed and ready for dispatch, in thirty seconds. How can the writers compete with that? I ask you, Mr Bohlen, how?”

At that point, Adolph Knipe noticed a slight change in the man’s expression, an extra brightness in the eyes, the nostrils distending, the whole face becoming still, almost rigid. Quickly, he continued. “Nowadays, Mr Bohlen, the hand-made article hasn’t a hope. It can’t possibly compete with mass-production, especially in this country — you know that. Carpets … chairs … shoes … bricks … crockery … anything you like to mention — they’re all made by machinery now. The quality may be inferior, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the cost of production that counts. And stories — well — they’re just another product, like carpets and chairs, and no one cares how you produce them so long as you deliver the goods. We’ll sell them wholesale, Mr Bohlen! We’ll undercut every writer in the country! We’ll corner the market!”

In Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, he acknowledges that he was wrong to say, as he was perhaps the first to do, that to the social media platforms you are not the customer but the product. Rather, he now argues, the company’s stock is the product; you are the unpaid labor that increases the value of that product.

Megan McArdle, arguing that trying to use social media’s moderators to crack down on misinformation isn’t a good idea:

For one thing, moderators aren’t good at determining what constitutes actual misinformation. A lot of the dangerous nonsense about covid that circulated on social media came from the same public health experts social media companies were using as arbiters.

It was public health experts who initially told us masks don’t work, an assertion they knew to be false. It was public health experts who insisted, without good evidence, that covid wasn’t airborne. And many public health experts helped support prolonged school closures that have been proven to undermine learning.

That is not to say that public health experts are the moral or intellectual equivalent of quacks peddling balderdash about vaccine side effects. The public health community eventually recognized its most egregious errors, while the quacks doubled down. But free and open debate on social media assisted that process of course correction, and cracking down on what the experts then deemed false information would actually have slowed the pace of adjustment.

It’s very hard not to laugh at this: Twitter-addicted journalists decamping for Mastodon only to resume, immediately, their familiar habits of bullying, shaming, proclaiming their victimhood, and Trying to Get Management To Take Their Side. As I have said: “Which way I fly is Hellsite; myself am Hellsite….” 

Another book to read:

Gal Beckerman, too, is interested in political talk. His new book, The Quiet Before, is essentially a history of conversation, beginning in seventeenth-century France and ending in modern-day Cairo, Charlottesville, Miami, and Minneapolis. Beckerman concentrates not on the revolutionary moment, though — the capture of the Bastille, say, or Fidel Castro’s triumphant arrival in Havana — but on the antecedents of transformative political change. “The incubation of radical new ideas,” he writes, “is a very distinct process with certain conditions: a tight space, lots of heat, passionate whispering, and a degree of freedom to work toward a common, focused aim.”

The conversations that he documents occur not just in person — indeed, rarely in person — but through letters, petitions, newspapers, manifestos, samizdat journals, and feminist zines. And they take place, these days, on social media. Whether this constitutes a continuation of the radical tradition or its negation is a — perhaps the — crucial question that Beckerman explores. We know of the Twitter ranters, Facebook trolls, and Instagram influencers, but where are the passionate whisperers of today?

Mastodonic thoughts

After a brief period on Mastodon: It’s exactly like Twitter. People have taken all their Twitter habits — lecturing, hectoring, making demands, sneering, mocking, belittling, preening, self-congratulating — and transferred them unchanged to a new platform. No one, it appears, learned anything from what even they called the “hellsite.”

Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hellsite; myself am Hellsite;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hellsite I suffer seems a Heaven.
O, then, at last relent! Is there no place
Left for wisdom, none for kindness left?
None left but by deletion….

Account deleted.

UPDATE 2022-11-22: It occurs to me that when Mastodon decided to implement its version of the retweet (they call it the “boost”) its fate as Undead Twitter was sealed. If you could blame only one thing for the ruination of Twitter, it should be the RT. The RT is a frictionless way to spread whatever arouses users emotionally, and what arouses users emotionally is almost always something deceitful and/or malicious. The RT is the death of charity, the death of peace, the death of truth. And therefore for me the death of Mastodon.

Ian Bogost:

If Twitter does fail, either because its revenue collapses or because the massive debt that Musk’s deal imposes crushes it, the result could help accelerate social media’s decline more generally. It would also be tragic [me: tragic?] for those who have come to rely on these platforms, for news or community or conversation or mere compulsion. Such is the hypocrisy of this moment. The rush of likes and shares felt so good because the age of zero comments felt so lonely — and upscaling killed the alternatives a long time ago, besides.

If change is possible, carrying it out will be difficult, because we have adapted our lives to conform to social media’s pleasures and torments. It’s seemingly as hard to give up on social media as it was to give up smoking en masse, like Americans did in the 20th century. Quitting that habit took decades of regulatory intervention, public-relations campaigning, social shaming, and aesthetic shifts. At a cultural level, we didn’t stop smoking just because the habit was unpleasant or uncool or even because it might kill us. We did so slowly and over time, by forcing social life to suffocate the practice. That process must now begin in earnest for social media.

Home invasion:

For those of us who have been using Mastodon for a while (I started my own Mastodon server 4 years ago), this week has been overwhelming. I’ve been thinking of metaphors to try to understand why I’ve found it so upsetting. This is supposed to be what we wanted, right? Yet it feels like something else. Like when you’re sitting in a quiet carriage softly chatting with a couple of friends and then an entire platform of football fans get on at Jolimont Station after their team lost. They don’t usually catch trains and don’t know the protocol. They assume everyone on the train was at the game or at least follows football. They crowd the doors and complain about the seat configuration.

It’s not entirely the Twitter people’s fault. They’ve been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago. It was part of the reason many moved to Mastodon in the first place. This means there’s been a jarring culture clash all week as a huge murmuration of tweeters descended onto Mastodon in ever increasing waves each day. To the Twitter people it feels like a confusing new world, whilst they mourn their old life on Twitter. They call themselves “refugees,” but to the Mastodon locals it feels like a busload of Kontiki tourists just arrived, blundering around yelling at each other and complaining that they don’t know how to order room service. We also mourn the world we’re losing. 

I’m a bit concerned about — I don’t use Mastodon — for just this reason. That’s why I wrote a few months ago, “On, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.” 


The Struggle With The Audience:

By 2020, [Sam] Carter was a battle-hardened veteran of the music scene. He’d been making records with this group for twelve years, and Architects had had enough success not to worry too much about negative reactions to new material. It was also quickly apparent that Creatures was going to be a big hit. Despite all this, he found the reaction to hard to deal with: “It was doing huge numbers on the streaming services, but all I could see were these horrible comments.” On YouTube and Instagram, the negative reactions become increasingly extreme as people competed to make the most negative comment. “It’s hard, when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, and someone says, ‘I’m never listening to your band again, you’ve ruined it’.”

Carter then makes a striking assertion. If social media had come along earlier, he says, “Sergeant Pepper wouldn’t exist. The most important records of our time wouldn’t exist.” 

This whole essay by Ian Leslie is great, and a useful counterpart to my post the other day about the challenges of chasing eyeballs. 

However, there’s another side to the story of artists and their audiences. My buddy Austin Kleon wrote last week

One reason I feel so lucky to be an independent writer with a great audience: I don’t answer to any shareholders but readers. I don’t have to grow my business if I don’t want to. I can do my thing the way I want to do it for the people who want it. And I can do it the way I want to do it. 

I think Austin has this attitude because he has never tried to get famous, to go viral, all that crap; he has tried (a) to do good, honest, useful, helpful work that (b) supports his family. Turns out there’s an audience for that! And Austin can call his audience “great” because he has set a tone — a tone of generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness — and they’ve picked up on that. So maybe the lessons here are: 

  1. Do your best work. 
  2. Be kind and generous to your audience. 
  3. When they want to dictate to you, listen … but then do what you have to do to maintain your integrity and your sanity. 
  4. Accept the consequences as stoically as you can, and be grateful when those consequences are more positive than negative. 

See also: this blog’s mission statement


Since so many journalists spend most of their time on Twitter, it’s unsurprising to hear the more addicted among them now saying that other people should stay on Twitter too, Musk or no Musk. One of the most common arguments that I’ve seen goes like this: Twitter, for all its flaws, has made otherwise unheard voices of the marginalized audible, and the rest of us should hang around if only to listen to them. To which I respond:

First: Twitter made the voice of Donald Trump, and still nastier figures, even more audible. If the sound level of Black women goes up by 10db but that of Orange Man goes up 50db, I don’t call that a big win for diversity.

Second: Those marginal voices can be heard in many places other than Twitter, for anyone interested, and in some of their venues (articles in newspapers, essays in magazines, books) they articulate their experiences and their understanding of the world in considerably greater depth than they can on Twitter. If you want to become better informed while avoiding doomscrolling, RSS is ready when you are.

Third: About the attention that those marginalized voices get on Twitter — how good is that for them? On Twitter, too often attention = abuse.

Which leads me to what I think is an important question: Is more visibility always good? Is having more eyeballs on your work invariably better for you than having fewer? People reluctant to leave Twitter seem to believe that whatever you have to say or show needs to be seen by as many people as possible; but I don’t agree. One reason I left Twitter is that I was tired of getting responses from people who were (a) incapable of reading, (b) angrily malicious, or (c) both.

Now, one might reply that I could make any number of adjustments to my Twitter preferences to prevent that sort of thing — but in that case, why be on Twitter at all? It’s specifically designed for the amplification of the cruder emotions, so what’s the point of being there if you prefer to avoid the cruder emotions? Wouldn’t it make more sense go find a place to write that isn’t interested in the cruder emotions?

Because here’s the tradeoff: you can have more eyeballs, but they’ll be Sauron-like eyeballs.

“And into this Tweet he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life.” 

If you leave Twitter for less obvious places, fewer eyeballs will see your work; but if people have to make a bit of an effort to find what you write, they’re far more likely to be intelligent and receptive readers than the average Twitter user.

We all need to stop thinking arithmetically. For good and for ill, the people who make the most significant impact on the world are those who pursue what Milton called “fit audience though few.” Very few people have read Wang Huning’s academic writings, but he directs the ideological program of the Chinese Communist Party. A far more positive example, from Eno: “The first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet … everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Eno brings home the import of his comment in the sentence that follows that extremely famous one I just quoted: “Some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.” (Some of the most important things always do.) If you realize the truth of this, then maybe you won’t be quite so desperate for eyeballs.

Blogs don’t have the important place on the internet today that they once had; I know that perfectly well, and I don’t care. Those who are genuinely interested in what I have to say can find me here on the open web. Those who aren’t willing to leave Twitter to find good writing … well, God bless them. But I won’t be trying to flag them down.

so let’s chill

Noah Smith:

So, Elon Musk bought Twitter. Personally, I’m pretty sanguine about this development. It’s no secret that I think that Twitter is a uniquely dystopian feature of the modern media sphere — a bad equilibrium that traps the nation’s journalists, politicians, and intellectuals in close quarters with all the nastiest and most strident anonymous bottom-feeders. There’s a nonzero chance Musk will be able to improve this situation; if not, it’s hard to see how he could make it particularly worse. If he destroys the platform, we’ll find something else — probably a number of different somethings, which I think would be good for the media ecosystem. Our entire society was not meant to be locked in a single small room together; we need more room to spread out and be ourselves. 

This is the right take, I think. For those who haven’t seen it, here is a collection of my posts on in particular and and open web more generally. And here is a useful brief guide to getting started with blogging. 

it’s all content

Josh Owens, former employee of Alex Jones:

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet when it comes to stopping Jones. As for the trial, I think it depends on your perspective. From Jones’s perspective, he’s got very deep pockets, so does this affect him? I don’t know, but I have my doubts. He’s said he’s going to try to tie this ruling up in the appeals process. So I guess it’s up to the other judgments to incur some financial penalty that hits him where it hurts. Because you’re not going to reach his conscience. Everything bad that happens to Jones is immediately spun into his version of events. It’s all content for him. 

That’s the world we live in, friends, when we’re online. There, it’s all content. Caveat lector


I love this from Tom McWright: A script that redirects anyone who comes to his site from Hacker News to Google. He’s had enough experience with jerks who read Hacker News to make a point of sending them elsewhere. I might adapt that JavaScript to redirect people who come here from Twitter. I told a friend recently that my goal is to write posts that no one on Twitter will ever link to.

lost causes and places of hope

Better late than never, Ezra — props to you for finally coming around. But not many of your generation will. Indeed, for policy if not for personal purposes, we should probably treat everyone over thirty as a lost cause. They’ve been sucked into the black hole of social media and we won’t see them in the real world again. (“Never trust anyone over thirty,” we were told all those decades ago, and now I’m saying “Never hope for anyone over thirty.” In each case there are exceptions, though maybe not enough to bother with.) The key thing, then, is to save the coming generations from the conflagration, and Yuval Levin has a proposal for achieving that

another friendly reminder

Spy Vs Spy

Here’s the good news: Most Americans are not hateful conspiracy-theorists who want to destroy their wrongthinking neighbors.

Here’s the bad news: The hateful conspiracy-theorists who want to destroy their wrongthinking neighbors dominate social media – they’re on it all the time. They toil not, neither do they spin, but they never stop posting and tweeting and reposting and retweeting and shitposting and shittweeting.

And here’s more bad news: the professional media make bank by showcasing the hateful conspiracy-theorists who want to destroy their wrongthinking neighbors – and they too never stop their destructive work. There is a malice there that does not sleep.

But – finally – here’s more good news:

  1. You can stop reading Twitter and Facebook, you can stop watching TV “news,” you can stop listening to loudmouthed podcasters.
  2. You can change your news consumption to a weekly cycle rather than a daily – or hourly – one.
  3. You can spend more time with monthly or quarterly periodicals; you can read books — even old books. 
  4. You can also listen to music, ideally music not served up to you algorithmically. Buy one CD or vinyl record per month and listen to it all the way through, multiple times. Retrain your attention.
  5. Go outside as often as you can, ideally without devices. Work in the yard, or just walk around. Pause occasionally to take a few deep breaths. When you come back in, do not head straight for your device; instead, make a cup of tea, straighten your shelves, or pray.

We can do this! 

decline and fall

TikTok and the Fall of the Social-Media Giants: A very interesting post by Cal Newport. His thesis is, essentially, as follows: TikTok’s popularity has alarmed Facebook — a company that has a history of forgetting what it does well in order to chase immediate relevance — and as a result Facebook is neglecting to consolidate its advantage in the “social graph.” The result will inevitably be a further and more precipitous decline in Facebook’s influence — but it is also unlikely that TikTok itself will remain as dominant as it is. 

As Newport says in an accompanying blog post, “If platforms like Facebook and Instagram abandon their social graphs to pursue this cybernetic TikTok model, they’ll lose their competitive advantage. Subject, all at once, to the fierce competitive pressures of the mobile attention economy, it’s unclear whether they can survive without this protection.” Thus: “If TikTok acts as the poison pill that finally cripples the digital dictators that for so long subjugated the web 2.0 revolution, we just might be left with more breathing room for smaller, more authentic, more human online engagements.” 

Well, let’s hope so. I’d love to see a future in which the algorithmic social-media domination of our online lives ended, and we return to online life at a more human scale. But how likely is that? We know that the venture capitalists and angel investors don’t want moderate successes — they want The Next Enormous Thing. Will they get it? I think it all hinges on how strongly people respond to VR environments. 

Yes, Social Media Really Is Undermining Democracy – The Atlantic:

Social media may not be the primary cause of polarization, but it is an important cause, and one we can do something about. I believe it is also the primary cause of the epidemic of structural stupidity, as I called it, that has recently afflicted many of America’s key institutions.

A good response by Jon Haidt to critics of his work, one that calls upon many new studies. I mean, if you’re not yet convinced. 

Andy Crouch:

What I say to students is, you are not unhealthy people in a normal world, despite these statistics that show how anxious, lonely, and depressed young adults are. What you are is normal people in an unhealthy world. It’s not healthy to be anxious, lonely, and depressed, but it is a natural response to a world that is not asking you to become anything, and is not giving you confidence that you can overcome difficulty — one that’s dissociating the different parts of you, compelling you to spend a good part of your time with your body disengaged and your mind occupied. It’s totally understandable that our young people are experiencing such distress, because the world we’re asking them to live in — this world of easy everywhere — this world of superpowers, is not good for them. It would be very odd if, in this world, people were doing just fine. It’s not at all surprising that they’re struggling and feeling disconnected. 

You can be almost certain that people who sneer with ready contempt at today’s college students don’t spend much time around them. Our young people have been given a raw deal, and most of them play it better than we have any right to expect. And the ones who don’t? They’re twenty years old. How put-together were you at age twenty? 


This long post by Jesse Singal makes one key point perfectly clear: People on Twitter may know that 10,000 alarmist posts about their political enemies have been thoroughly debunked and discredited, but when that ten-thousand-and-first comes along they’ll instantly retweet it and add, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS CRAP???” And of course the lies will get a hundred times the exposure of the corrections. We all do well to remember Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth”:

Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “Truth is mighty and will prevail” — the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved. For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidences that a truth is not hard to kill, and that a lie well told is immortal. There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years. An awkward, feeble, leaky lie is a thing which you ought to make it your unceasing study to avoid; such a lie as that has no more real permanence than an average truth. Why, you might as well tell the truth at once and be done with it. A feeble, stupid, preposterous lie will not live two years — except it be a slander upon somebody. It is indestructible, then, of course, but that is no merit of yours.


The Woes of Being Addicted to Streaming Services | Pitchfork:

I feel unsettled when I stream music on Spotify. Maybe you feel that way, too. Even though it has all the music I’ve ever wanted, none of it feels necessarily rewarding, emotional, or personal. I pay a nominal fee for this privilege, knowing that essentially none of it will reach the artists I am listening to. I have unfettered access to an abundance of songs I genuinely love, along with an abundance of great songs I’ve never heard before, but I can’t shake the eerie feeling that the options before me are almost too perfect. I have personalized my experience enough to feel like this is my music, but I know that’s not really true — it’s simply a fabricated reality meant to replace the random contours of life outside the app. 

Jeremy Larson here covers some familiar territory in his descriptions of the distressing things that the streaming services do to musicians’ careers, but I’m more interested in the parts (like the above quote) that describe how streaming services mess with the experience of listeners

For what it’s worth, as I have, over the past year, spent less and less time on my digital devices, I have almost completely stopped streaming music. I listen to LPs and CDs, and reconnecting with those older technologies has had a wonderfully enlivening effect on my experience of music. I regularly do something now I haven’t done for years: listen to al album all the way through for several days in a row. I love it. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever go back to streaming. 

reification and metaphysical capitalism

I’ve written occasionally here about what I call “metaphysical capitalism” — see the relevant tag at the bottom of this post — but one thing I have neglected to note is that one of the most powerful elements of the Marxist critique of capitalism has been the argument that it is the nature of modern capitalism to extend its understanding of the world into the personal, the emotional, the spiritual — in general the metaphysical realm. 

A key text here is George Lukács’s famous essay on “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” where he writes of “the split between the worker’s labour-power and his personality, its metamorphosis into a thing, an object that he sells on the market.” This happens in varying ways in the varying professions of the capitalism world; for instance, in any bureaucracy: 

The specific type of bureaucratic ‘conscientiousness’ and impartiality, the individual bureaucrat’s inevitable total subjection to a system of relations between the things to which he is exposed, the idea that it is precisely his ‘honour’ and his ‘sense of responsibility’ that exact this total submission all this points to the fact that the division of labour which in the case of Taylorism invaded the psyche, here invades the realm of ethics. 

And when Taylorism conquers both the psyche and ethics, we get self-Taylorizing — the complete internalization of metaphysical capitalism and the consequent redescription of a condition of enslavement as a condition of self-making. People come to believe that they’re expressing themselves on social media when in fact they’re doing Mark Zuckerberg’s bidding for free. They’re like Eloi thinking that they’re the masters of the Morlocks when in fact they’re merely food. 

What I found especially interesting in my re-read of Lukács (for the first time in many years) is his demonstration that this commodification of the human person goes back a long way, much longer than we might typically think. For instance, he notes that in the Metaphysics of Morals (1797) Kant defines sex and marriage in the most commodified way imaginable: “Sexual community is the reciprocal use made by one person of the sexual organs and faculties of another,” while marriage “is the union of two people of different sexes with a view to the mutual possession of each other’s sexual attributes for the duration of their lives.” Lukács comments, “This rationalisation of the world appears to be complete, it seems to penetrate the very depths of man’s physical and psychic nature.” It’s capitalism all the way down. 

I am anything but a Marxist, but it’s important for me to realize (however belatedly) that some of my own recent arguments were anticipated by Marxist thinkers a hundred years ago. I should probably be making better use of that critique — if not of their suggestions for what should replace capitalism. 

the glazing of eyes

The older I get, the more common this experience becomes: finding that I am simply unable to read essays and articles on certain topics. I may, out of a sense of duty, begin to read something on these topics, but almost immediately my eyes begin to wander, or to glaze over. I strive to refocus; I re-read the same few sentences; but before long my mind has wandered elsewhere. Eventually I give up.

I used to be able to read about some of these things, but the way The Discourse asymptotically approaches the point of absolute stupidity — a stupidity than which no stupider can be conceived — has now rendered my brain dysfunctional w/r/t the following:

  • Critical race theory
  • Trans issues
  • Productivity
  • Burnout
  • The New Right
  • Denominational break-ups and church splits
  • Elon Musk
  • And, now of course, abortion (The Discourse around which has always been brain-dead, but was usually avoidable)

That is of course only a partial list, but it seems to cover about 90% of what I’m seeing in news periodicals these days.

One nice feature of Feedbin is the ability to create actions based on filters. So, for instance, I have just created an action to set any new article that contains the word “abortion” as read; that way it won’t show up in my “unread” feed, which is the only feed I look at. A couple of weeks ago I created a similar action for the term “Elon Musk”; I had already targeted posts that have “Burnout” or “Productivity” in their titles — if the Bad Words are not in the actual title then maybe their use in the text is innocuous. We’ll see how it goes; I’ll adjust as necessary. Keeping my sanity requires constant vigilance — unless I want to go offline altogether, which, believe me, I often consider.

On the other side, things I find that I want to read more about these days:

  • China, present and past, especially religion in China
  • Daoism
  • Anarchism
  • Infrastructure
  • Materials science
  • Scientific innovation, especially regarding climate-change mitigation
  • Water, and places where it is (a) scarce or (b) overabundant
  • Late antiquity in the West
  • … and one more topic I’ll talk about in a future post.

Mainly, though, I want to read more novels.

[I thought I had this post scheduled to go out tomorrow, but obviously I messed up. Consider this, then, a proleptic disclosure of the eschaton.]

a bit of advice

Elon Musk’s imminent purchase of Twitter has a good many people scurrying for the exits, and some of them are coming to — which is awesome! I’ve written often here about, and here’s a selection:

But let me add a bit of advice for those who are coming to from Twitter: You need to leave Twitter behind altogether. isn’t Twitter and doesn’t want to be.

Let’s start with this: on Twitter it’s hard not to be aware of your follower count; on you cannot know how many people are following you. Moreover, there is no re-post button. If people want to link to your micro-post they have to do so manually, by copying the link and inserting it into their own post. Similarly: there is no like button. If you like someone’s post you have to reply to them to say so. And: there is no algorithmic feed — it’s just chronological, there’s no other option.

What all this adds up to: On, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.

And that’s why it’s great.

So if you’re coming over from Twitter, please try to leave your Twitter habits and reflexes behind. They won’t help you at

UPDATE: Here are some brief thoughts about Mastodon, which, by contrast, is exactly like Twitter, in all the bad ways.

Elon Musk could become the world’s greatest hero by buying Twitter and then immediately shutting it down.

Seriously, it would be a revelatory moment. Ninety percent of the people who shitpost on Twitter would just start shitposting on Facebook and after a few days wouldn’t remember that Twitter had ever existed. But ten percent would have a fighting chance of finding something better to do with their time.

UPDATE: Now that the deal is done — probably? — I think one of the biggest immediate consequences is a dramatic upturn in the use of text-replacement apps by journalists. Can you imagine writing this piece if you had to type all the scare quotes around “free speech” with your own fingers? Hello RSI therapy.


Ive got a 2c60d24a7e

I got a lot of problems with you people, and you know what the top one is? Many of you are possessed by demons. Or at least oppressed by them. And it needs to stop.

But as always, the first step is acknowledging that you’re afflicted by powerful forces beyond your control. So I try to lay out my demonology in this essay.

You’re welcome.

rules, consent, virtues

Leah Libresco Sargeant:

The search for the perfect rule or set of safety settings does remind me of Christine Emba’s Rethinking Sex. As she told me during our conversation, the modern culture around sex is marked by a broken promise. Many of her interviewees had a sense that, if you find the right rules, sex can only be good, and you and a stranger will never have to know each other or reveal yourselves to each other in order to feel good about what you do with each other. The rules (“two enthusiastically consenting adults”) will keep you safe.

But there’s no end run around character formation, and no checklist of consent items that lets us get around the fact that we are interacting with another human being, not a preference menu. 

Christine’s book sounds absolutely brilliant, and I very much look forward to reading it. Leah’s conversation with Christine — I know both of them, thus the first names — is fascinating also. Such vital voices! 

I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Injured Parties

I have an essay in the new Hedgehog Review — behind a paywall, but shouldn’t you subscribe? Yes indeed you should. The essay is called “Injured Parties,” and it begins thus:

In 1923, the American movie star Dorothy Davenport lost her husband, the actor and director Wallace Reid, to an early death resulting from complications of morphine addiction. After the tragedy, Davenport took up the job — an unusual one for a woman in Hollywood in that era — of film producer. Starting with Human Wreckage, a movie about the dangers of drug addiction that appeared just months after Reid’s death, Mrs. Wallace Reid, as she now called herself, oversaw a series of films on pressing social issues. For instance, the third one she produced, and which she personally introduced in a prologue, The Red Kimono (1925), portrays the dark personal and social consequences of prostitution.

All of Davenport’s moral-crusading films were popular, but also controversial: Some were banned by the British Board of Film Censors and by the guardians of public morals in many American cities. The Red Kimono had other problems, though, problems related to one Gabrielle Darley. Darley was a young woman who in the second decade of the twentieth century had worked as a prostitute in Arizona for a pimp named Leonard Tropp. She fell in love with him and they moved to Los Angeles, where she gave him money to buy a wedding ring — for herself, she thought, but in fact Tropp planned to marry another woman. When Darley discovered this, she shot Tropp dead. In 1918, she was put on trial for murder, but had the great good fortune of being represented by an exceptionally eloquent defense attorney named Earl Rogers — a close friend of William Randolph Hearst — who presented her as having been, before meeting Tropp, “as pure as the snow atop Mount Wilson.” The jury couldn’t get enough of this kind of thing and enthusiastically acquitted Darley.

One of the journalists covering the trial was Rogers’s daughter, Adela Rogers St. Johns, who was already well on her way to earning her unofficial title as “World’s Greatest Girl Reporter.” (For many years she worked for Hearst newspapers, and may have reached the height of her fame in her reporting on the 1935 trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for kidnapping and murdering the young son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.) She wrote a short story, based on the trial, called “The Red Kimono.” It caught the attention of Dorothy Davenport, who immediately commissioned a screenplay and started filming. The name she chose for the film’s protagonist? Gabrielle Darley. 

I describe Darley’s claim to having been defamed by the film — to being injured reputationally — and the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court of California in her favor. 

From there I go on to explore the meaning of defamation and how it has changed over time, with a particular focus on the early modern period, during which, as I learned from reading that wonderful scholar Debora Shuger, defamation was very differently understood. I indulge my suspicion that we — immured in a social-media environment for which defamation is more or less the coin of the realm — might have a few things to learn from that era, and also from Erving Goffman. Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it all holds together. I think. Ultimately I am trying to imagine charity as both a legal and a social concept. The point of the essay is not to settle any current issues but rather, by looking into the past, to discover alternative and superior moral vocabularies with which to address our disagreements. 

Subscribe and read, please! 


Czeslaw Milosz, from Unattainable Earth (1987):

I don’t like the Western way of thinking. I could say: the way Western intellectuals think, but then I would pass over the transformation that has occurred during the last few decades. And the transformation (not a sudden one, though suddenly present, like pubescence or senility) consists in the disappearance of a distinction between the enlightened — the knowledgeable, the progressive, the mentally liberated — and the so-called masses. That great schism has ended and we are returned to a unified world view, as was the case in the Middle Ages when a theologian, a cooper and a field hand believed the same things. Schools, television and newspapers have allied themselves to turn minds in the direction desired by the liberal intelligentsia, and so the victory came: an image of the world which is in force for all of us, under a penalty equivalent to the ancient penalties of pillory and stake: that is, ridicule.

Indeed, this project of unification, and ridicule for dissent, continued and, thanks to the panopticon of social media, intensified. But the attempt to impose Left Purity Culture seems finally to have generated a significant resistance, on several fronts.

Still, for “the knowledgeable, the progressive, the mentally liberated,” is this really such a bad thing? As long as they control the levers of cultural and economic power, isn’t it kind of nice to have the canaille to despise? Especially since, as I have often noted, the primary point of any purity culture is not to achieve specific social or political or moral goals, but to enforce ritual gestures that clearly distinguish those Inside from those Outside. Distinctions for the sake of tribalism simpliciter, not in service to any perceived good.

Thus Freddie deBoer’s recent post on definitional collapse:

Our moment is one in which anything is possible because nothing means anything. Every last set of orienting principles in politics is being dissolved in the acid bath of culture war, before our very eyes. I am telling you: never in my lifetime have political terms meant less. You can easily imagine a world where vaccine skepticism was left-coded — indeed, in the Trump years it was! — but in this particular reality your thoughts on vaccines overrule your feelings about the means of production. That condition is the product of pure contingency, chance; there is no a priori reason the left-of-center would treat vaccination status as a definitional landmark. But right now that is what yelling people yell about, and there is no ideology anymore, no ideas, only Yooks and Zooks.

In other words there is a vacuum of meaning, in our politics, and the really scary question is what will fill it.

What will happen if we get a genuine strongman, of the Right or the Left — that is, a politician shrewd and competent enough to stimulate and direct the forces of tribalism, and to put the government in service to those forces? (Trump sort of wanted to do this but wasn’t smart or focused enough.) We may ultimately be grateful for social media as an outlet for both ressentiment and bullying — people absorbed by fighting online may not have the time or energy for meaningful political action — but if a strongman ever takes over this country, I, like Freddie, doubt that more than a tiny minority of people will be capable of meaningful (as opposed to merely symbolic) resistance.

Daring Fireball:

Spotify isn’t just trying to become the biggest name in podcasting (which has heretofore been, but may no longer be, Apple). They’re trying to usurp podcasting as we know it — one of the last and brightest bastions of the open, simple, private, transparent internet — and turn it into a privately-owned, gated, complicated, invasive, utterly closed platform. Spotify is trying to do to podcasting what Facebook did to “having your own website”.

Senator Josh Hawley:

To start, large social media companies should be required to become interoperable with one another: Just as you can email someone who uses a different email provider than your own, you should be able to contact and engage with individuals across different social media platforms. In the same vein, large social media companies should be required to permit the use of alternate filtering and sorting algorithms — democratizing content moderation by allowing users to choose which content they wish to view or block, rather than relying on the black-box internal processes of an individual, hyper-concentrated company. 

Agreed, except that the first point is potentially in tension with the second. Perhaps should be forced to become interoperable with Twitter, but I should also be able to set my account so that I will never see anything that anyone on Twitter says to me — which is precisely the setting I would choose. 

attentional norms

Me at the Hog Blog on “attentional norms” and Zoom:

It has been interesting to watch over the last two pandemic years as the norms associated with videoconferencing have coalesced. My experience strongly suggests that the attention level expected on Zoom (and other videoconferencing platforms) is quite remarkably low — medieval-churchgoing low. Obviously, there will be exceptions to this norm — no one feels free to look away when the Boss is giving a speech — but I can’t remember the last time I was on a Zoom call in which participants were not regularly cutting their video and audio, or just their audio, to talk to people in the room with them. Or they just walk out of frame for a few minutes. Or they type away furiously on Slack or email or WhatsApp or iMessage. And no one who does this acts inappropriately, because such fidgeting and alternations of attention are permitted by the norms that have emerged. 

It’s fascinating to me how these norms emerge. No one chooses them, they just happen; and when a lot of people are using one technology, they happen quickly. As I say in the essay, they also change, but they seem to change a lot more slowly than they emerge; and there’s nothing any one person can do to change them. When you’re a teacher, as I am, you have to be very observant about those attentional norms and choose the technologies that match your pedagogical purposes. Because you’re wasting your time if you try to enforce norms that are different than those people have absorbed from everyone else. 

UPDATE: Everything I try to say here is said better by Rands: “Do you want to know why you’re fatigued at the end of a long day of video conferences? It’s because your brain has been straining to collect essential information that is no longer there.” 

Phatic Pharting


In Ozu’s late film Good Morning, the primary engine of conflict, which is also to say the primary engine of story, is the desire of two boys for a television. They have been forbidden to watch sumo wrestling, their great passion, in the house of some neighbors because said neighbors are thought to be overly Western and (ergo) morally unreliable. So the children demand that their parents buy them their own TV. (One common theme in Ozu’s films is the disobedience of children and a resulting annoyance in parents which rarely leads to any real discipline.) When the children persist in complaining about the lack of a television, their father tells them to shut up. He says they yammer on. But the children, reasonably enough, reply that it is the parents who yammer on, that it is in fact characteristic of adulthood to persist hour after hour in meaningless verbiage. Good morning, good evening, how are you, isn’t it a nice day, lovely weather we’re having, and so on ad nauseam. (The younger boy’s way of picking up on this adult habit is fun: When leaving someone’s house he chirps, in English, “I love you!”) In order to make their point, they decide to go on a language strike: they refuse to speak until they get their television.


On the morning after their speech fast begins, the younger of the two boys on his way to school passes a neighbor lady, who greets him warmly – but, committed to his discipline, he ignores her and continues walking. Because she had recently had a minor conflict with their mother, she becomes convinced that the boy’s parents have said things about her that leads the children to shun her. Thus a trivial disagreement intensifies and spreads through the little neighborhood.

Two things about all this are worth noting. The first is that the movie is set in a suburb of Tokyo in which people live in very close proximity to one another, but with a domestic architecture that largely imitates that of traditional Japanese houses. Which is to say that people are going in and out of one another’s homes constantly, often sliding open doors without knocking, and in so doing opening the viewer’s world to people sitting in a house on the other side of the narrow walkway that separates one domicile from another. The fact that people live in such close proximity puts them in one another’s lives on a constant basis; but the fact that there are indeed doors separating one house from another means that they often do not know precisely what is going on in their neighbors’ houses and are led to make unwarranted assumptions. Maybe we could see this as a kind of anticipatory comment on social media: See Ian Bogost’s essay “People Aren’t Meant to Talk This Much.”

The second point is this: there’s a lot of farting in this movie. All of the local boys play a game in which one presses another’s forehead, at which point the other is expected to generate a responding fart. “You’re no good,” says one boy to another who is unable to fart on command. (He tries so hard that he soils himself; his mother is frustrated at having to replace his underwear.) In another scene, a man dressing before work keeps farting, and in response to each fart his wife leans into the doorway to inquire what he needs.

The obvious implication of these two points – the boys’ perception of the chattering of adults and the persistence of farting – is that much human communication is actually non-substantive, non-informational – phatic is the term of art. Good Morning is a very funny but also a profound exposure of our need for communication, and the ways that communication can become miscommunication. The impulse to connect is, alas, a primary source of conflict — something Mark Zuckerberg will never really understand. Good Morning is a classic, one of Ozu’s few neglected masterpieces.

I don’t think that Freddie needs to, or for that matter should, reply further to any screeching about him on Twitter, but in relation to this I have a thought. Freddie writes, “To those of you who are not people I harmed in my psychotic episode in August 2017 … What do you want from me?” The answer seems to me clear: they want Freddie to keep writing, to keep publishing, to keep being in the public eye so he can be their Emmanuel Goldstein.


Marianna Spring, BBC News:

All the main social media companies say they don’t promote hate on their platforms and take action to stop it. They each have algorithms that offer us content based on things we’ve posted, liked or watched in the past. But it’s difficult to know what they push to each user.

“One of the only ways to do this is to manually create a profile and seeing the kind of rabbit hole that it might be led down by the platform itself, once you start to follow certain groups or pages,” explains social media expert Chloe Colliver, who advised me on the experiment.

So Spring set up a fake account: a man called Barry.

Like my trolls, Barry was mainly interested in anti-vax content and conspiracy theories, and followed a small amount of anti-women content. He also posted some abuse on his profile — so that the algorithms could detect from the start he had an account that used abusive language about women. But unlike my trolls, he didn’t message any women directly.

Over two weeks, I logged in every couple of days and followed recommendations, posted to Barry’s profiles, liked posts and watched videos.

After just a week, the top recommended pages to follow on both Facebook and Instagram were almost all misogynistic. By the end of the experiment, Barry was pushed more and more anti-women content by these sites — a dramatic increase from when the account had been created. Some of this content involved sexual violence, sharing disturbing memes about sex acts, and content condoning rape, harassment and gendered violence.

As I keep saying: for the social media companies, hatred isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It promotes engagement. 

David French:

We cannot be empathetic only to our allies. We cannot allow fear of law enforcement excess to deprive fellow citizens of the protection they need. And we have to recognize both that threats and harassment are always wrong and that in our present moment they’re especially dangerous. Our nation is playing with fire. It’s imperative that it stop now, or the angry and the cruel will ignite a blaze that we cannot contain.

The whole post is good and important. Always remember: there are people out there — the professional media and social media are dominated by them — who want us to hate one another, who make bank when we hate one another. Flee those people as you would flee the plague, because they are a plague. Don’t threaten them; don’t attack them; just get away from them. Don’t feed their fire with the oxygen of your attention, or else, as David says, we’re not gonna be able to extinguish those flames. 

The Greenwald has a point about the current anti-Facebook energy:

The social media giant hurts America and the world, this narrative maintains, by permitting misinformation to spread (presumably more so than cable outlets and mainstream newspapers do virtually every week); fostering body image neurosis in young girls through Instagram (presumably more so than fashion magazines, Hollywood and the music industry do with their glorification of young and perfectly-sculpted bodies); promoting polarizing political content in order to keep the citizenry enraged, balkanized and resentful and therefore more eager to stay engaged (presumably in contrast to corporate media outlets, which would never do such a thing); and, worst of all, by failing to sufficiently censor political content that contradicts liberal orthodoxies and diverges from decreed liberal Truth.

The Washington Post: “The metaverse, to Sweeney, would be an expansive, digitized communal space where users can mingle freely with brands and one another in ways that permit self-expression and spark joy.” Users mingling freely with brands — if that’s not Paradise Regained I don’t know what is.


David French:

A conservative doctor recently told me that after January 6th he “unplugged.” He stopped watching cable news. He stopped listening to talk radio. And lest he be tempted to engage in political arguments online, he deleted social media apps from his phone. He described the change as wholly positive for his life. He was happier, and his blood pressure was lower.

I had two immediate thoughts. Good for him. Bad for us. Here’s a good man who has good things to say who simply decided, “It’s not worth it.” No, not because anyone could cancel him. (He has a thriving independent practice). But because speaking his mind carried with it an unacceptable emotional cost.

As my friend Russell Moore put it in a recent newsletter, “What then ends up happening is a kind of self-cancel culture as the emotionally and spiritually healthiest people mute themselves in order to go about their lives and not deal with the pressure from those for whom these arguments are their lives.”

I hear what David and Russell are saying here, but I think there is an important unacknowledged assumption in their comments: that these emotionally and spiritually healthy people would bring their health to social media — that they would somehow change Twitter, say, without themselves being changed in the process. But as I said a few years ago, “I left Twitter because I watched people who spent a lot of time on Twitter get stupider and stupider, and it finally occurred to me that I was probably getting stupider too. And after some reflection I decided that I couldn’t afford to get any stupider.” And I could have noted not just Twitter users’ increase in stupidity over time but also their corresponding decrease in charity.

I think when we decide whether or not to invest time on a social media platform, we need to ask Michael Sacasas’s questions about technology, some of which are:

  1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
  2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?
  3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
  4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
  5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
  6. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?
  7. What practices will the use of this technology cultivate?
  8. What practices will the use of this technology displace?
  9. What will the use of this technology encourage me to notice?
  10. What will the use of this technology encourage me to ignore?

When we use technologies, those technologies change us, for the better or worse — or, sometimes, both at once. And often they change us because the people who make them want us to be a particular kind of person — the kind of person they can monetize. The kind of person on whom they can be parasitic, for their own financial benefit. Once more with feeling: social media companies need engagement, and hatred creates engagement like nothing else, so the regular Two Minutes Hate on Twitter and the incessant “hate raids” on Twitch are, for those companies, features rather than bugs. I’m sure that if they saw an easy way to get engagement solely from peace, love, and understanding, they’d intervene, but if hate gets engagement, and we can sell ads against engagement? — Then bring on the hate!

You think you can resist those technological affordances, simply decline to become the kind of person the social media companies want you to be? Maybe you can. But the Greeks called that kind of confidence hubris, and understood that what follows hubris is Nemesis.

We have countless ways to communicate with one another that do not involve the big social media companies. Let’s use them!