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.