In the fall of 1998 I was working in a warehouse in Oakland and living with some friends in San Francisco. My room was basically a closet at the back of the apartment, but it had a loft with room for a futon and enough space for a small desk and my Macintosh Performa. What a delightful computer that was. 2MBs of RAM, ClarisWorks, and a Star Trek screen saver I pirated from my college roommate. Didn’t even have a modem. To access the internet, I used my roommates’ computer, a mammoth PC that lived on the kitchen table for some reason.
One day, one of my roommates said something along the lines of, hey, check this out. It’s a website called “six degrees” where you can make connections with people all over the world. To which I said, huh, that’s interesting, and then more or less forgot all about it.
I think about SixDegrees.com not infrequently. It’s sometimes referred to as the world’s first social network, one of the first websites that allowed users to create profiles and connect with other users and create friend lists. In the 1990s. Before Bill Clinton was impeached.
Even though I never signed up for SixDegrees (or Friendster, or MySpace) I did sign up for another early social media site, Tribe. I actually made some good friends via that site in that small window of time between one major relationship and before I met my wife. And it was around that same time that Mark Zuckerberg flunked out of Harvard and ruined the world — er, I mean, started Facebook.
Twitter, as we all know, was founded around the same time, too, and really began to take off around 2008. I say that it really took off in 2008 because that’s when I joined. (Ba-dum-tss) And now, I think it’s safe to say, it’s days are numbered.
John Scalzi’s take on Elon Musk’s decision to buy the joint is apt, I believe. I assume that one does not become the richest person in the world because of good judgement and clear-eyed vision but because of some combination of random circumstances, raw luck, and inheritance. I assume that Musk had some dopey idea that he could make money off of Twitter (or perhaps just the spectacle of threatening to buy it) and no one in his inner circle thought to tell him he was probably wrong. The older I get, I am increasingly convinced that all of the world’s colossal mistakes are not the result of individual choices but, rather, no one having the courage to say, hey, dude. That’s a dumb idea. Call it the Jar Jar Binks Calamity. (Seriously? No one, over the course of the decade or so it took to make the first Star Wars prequel had the guts to say, hey, George. This character is bad. Like really bad.)
And now Musk is stuck with the place and about a billion dollars worth of interest to be paid on the daily (well, annually) and he’s likely to be distracted by the next shiny expensive thing to waste his money on rather than feeding the hungry and meanwhile dozens or hundreds of people are going to loose their jobs and we’ll all get front row seats to the slow and sad decline of Twitter before it’s sold off for parts to the likes of Verizon or something. Ah well.
In the short run, things are going to suck. I retweeted a thread by Tim Wise the other day which I also think is apt. In sum, white liberals often want to cut and run when the going gets tough, and I think it’s worth resisting that urge. Again, in the short run, things are going to suck, especially for non-white folks and women on the service because no matter what Musk does, the ability to block people and moderate content is gonna go and go fast and it’s folks of color and women who will suffer for it. Perhaps, also, democracy. (But the threats to democracy are larger than a social media network.) So I’m not inclined to cut and run and leave my friends and colleague to the wolves.
At the same time, Twitter is a social media company. Because it’s a “media company,” it’s always been bound up with the logics and demands of capitalism and is therefore a grotesque and imperfect place. But it’s also a “social” site which means it’s only as good or as bad as the people who inhabit it. And, thank the buddha, people can leave and create new social sites. SixDegrees didn’t make it. Neither did Tribe, or Friendster, or MySpace. Facebook’s gonna fail, I’m sure of it. And even though I love academic sea shanties as much as the next guy, let’s be real — TikTok is a PRC data mining op that’s gonna be banned by the US government sooner or later.
So, in the mean time, here’s a couple things on my mind.
1) I’m doubling down on the blog. Just this morning my wife and I were lamenting the loss of an internet that was fun, that was mostly cat memes and that walrus and his bucket. A blog is a more intentional use of my time. It’s a more intentional use of your time. It’s ad and surveillance free. And fascists are absolutely not allowed.
2) And, yeah, I signed up for CounterSocial (my handle is @djbuddha). And, yeah, if someone explains how to do it in the comments, I’ll sign up for Mastodon. But, seriously. Y’all gotta tell me how to do that because I don’t get it and I’m too old to learn new tricks.
3) Most importantly, not only am I doubling down on the blog, I’m doubling down on reality. There’s a whole beautiful world out there filled with three-dimensional people. It’s easy to despair while doomscrolling on Twitter. It’s easy to hope when building Legos with my kiddo or making music with friends.
Stay safe out there, folks.