Twitter Is Dying, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself: Twitter Down- The words on my computer monitor started flitting in and out of focus sometime last week, in between churning out updates on Twitter’s ongoing crisis. Naturally, I worried and soon found myself Googling “impossible to read screen all of a sudden” while also straining at my optometrist’s website.
My question that I always felt I’d have to answer one day was quickly brought to me as the panic shot through my body: What would I do with myself—and my life—if I couldn’t look at screens any longer? It felt nothing short of physiological irony which even my eyeballs rebelled against such an idea of adjusting to another platform change by trudging further into the depths of the internet after having spent the previous month reluctantly considering the alleged collapse of social media as well as the potential alternatives re: the Elon Musk of it all.
Where will we go? has been the top concern for Twitter users ever since Musk took over. The front-runners seemed to be Mastodon, which is effectively a clunkier Twitter distributed across a loose federation of self-hosted servers, as well as Discord, a former gaming community system that resembled an offspring of Slack as well as an early internet chat room.
(For our purposes, “server” may be roughly equated with “community” or “digital tree house,” where each “tree house” has its own name as well as membership but most people are free to visit anybody else’s tree house, too.)
On the one hand, I had a cursory knowledge of Discord from my participation with Casey Newton and a few other journalists in an effort to create a mega-chatroom divided by our different newsletter readerships back in 2021. When I played around with a few other servers, it struck me then as it does today how nicely divided everything was.
I could switch between channels for talking about books, fashion, recommended television shows, and cryptocurrency on the server called Dirt Chat, which is run by friends who also run the culture newsletter Dirt on Substack. On another media-focused server, I could choose whether to participate in the discussion in the #yay or the #ugh channel. (Last year, I set up channels on my own Discord server to celebrate the Irish rock legend Hozier and the Netflix series Peaky Blinders.)
The kind of organization Discord provides is pure: Instead of letting politics, jokes, and fervent GoFundMe links draw me into Twitter’s core line, this platform allowed me to choose the precise topic and even the tone of the conversation I wanted to engage in. The drawback, however, quickly became apparent with each robotic ping: You either had to muffle practically everything or submit to a never-ending search across all channels and servers to find the source of each signal.
It was futile to believe I could pick up everything, but I had no idea how else I was expected to interact beyond a quick check-in. Attempting to keep up on Discord made me feel like such a squirrel with such a major scarcity mindset that has been let loose in a huge football field of acorns. Jokes and links went quickly or required a lot of contexts because there was no retweet option to algorithmically increase things into consciousness. Much like in real life, I very much had to be there to grasp it. Funny enough, a lot of the better exchanges were around tweets that were copied in.
This raised a more important question: What was it that I was really trying to copy from Twitter? Discord (as well as Substack Chat, Reddit, as well as other forums of a like kind) looked to offer what seemed like an intimate dinner party in compared to my regular time frame, but it also felt like the kind of gathering that prevented the casual drop-in. It’s possible that I was less avoiding than I cared to acknowledge and that what I was really seeking wasn’t genuinely interesting conversation groups. Perhaps all I wanted was to be a voyeur.
The most functionally equivalent Twitter-like experience, including microblogging, following, retweeting (referred to there as “boosting”), and a similar shifting of material and influence, was provided by Mastodon. I found out that 40 Twitter buddies overall were already on Mastodon thanks to a buddy who introduced me to the Debirdify programme, largely on the journa.host and mastodon.social servers (I joined the latter after applying and never receiving approval to join newsie.social). DMing someone was a hassle and dangerously similar to posting anything publicly, and my computer frequently refreshed the feed in real time on my screen, which felt like gazing into the centre of a strobe light. These were just a few of the site’s minor flaws.
The tone of the content was highly Twitter and LinkedIn self-promotional. I soon understood that reading Mastodon was difficult not just because of the lengthy 500-character restriction, but also because of this mounting annoyance in the back of my mind, which made it very evident how useless everything seemed. Maybe the question wasn’t where do I connect online, but rather how much I wanted to connect in the first place.
I hear myself. And believe me when I say that I used to roll my eyes pretty hard at the authors, journalists, and entire cadre of people who made their livings online, only to complain about reliance on the “platform of the day” after they had achieved some kind of financial stability and were able to quit. When they grumbled, I used to think it was a bit much, kind of like when a great swimmer grumbled about the pool after winning a competition. When it was obvious that there was a connection between cutting off incremental portions of your time, energy, and selfhood for algorithmic approval and the outcomes that followed, how could you rationalise encouraging other people to log off and touch the grass?
After spending my whole 20s online, trying to connect with as many people as possible, stay current on micro and macro issues, and be as heartfelt as possible, I now see the trade-off. The limitations of virtual connection have now cruelly been apparent to me, as they have to everyone who has been fortunate enough to witness the majority of the epidemic from behind a screen. Because the other person isn’t using social media at all, I reflect on an old connection from college that I have allowed to deteriorate. We never worked out how to consistently keep one other updated on our lives without being able to outsource it to a Zuckerbergian profit engine.
I recall the day I confided in a friend about how difficult dating was, and she surprisedly exclaimed, “But you have so many followers! “I recall the weeks I spent at home by myself this summer, confined to a bed due to COVID, and how I feverishly read every Instagram Story that was posted on my account. And now I melodramatically wonder whether that is what it will be like when I pass away and everyone continues to write as usual.
You might think such notion is bizarre. But that’s how my mind functions right now. The idea of simply finding the right new platform to stare at under the guise of connecting is, I think, counter to it all I’ve since discovered to care about. In the face of Twitter’s downfall, Instagram’s TikTokification, Facebook’s all-but-guaranteed unsustainability, and the metaverse’s total shock premise of cannibalizing’s even more of real life for online life. I doubt that I can deceive myself once more. Do you?
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Let us not forget that, at a time of growing climate-related calamities, people who aid you will probably not be your Twitter followers; they will be your neighbors, the artist Jenny Odell stated in her 2019 pro-logging-off book/manifesto How to Do Nothing. Years ago, when I first read that statement, I was offended. I found it insulting to disregard the demonstrated generosity and charity of a universe of mutual in such dire terms. Without mine, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I’m not sure if it’s a good or negative thing nowadays, but there is online connectivity. That would be too late. Only now can we determine if we want more.
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I strolled down the steps of my apartment building and put a handwritten sticky note identifying my number and asking if my neighbors wanted to create a group chat after recently reading Odell again. Almost everyone in the building is now inside. And sincerity? So far, it’s sort of dead. However, I discover that I like just knowing that we are present.