The ultimate privilege of developed-world living is that you may devote exactly as much of your mental bandwidth as you wish to basic biological functions. We largely transform them from their pure function into pleasurable rituals. Food is a tasty daily highlight–not only delicious but it’s family time, a break from work, a prime opportunity for socializing. Trips to the bathroom are also “breaks”. Bathrooms accomplish exactly what you need them for, are clean, climate-controlled and plentiful, with locking doors and pipes that blissfully carry everything away. And sleep! The ultimate break. On a bed, comfortably alone or with extremely select company.
Now what if I told you there exists a place within this privileged society in which people go, quite regularly, usually on purpose, where all of this is taken away. We call those places airports.
Airports are the Western world’s closest non-war-zone approximation of Hell, though the torture is more subtle. Food: decidedly not fun, but pure sustenance gathering, joyless calorie acquisition. Forget finding something you would like to eat, the goal is to find anything you are willing to eat, at scarcity pricing. Bathrooms: oh there are plenty, especially if you like them crowded and vile. Sleep: oh goodness, no.
What could make this nightmare even worse? A flight delay. Now it’s still the airport, but for longer. The airport as a place has already stripped you of physical comforts. Flight delays work on your emotions. “Why is this happening?” “I’m never getting home.” “I’m stupid to have paid for this, should have driven.” “I’m suing everybody.” You’re mad if you can blame someone (overbooking, airline trying to stretch out a crew) you’re mad if you can’t (weather, mechanical issues). Further, you’re surrounded by dozens of people in the same state.
Now we are at the true dark heart of all this: all of the above, but also enduring everyone else. Usually in life you can ignore almost everyone almost all the time but in this situation, you are trapped overhearing all the little comments, everyone’s lizard-brain opinions, fears, questions, non sequiturs.
“This is the worst airline ever. Never flying them again.”
[Cable news blaring on TV]
[Commercials for cable news blaring on TV]
“I heard this airport can keep a flight on the runway for six hours.”
“Why won’t they tell us what’s happening?!”
Outraged business guy on earpiece phone at maximum volume for the third straight hour: “Still delayed! They say it’s paperwork! What a joke! Paperwork! Anyway, better get back to these sales reports.”
“You see Game of Thrones last night? I thought it sucked.”
[Kid screaming. Then laughing. Then screaming again. Now parent screaming too.]
This. This is what Twitter is like.
Every minor thought that anyone ever thought about everything, many under stress, no matter how reactionary, inconsiderate, fear mongering, insipid, all presented in an endless scroll**. Of course there are some nuggets in the firehose. Good Twitter exists. Funny Twitter exists. You can also try following only people who are smart and you whose opinion you’d actually want. Ideally you’d think that is how to stifle the flight delay-level comments, but that’s not what really happens. Instead Twitter is a sewer-like platform where the worst of the worst rises to the top. Even the well-meaning re-tweet all the terrible. They see something stupid, it makes them mad, they re-tweet to get confirmation on how truly terrible it is. Also they have a good joke about it that would be killer if the offender ever saw it. (They won’t see it.) This is the same as being the passenger in a car that just got cut off and the driver is yelling at the other idiot. Of course the other idiot can’t hear that, but all the afflicted passengers get to. Similarly, one can never escape the cascades of re-tweets and .@s. The general theme being: “Wow, look at this asshole!”
Listen, I *know* they’re out there. I don’t need reminders. It’s why flight delays are so bad, way beyond any inconveniences. Nothing good will come from me absorbing everyone else’s reactions other than to start wondering, in the absence of facts, whether they might all somehow be right? At least I can put on headphones, or take a walk. But Twitter makes sure I notice. Whether it’s some unfathomably horrendous human in an actual elected job who engenders so little trust I wouldn’t ask them to water my plants for a weekend (e.g., the current President of the United States), or some Fox News talking head, or Martin Shkreli, or a Twitter egg who created an account just to rant at SportsCenter anchors: I *know*. I don’t read tabloids or eat batteries either. I have a general sense of things that are good and bad for me. But Twitter became a place where the worse you are, the more attention you will get. And the effect is that the object of scorn just sees all the re-tweets and thinks, “The people are with me on this.”
I have never hate-followed anyone. Especially not *rump because I am unclear on the appeal of reading the incoherent spew of a incendiary senile idiot. There are a million Twitter users with bald eagle avatars saying the same garbage. Only the cosmic coincidence of his birth into wealth has put him into a situation where anyone knows his name, otherwise he’d be stuck distributing his rants on moist pamphlets from a dingy street corner like a normal crazy person. Since it’s later than 2010, he isn’t confined to the crackliest corners of AM radio, either. Instead, the ultra-privileged son-of-a-millionaire with a gift for the attention grab became of the voice of angry old white America because that’s the way Twitter works. It follows that the ultimate mechanism for identifying assholes would eventually surface their King.
We learn more and more about the toxic effect of social media daily. […he blogs. But I think blogs never had the same problems: they require more energy and focus, so they aren’t just emotional car honks. Blogging is also a medium without the constant reward-generating effect of the endless scroll. It doesn’t have any of the same horrifying privacy issues. It can have a similarly isolating bubble effect, but it’s not so baked in.] We know that social media makes you depressed. It cuts you off from opposing views and in fact, is downright awesome at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs. People legitimately thought Hilary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza place–they wanted to believe she was doing something, anything, illegal. Then they received evidence, via social media. Fox News invents some similar rumor every time the Democrats have a good day, no doubt they hope each will spread on Facebook in the same way. And somehow social media is still managing to get worse. We’re only just starting to learn how thoroughly it’s been compromised by trolls and bots. Facebook’s money-grubbing algorithms have been insidiously helping polarize people for years. Millions of Twitter bots retweet everything *rump says to millions of users. Even back when they were both just feeds of humans posting, you are always seeing people at their best or worst. No wonder everything started to feel black or white.
This obviously starts getting tied up with more deeply frustrating problems. Social media can only partially explain how a thoroughly incompetent out-of-touch millionaire with no policies and no experience gets elected president with millions fewer votes thanks to extreme tribalism and a broken electoral college system. Whether Hilary was a good choice or not, if he had been running against a bucket of warm barf no one should have voted for him. Almost a year in, a theoretical President Barf Bucket would have done exactly as much to create blue collar jobs, wouldn’t have appointed a transparently corrupt cabinet, and wouldn’t be pointlessly taunting a rogue nuclear state. But certainly Twitter’s propensity for normalizing crazy by constant, repeated exposure should get some of the blame for how that insane thing actually happened. Just the fact that *rump loves it tells you it’s probably bad. It’s the perfect medium to eschew nuance, avoid criticism, and yell at strangers. It’s made for politics.
Social media has its positives. I’ve had some laughs. I did occasionally connect with old friends or make new ones. In spite of its limitations it’s an amazing window into real ongoing issues which I never properly understood as a white, middle class, cisgendered dude. Likewise I found solidarity knowing there were others with the same baggage as me. That’s some genuine good.
But I think the moment is past for me. Speaking of baggage, Twitter is overloaded with it now. They just upped it to 280 characters, which I don’t imagine is going to add nuance as much as provide the ignorant the ability to double down on stupid. Also years of Twitter memes are about to resurface and be twice as tiresome. Blogging, even very occasionally, and sticking with RSS on a few vetted sites has a lot more value for me. I think we got it right getting away from mainstream dominance for all media with some bits of the internet. But not having to listen to EVERYONE is the happy medium. So that’s why I’m quitting.
Also because of Awards Show Twitter.