I left Twitter several weeks ago. If you want to know why, you can read the addendum of this blog post, but I don't want that to distract from my main point here, so I'll put it off until the end. For various reasons, many Twitter users are currently looking for an alternative to Twitter: Mastodon, Micro.blog, Tumblr, Cohost, etc. A number of people have specifically encouraged me to join Mastodon. I've decided, however, that I don't want an alternative to Twitter that's similar to Twitter. I don't want to go back to social media.
I've come to feel that social media is an addiction, unhealthy for me and also for humanity in general. I joined Twitter originally in 2008 for the Chicago C4 conference. To this day I still blame everything on my "drug pusher", conference organizer Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch, although Wolf quit Twitter himself 4 years ago. I actually quit once before in 2012 (when Twitter discontinued RSS feeds), deleted my account, joined App Dot Net (the best Twitter alternative ever FWIW), and remained off Twitter for 4 years. Unfortunately, hardly anyone followed my precedent, and App Dot Net shut down, so eventually I caved and rejoined Twitter in 2016 when I started looking for a new job. Ironically, I never did find a new job, but I did find Twitter useful in promoting my business when I became self-employed. Nonetheless, it's crucial to note the distinction between useful and pleasant. Much like an addiction, Twitter has its pleasant moments, dopamine hits, without amounting to a pleasant or desirable experience overall.
I'm old enough to have lived half my adult life before Twitter existed, and to be honest, I feel that life before Twitter was better. The untweeted life is worth living! When you become a DAU (Daily Active User), you give up a lot of your time and energy to Twitter. Keeping up with your feed and your notifications becomes a compulsion. Your schedule almost revolves around it. What I've found after quitting Twitter is that in some sense I have my life back. I feel less hurried. I can spend hours focusing on some activity without needing a break to check Twitter. I set my own agenda, according to my own interests, as opposed to my Twitter feed setting my agenda, according to the interests of my following. I suppose that I'm doing less following now and more leading, or at least self-guiding.
The best part of Twitter, in my opinion, was and continues to be the easy and rapid exchange of information with my fellow software developers. This hooked me on Twitter at the beginning, and I'm probably missing out on it somewhat as long as a significant population of software developers remains on Twitter. Fortunately, I've found a kind of middle ground by joining a developer Slack. While it's not nearly as large as Twitter, the Slack is large enough to be useful, with thousands of members, yet small enough to avoid a lot of the problems of an open global social media service.
What are the problems of an open global social media service? First and foremost, the openness. Anyone can join social media, from anonymous trolls to Presidents of the United States (who may be famous trolls). An invitation-only developer Slack, on the other hand, allows neither politicians nor anons. Social media also lacks consensus among its users about how to use social media. Many software developers prefer to use social media mostly or exclusively for information sharing, whereas politicians prefer to use social media for politicking, and trolls prefer to use social media for trolling. Moreover, social media encourages people to "bring their whole selves" to the service, so even software developers often like to use social media for politicking or trolling or talking about sports or posting photos of themselves, their pets, their food, and in at least one case, literal horse shit. This stands in stark contrast to the developer Slack, where there is consensus among users that the purpose is information sharing, and there are channels dedicated to specific software development topics. There's much less, um, slack given to write about random topics. (Except in the "random" channel.)
Social media can be seductive because it gives the illusion of friendship. It's the ultimate in low maintenance, no effort "friendship". You do have a lift a finger… then you have drop the finger, and that's all you have to do. Click, like, done. Like 'em and leave 'em. It's a kind of relationship so shallow that even a casual in-person friendship looks deep in comparison. Another thing that leaving Twitter has taught me, or confirmed after long suspicion, is that my Twitter friends were mostly not true friends. To be clear, I'm not bitter! I'm as guilty as anyone else of not being a true friend to my Twitter followers. That's the nature of the beast: it's almost impossible to be a friend to so many. The tweets just fly by your feed, sound bites, not a conversation but a cacophony. One Twitter user blurs into another. I spend more uninterrupted time with bank tellers.
I don't want to sound like "old man yells at cloud", but I remember the days of dial-up Bulletin Board Systems, and they were so much better than Twitter because they were local, thus enabling you to meet interesting new people. I made a lot of great friends in those days. What started online progressed to IRL. The BBSes were not a dead end, unlike Twitter, at least in my experience. Unless you live in a huge city, which I don't, it's unlikely that much if any of your Twitter social network is local. The openness of Twitter to the entire world is actually a problem if you want to make friends, real friends, not just online acquaintances. It's like finding a needle in a haystack.
I don't expect Slack to be any better in this regard than Twitter. That's ok, since it serves a different purpose. Despite the name, Slack was designed for work. That's how I approach the developer Slack, as a tool for my work. In addition, I started my own company Slack, because customers can no longer reach me on Twitter. (I also have app support email of course.) For support purposes, the Slack has worked well so far. I did set aside one channel in the company Slack specifically for non-support "tech talk", which was intended to be similar to my Twitter, and I invited my Twitter followers to join the Slack channel. This has not worked out so well. Although some of my followers joined, the majority of those I regularly interacted with on Twitter did not join. Consequently, the tech talk channel tends to be pretty quiet, for it's difficult for me to maintain the kind of one-way narrative that often occurs on Twitter. The majority of Twitter users are quiet lurkers, as evidenced by my greater than 10 to 1 follower to following ratio on Twitter. This "broadcasting" method of communication doesn't scale down to a private room. It might work if I had more interlocutors, but as I said, your Twitter friends are not necessarily your true friends, who would follow you off Twitter, who make an effort to spend time with you. If leaving Twitter, or Twitter shutting down, causes you to lose contact entirely, then what exactly was your relationship, how much did you really mean to each other? It makes you think. It made me think, anyway, and reevaluate my relationship to social media.
I've felt that at times — many times! — Twitter brought out the worst in me. I struggled to be "my best self" on Twitter. Admittedly, I struggle to be my best self almost everywhere, but Twitter was the worst situation for that. The incentives on Twitter are perverse: the short character limits, the statistical counts of retweets and likes, the unknown followers and readers, the platform and publicity all conspire to corrupt you, to push you toward superficial tweets that incite the crowd. Twitter is an audience, which means that tweeting is a performance, and tweeters are actors. It's unnatural. If you could design a system from scratch in order to produce the least friendly, least intelligent, least thoughtful "conversation" in the world, you'd probably come up with something a lot like Twitter.
Many people blame "the algorithm" for making Twitter unpleasant. I don't believe it's the algorithm, as I've always used the reverse chronological feed exclusively. For better or worse, your Twitter experience depends largely on your following and followers. Even with the "algorithmic" feed, a lot of the crap that Twitter inserts is based on the interests of your following. The accounts you follow are constantly tweeting or retweeting what they consider important, what they think you should see, what angers them, what they think should anger you. What makes Twitter an anger generating machine? Well, we do! "For a good cause", we think, but it's still caused by us. It's not the "algorithm" that tweets QT dunks, forcing unpleasant content into your feed. It's your own following doing the QT dunking! "This is unconscionable, horrible, … and you should see it." Wow, thanks. With friends like these, who needs enemies, because your friends invite your enemies into your feed. It's your own following who are constantly preaching to the converted. (I've done it myself, sadly. And got a lot of attention for it, reinforcing the behavior.) It's your own followers with drive-by replies, offering unsolicited advice, asking questions with answers they could Google, or arguing with everything you say. All it takes is one follower to put you in a bad mood, and the odds aren't good when you have thousands of followers. I should say that none of this is intended as a judgment of individual persons; individually, people tend to act better than they do collectively. Twitter is a collective, and the way the system is designed causes us to be the worst versions of ourselves. We don't behave the same way in private with a small group of friends that we do in public with a large group of strangers.
As you consider alternatives to Twitter, I hope you'll consider that wanting something else like Twitter might be an unhealthy desire. Perhaps social media is a passing fad that had a decent decade or two, ran its course, eventually wore out its welcome, and now deserves to fade away. Scrambling desperately for a Twitter alternative might just be a sign of an addiction that's better broken than fed. Consider the alternative of avoiding social media altogether. You can live without it. I would argue that you can live better. You'll get nothing, and like it!
Why did I leave Twitter? My biggest fear about the Twitter acquisition had quickly become an incontrovertible reality: the new right-wing ownership group of Twitter intended to exploit the service to promote political propaganda. Ask yourself why Larry Ellison for example, who tweeted once ten years ago but regularly funds right-wing causes, offered the Muskrat a blank check to purchase Twitter. Where Trump failed to create a popular social network of his own, the Muskrat used his greater wealth to purchase a preexisting one. (And while I was writing this blog post, revoked Trump's permanent Twitter ban.) Morally speaking, I can't play any role in supporting that endeavor.
Musk is an obvious fraud. I'm not criticizing his cars or his rockets, I'm criticizing his so-called ideals. Selling luxury priced cars to tech bros is not the same as saving the Earth, and launching tons of stuff into orbit is not the same as populating Mars. Neither of those goals is within reach. The fact that Muskrat has openly aligned himself with the science denying, climate change denying, regulation denying Republican Party invalidates everything he claims to believe in. I can understand not liking the Democratic Party; I don't like it either! Both major US political parties are almost wholly owned by their wealthy campaign donors and give only lip service to the principles they supposedly represent. However, the Republican Party doesn't even pretend that it's opposed to the further destruction of the environment in order to serve unregulated industrial production and unmitigated greed. And how does it make sense for a space pioneer to support a political party currently dominated by Young Earth Creationists?
If Musk cares about the environment, then why doesn't he support the Green Party, for example? Musk's fame, and more importantly his vast wealth, could put the Green Party on the political map and put pressure on the current political duopoly. If he so chose. But that's not what he chose. Instead, Muskrat has decided that "the woke mind virus", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, is the greatest enemy, and I guess that racial justice is somehow supposed to prevent us from populating Mars, as opposed to, say, the lack of life, water, and oxygen, the gravity less than 40% Earth, and the millions of miles separating the the two planets.
It's unclear whether humans can even survive long term in the much lower gravity of Mars. Our bodies are not adapted for that environment. We already know that the zero g of space isn't good for human health. In any case, Mars is more inhospitable to life right now than the Earth was after the dinosaur extinguishing asteroid hit. Life did survive that disaster. Mars is supposed to be a backup in case of disaster, but it's actually a terrible backup. Like dropping your computer backup drive into an active volcano. At least it's offsite, amirite! If we want to plan for the worst, it makes a lot more sense, and would be nearly infinitely easier and cheaper, to build underground and underwater cities on Earth than to build cities on Mars. Only overgrown children who read too much science fiction believe Mars is a good idea. Mars has no practical advantage, only a superior "coolness" factor that attracts the space nerds. The reality is that the Earth may be humanity's only viable home… forever. So let's not waste it.
Back to the cars. What the hell does self-driving have to do with saving the environment? I know that tech bros think it's super cool, and they're willing to throw money at it, thereby making the Muskrat super wealthy, but that doesn't make the cars affordable for mass adoption and replacement of the internal combustion engine. You'd think that if the environment was the priority they'd skip all the bells and whistles, aiming for the cheapest possible electric car. I hear from the Muskrat cult that "This is the plan… eventually." Yeah, just like Mars. Keep kicking the can down the road, pretend to be following some noble goals, and meanwhile it's business as usual in the greed department. What I see from the Muskrat is a person who appears to care about one thing above all else: not the Earth, not even Mars, but rather himself, his own money, power, and self-aggrandizement. Purchasing Twitter places himself at the center of public attention and political power, while having nothing whatsoever to do with saving humanity. I'm starting to think that humanity needs saving from him.