Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, May 1, 2017

sharing: the opposite of caring

This from Michael Brendan Dougherty is worthy of some reflection:

An example: I’m worried about the culture on college campuses. Maybe you’re not, but I am. The rash of near-riots against right-wing speakers was troubling enough. But the internet wasn’t satisfied with the level of anxiety that might inspire in me and it quickly delivered to me dozens of stories about an obscure opinion piece written by an obscure group of college students from a college that had been, until that day, rather obscure to me. These people I’d never heard of wrote an editorial which argues that the concept of “objective truth” is propaganda for white supremacy.

I tried to remind myself that this was trivial bullshit, and didn’t effect anything in the world but pointless outrage. But of course that didn’t help. The poison of it flowed through me. My mind lit up with the desire to see the hands of a silent and awful deity plunging into the green plushy sward of Earth, pulling its tectonic plates apart, and shaking them until all human life and evidence of our civilization is dispersed into the outer oblivion of space. I desired that alien races, hundreds of millions of years in the future, would find evidence of this celestial event, and read it as a strict warning against subsidizing student loans. I imagined the terror of humanity’s richly merited destruction scored to Anton Bruckner’s “Mass in E minor,” of course.

All of this occurred to me in less than a millisecond. And then I scrolled to the next dumbass news event my friends were sharing.

I have decided that of all the bad elements of Twitter, the very worst, the catastrophic bug masquerading as a feature, is the RT. Retweeting is how “dumbass news events” go viral, which is to say, it’s how outrage gets perpetuated and amplified.

I have tried to make Twitter bearable by following fewer people, then by confining myself to a private account where I interact with just a few friends, then by building a large list of muted names and terms; but none of that helped much until I started disabling everyone’s retweets. Because everyone at some time or another retweets things that they find appalling. (And even this doesn't work as well as I'd like, because I can't disable quoted-with-comment tweets.)

Sharing is not caring, people. If you want to be caring, you’ll stop all the sharing. And if you insist on broadcasting what annoys the hell out of you, then, whether you know it or not, you’re singing along with this song.


  • True confession: I retweet sometimes. But I try not to make it anything that prompts outrage.

  • My current experiment is to ask my wife to change my password and keep it from me. I get replies sent to me via email, which keeps me in touch with people who want to talk with me. I check the feeds of accounts I especially like as I would any other website. In the event that I can't reply to a tweet via email I ask my wife to sign me back on. Then I sign out again and that's that.

    Last night, I asked my wife to sign on for me. I was glad to find that, at least this time, I missed nothing. It all seemed trivial and foreign to me. I signed out without temptation.

  • In yet another instance of Twitter's deeply stupid UI, if you use lists, turning off RTs doesn't matter. Everybody's RT'd tweets still show up on your list view—they are only excluded from your main timeline (which I never use).

    Also, the more people RT the less I have reason to follow them—anything one person on my feed RTs I'm likely to see from another—yet the temptation just to click the native RT button is pretty strong. Twitter seems motivated to encourage that; at least that's how the interface feels to me.

  • I've long thought the quote-as-reply is the most destructive feature of Twitter. It does sometime enable one to share a worthwhile article or factoid while adding one's comment. Most of the time, though, it's used as a dog-whistle to draw attention to a user one clearly thinks is a moron or evil; or, even worse, it is used to "reply" to another user in a discussion, while making sure that all of one's followers recognize that the person one is replying to is a moron. Replies are supposed to facilitate discussion and debate, quote-as-replies only facilitate the horde. I've argued that Twitter should remove the feature altogether.

  • Sharing is scaring

  • What really gets to me about RTing is how utterly predictable it is. I don't follow that many people on Twitter (~300), so I can easily start to detect extremely annoying patterns in people's RTing habits. I've started playing a game with myself to see if, when I see an unfamiliar Tweeter in my timeline, I can guess by the content who RTed it. I'm dishearteningly good at it. There's very little effort (by most in my feed at least) to share things that don't fall perfectly in line with tracks of thought already deemed acceptable.

  • I've kept on thinking about this post. Here's a claim, for debate:

    Any public, popular, massively-used publishing platform will eventually become poisonous, stupid, and insufferable. In other words, the only well-designed forms of communication make it harder to share your thoughts with the world, not easier.

    So I wonder if the RT is the problem or if people, and the ways we communicate when it's public, easy and fun, are the problem. There is no way to fix Twitter. That's what I'm thinking about.

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