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Rational Tweeting and Social Media

du Garbandier

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Three recent essays that I found thoughtful and moderating rather than Luddite in character -

Frank Chimero, “From the Porch to the Street”:
“... Have you heard of evaporative social cooling? It says the people who provide the most value to a social group or organization eventually burn out and leave, undermining the stability and progress of the group. Most of my internet friends have been on Twitter since 2008, so they probably fall into this group. How much more is there left to say? We concede that there is some value to Twitter, but the social musing we did early on no longer fits. My feed (full of people I admire) is mostly just a loud, stupid, sad place. Basically: a mirror to the world we made that I don’t want to look into. The common way to refute my complaint is to say that I’m following the wrong people. I think I’m following the right people, I’m just seeing the worst side of them while they’re stuck in an inhospitable environment. It’s exasperating to be stuck in a stream.

... I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch—our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street. Of course, the things you say on your porch are much different than what you’d say on the street. But if the porch turned into the street without you noticing, there’d be a few painful months before you realized you needed to change how you spoke. I remember the first few times I was talking to friends (forgetting the conversation could be viewed by those who followed both of us), only to have strangers piggy-back on our grousing. It felt like a violation. But that’s on me for participating in a kinda-private, kinda-public conversation.

For the better part of a year, I’ve been trying to make Twitter feel like talking on the porch again, but it just can’t happen. Twitter isn’t talking for anyone with more than 500 followers—it’s publishing or advertising ...”

Matthew Lee Anderson, “On Social Media and the Erosion of Conversation,” Mere Orthodoxy:
“... In my Facebook use, for instance, I might go from pictures of my life around town one moment (when I lived in Oxford, anyway) to discussing the politics of Hobby Lobby the next. I see pictures of my friends’ children, and then get comments from them disagreeing with me.

The intellectual environment such juxtapositions create blurs any distinction between personal and public, which makes it more difficult to disentangle the disagreements I have with my friends about (say) social policies regarding marriage from my friendships themselves. This is particularly true with people that I have not seen much, like friends from undergrad. I’m not generally one to shy away from conflict. But with what feels like so many minor conflicts and disagreements going all the time, attrition simply takes over and I lose my appetite for the conversation. Those are people I’m supposed to be friends with, or at least friendly with, after all, but perpetual, pervasive disagreement at even a cheerful level is corrosive to that.

To borrow Frank Chimero’s categories, if Twitter has moved from the ‘front porch’ to the ‘street,’ Facebook has brought the street up on to the front porch. People treat their Facebook walls like their own, personal space, a habit that Facebook has encouraged since the beginning. But that raises the stakes for everything that happens there. While it has always been difficult to distinguish between the personal and the public, Facebook is a business built on obliterating that distinction. Everything is both, simultaneously, and that means the conversation has a different ethos than it does in a coffee shop. Next time someone invites you over for dinner, try critiquing their views of fracking without any other social interaction. Let me know how that goes for you ...”

David Sessions, “The State of the Internet is Awful, and Everybody Knows It,” Patrol Magazine:
“I began my media career about seven years ago as an unabashed internet enthusiast. As I’ve said before, I never worked in print journalism and had little nostalgia for the world that was entering free fall as I did my first internship at an online publication. By then, the internet had already provided me an outlet for various creative pursuits for years, and I saw nothing but the opportunity to escape some of traditional journalism’s worst constraints, which were related both to the print medium and to the sorts of gatekeepers and ideologies that controlled it.

... Things look a lot different now. The internet won, and despite killing off thousands of jobs in the print industry, it created many more than expected in an ever-multiplying array of new web ventures. But now that it won, it’s increasingly unclear that was a good thing. A lot of people who work in internet media secretly—or in many cases, not-so-secretly—hate it, and some even suspect they are actively making the world a dumber place, as they very well may be. (I was one of them, which is a big part of why I decided to quit.) Good writing and journalism have not gone extinct, but have been reduced to sharing an undifferentiated plane with lots of cynical, unnecessary, mind-numbing, time-wasting “content,” much of which hardly qualifies as writing at all. The New York Times and ViralNova look exactly the same in your Facebook feed. As a result, journalism that once had a certain amount of aesthetic self-respect, even online, now has little choice but to mimic the shameless pandering of advertising-driven “content.” Where once the internet media landscape was populated with publications that all had unique visual styles, traffic models, and editorial voices, each one has mission-creeped its way into a version of the same thing: everybody has to cover everything, regardless of whether not they can add any value to the story, and has to scream at you to stand out in the avalanche of “content” gushing out of your feeds.

... The social consequences of this enormous change are hard even to fathom, much less analyze; the consequences have affected labor, privacy, interpersonal ethics, and virtually every sector of the modern economy. As plenty of others have noted before, the relative lack of deliberation and consideration that have accompanied the shift—the degree to which it is simply assumed to be positive and benevolent—should be shocking and alarming. But since my subject here is journalism, I’ll simply focus on that as an example. There is very little evidence the enormous effort invested to keep internet media up to date with the latest tech trends has changed much for the better. The media itself is inside a reality-distortion field where ever-increasing speed and fragmentation are somehow seen as positive. But take a single step outside it and the picture changes drastically. Delete one of your social media accounts, or simply go on vacation for a week, and you will be shocked how little any of it matters. For most people most of the time, flipping through a newspaper once a day—even once a week—is enough to provide a basic level of information about what’s going on the in the world, little of which affects them anyhow. But the internet media now operates as if its mission is to provide 24-hour infotainment. I honestly believe their time would be better spent reading books, watching movies, or spending time with their friends and family than “consuming” “content” from “social.” In case you’re wondering, that is how the people who make their money throwing “content” at you talk about it ..."

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I especially like that David Sessions piece.

I've been enjoying Twitter. It offers a much more interesting, vital stream of thought than what I find on Facebook (unlike Chimero, I don't have enough followers or follow enough Twitter users to encounter the total Twitter degradation that he has). That said, the loudness and the speed of Twitter conversation wears me down, particularly when there's a topic dominating my feed (i.e. Ferguson), and so I find myself checking it less and less. My favorite forum of internet conversation will always be the forum, in part because it allows for significant pauses in the conversation.

Staying somewhat on-topic, here's Brent Simmons (http://inessential.com/2014/08/27/waffle_on_social_media):

"I’ve heard blogs classified as a type of social media. Maybe that’s true, and maybe not — I don’t care.

What I do care about is that my blog isn’t part of a system where its usefulness is just a hook to get me to use it. It works the way I want to, and the company running the servers (DreamHost) doesn’t care one fig what I do.

My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.

The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email."

Edited by Ryan H.
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I've been following this recent online conversation for a while now. There are also some interesting additions I've linked to below from Alan Jacobs, Rod Dreher, and Freddie deBoer. 


I'm still quite new to Twitter, and honestly I forget to check it or write anything on it most days. But I've had nothing but an enjoyable experience on it so far. My feed is filled (for the most part) with interesting comments and discussions and links that I otherwise wouldn't have been aware of, and so far I haven't seen very many downsides to it. There are a few annoyances (anyone else following "One Perfect Shot"? Which seems to accept any shot from a well recognized movie as "perfect"...) but the benefits far outweigh them. But again, I'm fortunate to have virtually no followers don't use it daily, so I could be simply avoiding the pitfalls. 


Alan Jacobs agrees with Frank Chimero at Text Patterns

"This is exactly right. I have found that my greatest frustrations with Twitter come not from people who are being nasty — though there are far too many of them — but from people who justmisunderstand. They reply questioningly or challengingly to a tweet without reading any of the preceding or succeeding tweets that would give it context, or without reading the post that it links to. They take jokes seriously — Oh Lord do they take jokes seriously. And far too often they don’t take the time to formulate their responses with care and so write tweets that I can’t make sense of at all. And I don’t want to have to deal with all this. I just want to sit here on the porch and have a nice chat with my friends and neighbors. " 


And then he says some more on the subject here and here.


And, along the same lines, he wrote this about internet comments

"So, for example, take the comments on this post of Rod’s about what he calls the Benedict Option, and Rod’s responses to them. You see person after person insisting that the Benedict Option involves a frightened and complete withdrawal from society into a tiny isolated community of the same-minded — no matter how many times Rod says that that’s not what he’s talking about, and not what the communities is invokes do. Again and again (not just in this post but in many he has written on the subject) he saysThat’s not what I wrote — and again and again they persist in attributing to him simplistic and extreme claims. Why? Because those are the claims they can (or think they can) refute. 


Just through linking to the post on Twitter I got the same kinds of comments: people attributing to Rod views he has never held. I’ve started calling this particular kind of response Christian Derangement Syndrome: a kind of cognitive lock-up that occurs whenever people are confronted with the possibility that being a Christian might exact from them a substantial cost. Their peace of mind — what Reinhold Niebuhr called their “easy conscience” — much be defended against anyone who would agitate it. So agitators have to be portrayed as extremists who hold bizarre and evidently indefensible views. 


In some ways these tendencies make me even sadder than does the presence of the purely hateful. The malicious can often be ignored and marginalized; but what can we do when we have to explain over and over and over again that what the commenter is attacking is not our view? That we never stated or even implied it? I would estimate that more than two-thirds of the critical comments I receive on Twitter and even in comments here are based on straightforward misunderstandings of this kind: the kind that stem from a desire for mental simplicity and exacerbated by hastiness — the hastiness that leads people to argue with stuff they haven’t even read." 


In line with David Sessions' article, here's one from the always fun to read Freddie deBoer:


Sometimes, when I consider the Buzzfeed phenomenon, I think I’m living in some sort of fictional satirical world where Buzzfeed is a symbol of how far media can fall. It’s like living in a Douglas Copeland novel....It’s bleak, man. I mean, I can see somebody getting a job offer from Buzzfeed and trying to rationalize it, telling themselves, “well, they’re not so bad….” Yes, they are. They are exactly that bad. The thing is, I don’t know if there’s some more ethical path writers these days can walk and still end up being able to support themselves. It’s looking pretty grim out there for our professional online writers.


I’m someone who writes a lot of what I guess you would call media criticism. And that means that I’m frequently in the position of saying some not-very-nice things about people who write professionally online. But I criticize because I think that job is important; I happen to have some old-fashioned, corny ideas about the role that journalism and political commentary have to play in a democracy such as ours. We need professional writers– not just dedicated amateurs– to observe and comment on our society and our government, in order to ensure that both are functioning the way that they should, and to give our people information they need to make rational political choices. The problem is that the basic economics of that work have become so threatened that I don’t know what independent writers are supposed to do. I hate when talented people join up with outfits like Buzzfeed, which I think are genuinely making our country a stupider place. But I don’t see any clear path that people can take to preserve both their integrity and their ability to eat."




"What's prayer? It's shooting shafts in the dark." -- Frederick Buechner, Godric

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  • 2 months later...

NPR: Those Phone-Obsessed Teens Aren't as Lonely as You Think:


Though the researchers didn't find any dramatic changes, the survey results suggest that loneliness has been declining — slowly and ever so slightly — for the past 30 years. The report also found that teens these days may have fewer close confidants — but they also feel less of a need to make more friends.
"This was a bit unexpected," says David Clark, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland's department of psychology, who led the study.
It could be that young people today are more individualistic than they used to be; they may not need as much social interaction to feel satisfied, Clark notes. But at this point, researchers can't explain what is responsible for these trends.
There's also this, which would be as relevant for the selfie thread:
Despite their penchant for selfies, on average the teens of "Generation Me" aren't any more egotistical or self-assured than teens of generations past, according to a study Trzesniewski led in 2010.
"There's been a lot of concern that the social media is harming people's social lives," she says. "But the research shows that overall the Internet and social networking don't seem to be having a negative impact."
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  • 4 months later...

The Atlantic: Ending the Internet Outrage Cycle


Might the solution be for everyone to quiet down a bit? It's not that no one should ever say anything controversial, but that a little more conscientiousness might prevent people from accidentally doing so. Take Noah's contested jokes: They are, if nothing else, very stupid. The world didn't need to see them. Same goes for Sacco's tweet. And Stone's photo. And yes, the same goes for much of the backlash to all of the above—the tweets calling for firings and life-ruinings where a simple "why on Earth would you say that?" might have sufficed.


This article strikes me as a pretty even-handed read on the dynamics of internet outrage [particularly: Twitter outrage]. There's a tendency to [a] see things as offensive, and then fall all over one's own feet declaiming how offensive these things are, without considering context. I've been guilty of that. And then there's the opposite tendency to [a] see the outrage and fall all over one's own feet declaiming how silly the outrage is. I've done that, too. The perspective this article offers--that perhaps both sides would do better to wait a beat before plunging onward--is, I think, a good one.


[This all goes to the problematics of instant communication, which is ground well covered here and elsewhere on the web; Twitter is not poisonous to serious thought--witness the many Twitter-essays of Jeet Heer--but it is certainly more open to sound-bite pontificating]

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  • 1 year later...

The Dwindling Promise of Social Media

"I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t even give so much a crap about all Google’s data mining and analytics. I’d deal with it, if Google could just get that one fricking cardiologist a Google Now message that says 'Hey dude, update: Opioids are addictive.'

But Google Now is not going to do that, because the dream of Google is not the dream of Engelbart or Kay. Those inventors wanted a world where we became better people, better doctors, better citizens, better architects. Google Now doesn’t give a crap about any of that. Google Now doesn’t want to make you a better doctor or a more compassionate human. It just wants to get AI down enough that it can sell you a Starbucks on your morning commute. And eventually, maybe opioids for your back pain too. Because it’s all just data, right?

Good job everyone. Welcome to the future."

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