Every day I wake up angry that the TVA hasn’t taken care of whatever shitweasle variant branched our timeline.
I like to split hairs sometimes, not to be argumentative, but sometimes I think we get mired in the emotional fortresses we and those around us have built to ward off the immeasurable amount of dumb shit that bad actors seem able to summon from the aether. I am certainly guilty of this. One of my (least) favorite positions to take is that “social media” is not inherently bad; how it is being used is what’s bad. Technology itself is benign; tech bros and those who use it to exploit us are what’s bad.
I remember the days when everyone’s ass was chapped over the idea of product placement in TV shows, showing that knowing the phrase “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” doesn’t make one immune from irony, because product placement was once the only way TV shows got made when TV was still new (eventually they took the placements out and lo! Commercials were born). Of course, most of us weren’t alive back then, so when smacked in the gob with something like this, it’s understandable how people can lose their shit as if it’s some new harbinger of the End Times.
Long about the same time this product placement dust-up was happening (anything older than an hour ago is a muddled blur I call “about the same time”), there was talk about how mobile devices would be one part helpful, one part annoying as they could someday alert us to coupons and sales for stores we’d pass by while out shopping. This summons visions of out-of-control popup windows of the early 2000’s, but real talk: no one wants to pay full price for something they’re looking to buy, and a lot of us are terrible about comparison shopping — or maybe just me. If someone can hand me the best product at the best price, I’d be willing to thank them for the privilege in part because I got a deal, but also because the technology would be doing something for my benefit.
This is what our technology could have been. It could have worked for us. Consider your Steam backlog; with all of the games we own as individuals, you’d think that Steam would be able to make better recommendations for us on the homepage than “because it’s popular”. In another example, I have an Echo Show in my kitchen which I shout at to keep track of my grocery list and occasionally it displays weather. This morning I caught it trying to sneak in a “news update” about the Kardashians. What the ever-loving hell, Future Robot Overlord? With all of the eavesdropping you do on me, my wife, my dog, my guests, and all the shit we buy from you, this is how you avoid getting stabbed in the back when the robot uprising begins? How about learning from the data I am giving you to pre-emptively provide me with stuff you obviously know I’d be interested in? As creepy as it certainly is, you have a lot of info on me, and might even know me better than I do myself in some cases. Put it to use for me for once.
Companies collect tons of data on us and had they actually used that data for our advantage from day one, it might be something that people are more willing to opt into. Instead, companies have collected the data while telling us that they would use it for our own benefit, and then fobbed us off by missing deadlines and throwing lame-ass promotions at us instead. Meanwhile, they were mining it for their own purposes and selling it to third parties for additional cash, none of which we got to see (not even in ways that benefitted us like lower prices or better quality). I mean, we caught on quickly — if you can’t find the product, then the product is you — but I always wonder if there had been any day when companies considered that working for the goodwill of their customers might have actually earned more, more loyal customers? Instead, they’ve resorted to the lazy tactics of “walled gardens” and “planned obsolescence”. We spend time in one ecosystem, buying apps and building knowledge until some day, we find that we can no longer leave lest we forfeit everything we’ve invested in. On top of that, companies must love the dirty work we do on their behalf when we fight over Apple versus Android or Xbox versus Playstation. These situations use our intrinsic desire for togetherness and our learned fears of “other-ness” against one another, and for their benefit.
We can point the finger at corporates all we want, but at the end of the day literally no one was shoving iPhones into hands. No one is keeping you using Discord but you, no matter what you tell yourself. And no one is keeping you checking in on The Hellsite Formerly Known As Twitter. For many people, Twitter is like their worst best relationship: they can’t stand to be there anymore, but they also keep going back. Some people are forced to be there because of work, or because they need crucial information and the sources of that information put all their eggs in a now-fraying basket, but most other people will simply admit that “there are still people there I want to talk to”. Same, man. Same. But then again, so many of us have moved to other places, some just as bad, but some markedly better. “It’s hard” is an excuse given by people who sometimes don’t want to bother to try, and in such a relatively inconsequential situation as this, that just sounds…lame. Is the fear of learning a new platform, of meeting new people, so onerous that one prefers to remain on a platform that’s quickly becoming synonymous with white supremacy, crypto scams, and toxic hate? Some actions speak volumes; some inactions speak louder still.
A lot of people claim to have a fondness for the Twitter-That-Was, but in reality, Twitter was never a factor in your best memories. If it hadn’t been Twitter, it would have been somewhere else, guaranteed. For me, it was Google Plus, of all places. Then Twitter. Now Mastodon. I can’t claim that any one platform was the key because they are interchangeable in terms of having met Good People. What matters is the point in time in which we meet and the people themselves. Twitter might have been popular for long enough and ubiquitous enough that it allowed you to meet many more people than any other platform, but Twitter had nothing to do with that aside from existing. It was the one platform you chose to use more often or instead of others, as did those you met during that time, nothing more. For those of us who left and are on new platforms, will you say the same of these new platforms in 5 to 10 years’ time? Or will you still give Twitter an oversized responsibility in the relationships that you yourself formed? My point is, don’t give Twitter authority over you when you know it’s a shitshow. It has no sentience — a truth now more than ever — and if it did, it’s obvious that it would feel that it owes you absolutely nothing. Rather than clinging to the idea that some tech made your life better, go forward and make this someone else’s best point-in-time independent of which social media platform they pledge their allegiance to. And ditch Twitter and make your life better as well.
Even from The Worst Timeline I’m glad that I can look back and wish that things had gone differently, that technologists, usually a group who gets excited about tech for tech’s sake, had never gotten blinded by Wall Street flashing fat stacks of cash. In a lot of ways that’s one accepted track to becoming a super-villain in comic books: great, powerful technology sold to the highest bidder who only wants to abuse it to make more money for themselves. We sat enraptured by such plots on the Silver Screen while the actual thing was happening in the streets outside and now here we are, completely devoid of the best benefits that technology could have wrought for us as individuals. We know it was possible because we hit that sweet spot at one point in the timeline when we were all on the same page, looking for connections in the wilderness, and finding an opportunity through some website, which could have literally been any website. Now tech is just a pawn on a financial chessboard, a scam that appeals to anyone who missed out on the last scam, or a weapon used in the worsening culture wars. We can’t tie ourselves to the idea that any platform makes a difference in who we meet; it’s all about the when, the circumstances that exist at a point in time when we need those people the most. Like nature, we’re told, our need to connect finds a way. Even when Twitter has finally been reduced to ashes, we’ll still be seeking one another, and there will be a way, guaranteed, to find each other.