Some Reflections on Twitter & WordPress: 2022

You may have noticed that I have been posting to cafebedouin less lately. It is partially because I have been more involved in using Twitter. Why?

One thing I like about Twitter is that it is a larger, socially constructed version of the kind of thoughts that we have moment to moment. Reading the timeline is like dipping into this stream. Tweeting is adding to it, and opening yourself up for a feedback loop, where your thoughts bring up thoughts in others. There’s an interesting interplay that happens, which I think is what makes the platform appealing.

But, it is also hard not to notice that it also features a lot of outlier perspectives. Perhaps it is a function of who I follow on Twitter, but there seems to be a lot of trans folks on Twitter. On one level, this must be great as a trans person. You can interact with people that are struggling with similar issues. You can feel seen, or at least not alone when you may be the only trans person in your real life social circles.

And what is true of the trans community is also true of others. Twitter is one of the places I engage with other people that use cryptocurrencies. I don’t know anyone that thinks about cryptocurrencies in my day-to-day life. It’s either not there, or invisible to the degree that it might as well not be there.

WordPress, and blogging generally, is a fundamentally different medium. It is a way to think more formally, or at least note, ideas. Maybe flesh them out into something fuller. It is a kind of workshop or garage, where you experiment and see what is right for you. How do you view the world? What do you care about? WordPress is the essay you write, whereas Twitter is more of a conversation.

Conversation and writing can both transform our lives. But, they are really different activities and modes. Conversation is thinking, in the moment, with others. Writing is more, thinking in the moment, with ourselves. But, when you extend the time frame, conversations feed into writing. Writing can feed conversations, and in some versions, writing can also be a formal conversation, where colleagues discuss a problem in their field and raise different, relevant points with the hope of achieving some larger understanding. But, the difficulty and the amount of work that goes into that kind of conversation, to explore ideas that, hopefully, have lasting value is not how many of us spend much of our time.

But, I think the real value of these kinds of conversations is that it widens our experience and helps us to retain what is good and valuable. Much of what we think is neither good nor valuable.

I’d argue that much of the conversation that is happening on Twitter, even after acknowledging it has value in expanding our experiences and perception, is wounding. Maybe this makes us stronger. Assuming that we can recover and not too much damage has been done. But, I’m not so sure that’s the case. I think people talking about their struggles with mental health, chronic illness, unpleasant interactions, and the usual suspects of various X-isms maybe causing a kind of death by a thousand cuts, where we expand our concerns so wide that they don’t have any depth. Is it any wonder that if you try to wrestle with the demons of the whole world, that you run the risk of being overwhelmed?

I haven’t come to any conclusions yet. I’ve grown to like Twitter. I particularly like that it offers a window into different experiences, such as the problems women, people of color, or other groups face that I might not have any experience with.

But, there’s also limits. You can kind of listen in on the experience of a mother, a computer security specialist or whomever. However, it is an experience, removed. You might argue that it is no experience at all, no better than what you knew before Twitter. I don’t think that is right, but I do think it is not an unqualified good. In fact, the overall effect might be a net negative. It may not even be possible to bring it to a net positive, and if it is, it probably requires approaching Twitter with discipline, knowing what you want to get out of it, which is kind of antithetical to the medium.

All of this is a long way to say that I took a bit of a dive, and I think I’m good for now. I’m going to spend a little less time on Twitter. It has a place, but it should probably be a small one. I might take a deeper look at Mastodon sometime soon, just to see how it is qualitatively different, as some articles suggest.

Seven Varieties of Stupidity

“1. Pure Stupidity…

2. Ignorant stupidity…

3. Fish-out-of-water stupidity…

4. Rule-based stupidity…

5. Overthinking stupidity…

6. Emergent stupidity…

7. Ego-driven stupidity…

-Ian Leslie, “Seven Varieties of Stupidity.” ianleslie.substack.com. May 21, 2022

It’s a fun classification exercise. I’d say that 3 is a subset of 2, being in an unfamiliar environment is a variety of ignorance.

However, if you think about the kinds of stupidity we are most likely in contemporary times, it’s rule-based stupidity. Everyone is being turned into algorithms. They have a set of rules they are given, checklists, and they go through the checklist, whether it makes sense or not.

For example, if you take out a home equity loan of $20,000 on a home worth $200,000. Does the bank really need your credit report and income? But, by God, they’ll get through their checklist, before they’ll lend anyone money.

It’s also interesting to think about the connections. Rule-based stupidity is a variety of emergent stupidity, or the kind of stupidity you get when people get together and are afraid of conflict and sharing their ideas. Rule-based stupidity is trying to stripe initiative away from people because you are afraid of the first three forms of stupidity.

Ego driven stupidity reminds me of barkers in the Church of Interruption piece. People that are too busy thinking they are the only ones with anything interesting to say, aren’t learning anything. There’s only so much we can learn from our own experience. To be smart in any meaningful sense, we have to learn from the experiences of others. If we stop doing that, we slowly become more stupid.

Metaphor as Mental Model

“In 2011, Stanford researchers Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky published research that showed how the way we talk about crime changes our ideas about what to do about it. They asked two groups of students to read reports about crime in their area – one using a metaphor of crime as a ‘beast’ that was rampaging through the neighbourhood, and one describing crime as a ‘virus’ that had to be stopped. Their research showed that students shown the ‘virus’ metaphor were more likely to favour policy that looked at the root causes of crime, such as social deprivation, whilst students who read the ‘beast’ metaphor story favoured enforcement policies.”

-Matt Locke, “Data isn’t oil, so what is it?” howtomeasureghosts.substack.com. May 15, 2021

Be careful with choosing analogies and metaphors. It guides thought.

Standardized Thought

“From this [advertising] expert he learned that the key tool of the ad trade was to “standard[ize] thought by supplying the spectator with a ready-made visual image before he has time to conjure up an interpretation of his own.3 In that instant before the process of making sense was completed, a presupplied image and, subsequently, a thought (not quite your own) could take hold. Thought was being standardized.”

—Rebecca Lemov, “Into the Whirlpool.” The Hedgehog Review. Summer 2020.

A discussion of legibility and mass manipulation from print media through YouTube and Facebook algorithms. Nothing new here for people familiar with James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State or Edward S. Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. However, I did like this idea of standardizing thought, which is clearly what the 24 hour news networks, YouTube, Twitter, etc. are doing.