Dan Sinker/blog

Year of the Living Dead

A year ago Elon Musk took over Twitter. Too much has happened in the 365 days that followed to even begin to chronicle it all here, but the short version is that he quickly fired 80% of the staff, broke a bunch of things, paid racists, misogynists, and homophobes to set up shop, picked (sometimes literal) fights with anyone who struck his fancy, lost billions of dollars, and changed the iconic name and logo to the letter X just because.

Somehow, despite it all, Twitter didn't die.

I wish that it had.

Instead it's a zombie. A hollow version of itself, held together by the muscle memory of what once was. A phantom limb on our collective consciousness. It's hateful and ragged in a way that is shocking on the days that I revisit it. And yet it didn't die.

Since the last time I wrote about Twitter, alternatives have emerged. Mastodon is still chugging along, very geeky (and white), and weirdly hostile to new users. Bluesky seems to have sucked up the most entertaining shitposters on Twitter but it feels a bit like everyone's auditioning for a seat at the cool table. Instagram's Twitter clone Threads is probably the closest direct imitation, largely because they leaned into getting brands—the worst part of Twitter after the fascists—on the platform; it's like Tweeting at the mall.

I'm on all of them (because of course I am) and ultimately they're all fine but, over the course of the last year, I've found that I post to them less and less.

At first I attributed it to something akin to a fever breaking. With the daily habit of Twitter no longer one I was willing to feed, I found myself wondering why I did it in the first place.

But now that it's been a while, I don't think that's it. I think it's the fragmentation of the userbase and the cognitive load that interaction now requires.

For years Twitter was just the place you could dump your thoughts. You didn't have to think about it, you just dumped. I dumped a lot of thoughts into Twitter. I made lots of friends along the way. But now? Now those friends are spread across multiple sites, if they've landed anywhere. And any thought you want to dump now? You've got to decide where to dump it. Nowadays I find myself asking, "Is this a Mastodon thought?" "A Bluesky thought?" "A Threads thought?" Do I post it to all three? (And what does that mean?) By the time I've run through this particular flowchart, the thought is usually gone.

Instead of a single app to click, I've got a little folder of apps on my phone now. At my desk, I've got three tabs clogging up my tiny social sidebar monitor (remind me to tell you about this great little thing one day). I end up dropping in and out of them pretty much at random throughout the day. I never look to any of them when news breaks, which is telling.

One of the main topics of discussion on all three is how they're not as good as Twitter, which is true. They are not as good as Twitter. But neither is Twitter. And the reality is that nothing will ever be as good as something that grew organically—largely through user-driven innovation—over the course of 15 years. Because, whether you knew it or not, so much of what we loved about Twitter was the work it took to become the thing we knew. It's like the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas vs actual Venice in Italy. Sure it's cleaner and it's not going to flood, but it's just a flimsy facsimile of a real, living thing. That Twitter still exists, hollowed and hateful, feels like an insult. It's just a flimsy facsimile of itself now too.

The year that has elapsed since Twitter was hollowed out has felt lonelier to me. For as much of a hellsite as it was, it was home. I've felt less connected ever since. Less in touch with people. Of course, I spend most of my time in a fictional town, so some of that's on me. But we lost something when Elon Musk walked through the doors of Twitter and I don't think it's ever coming back.

Published October 26, 2023.

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