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A Bird With a Broken Wing
For no real reason, today I opened Twittelator for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t look at my mentions or my DMs: I looked only at my feed.
Once upon a time, I was quite involved in the whole thing. It was (still is?) a great way to kill time on the daily commute. It can be by turns frustrating, hilarious, and educational. It often brought to my attention things I wouldn’t have otherwise found, most of only passing interest, but some fascinating. It did, I suppose, live up to the promise of being a social aggregator. With a ruthlessly maintained group of followees, the hit rate can be improved massively. I’d even say I made friends on there — friends of the “I’d go for a drink IRL with you” variety — even though I never met them IRL.
Even with this is mind, I still drifted off. First it would be days between reading my feed, then weeks. Finally, months would, could, and did pass between logins. It was never planned; it just happened.
I don’t know why. It’s clear my interest waned gradually, and I became less invested in it as time passed. Worse, though, is that without even realising it, it seemed like I became less invested in the people I was following. For whatever reason, their thoughts — insightful, sarcastic, obscene, downright hilarious — became of less interest to me. Sometimes I wondered if this meant I was withdrawing from them, from their ideas and observations. Most of the time, I just knew that Twitter wasn’t appealing to me, and that I wasn’t exactly sure why it wasn’t appealing to me.
And today, after I logged in on a whim and began sliding up through my feed, I felt out of place. It felt like I was reading a version of English from the distant future. Almost every tweet was littered with #hash-tags, @names, and links to other services. Once I could read it fluently, but now it seemed vaguely alien and meaningless.
As I swiped up and up, I realised why. The soup of #hash-tags and @services was thicker than before, partially obscuring the meaning of the tweets themselves, but in obscuring them, it brought into focus why I’d drifted away. It wasn’t that I’d become less interested in my followees: it was that, slowly but surely, my followees and I had become less interested in Twitter.
Twitter, once used to fire back and forth short, snappy bursts of humour had gradually become a bucket into which all other services pump ceaselessly. Path, Tumblr, Instagram, Foursquare, others. All there, posting semi-autonomously on your behalf, all the time. Twitter had become a small town, previously inhabited, now mostly abandoned but given the illusion of life by the ceaseless activities of robots cutting the grass and washing the windows.
And I realised, with stupendous slowness of mind, that — much as I relished and cursed the 140 restriction simultaneously, or enjoyed trying new client apps — I never really cared about the platform; I only ever cared about the people. Twitter itself was no more than the piece of string between the two yoghurt pots.
Maybe this is the inevitable fate of social networks: they grow, flourish, then the people move out as the robots move in. Or maybe this turnover is unique to Twitter, made inevitable by its ubiquity and its welcoming API. Either way, Twitter wasn’t of itself a good time, but it enabled us to have them, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
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- iamlbd said: This explains why you never got back to me and I still don’t have your number!!
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