The Internet's Day of Reckoning
At the end of the day, you are only on the apps because everyone else is.
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Assuming everything you do will one day be put on trial is an easy way to live your life. Lawyers know this and so do the Desperately Religious, but there has never been a better time to remind yourself of this fact. Privacy… now there’s an idea.
When I was 21 years old and still holding onto the virtue of the internet, Ben Smith, who was then my boss’s boss’s boss, put it to me that one day every piece of content and message and embarrassing photo I had shared under the guise of Private Practice would be publicly available and searchable. And that idea has not left my mind since.
It is the kind of chaos that, when heard for the first time, feels natural and simple. Like an urgent reminder of death or the simplified, focus grouped bullet points of a Good Plan, it is an idea you get no credit for discussing. Of course that’ll happen, kid. Who do you think you are? But it is real and scary all of the same… Inevitable in its making, the slow march of a shadow looming over the rest of the world. And what are we going to do about it, eh? If recent events are to be trusted, not much at all.
Elon Musk has bought Twitter. Whether you think he is a fool or a saint or a bigot or a megalomaniac doesn’t matter – the world’s richest man got what he says he wanted all along. The nightmare took 10 months to complete and involved a whole digital nation rejoicing over the possibility of a new culture war. The fanboys are here for Elon’s Free Speech Crusade, and the deeply embedded are already murmuring about some sort of coup. But I would say this ends with disappointment on all sides – and Mr. Musk is a primary target. He of all people knows you Have To Make Money, and for Twitter that means keeping advertisers happy. Look at him grovelling only hours after the deal closed, promising to make things great for The Client again. He may have dreamt of a free speech utopia and he may have not, but now he is just trapped in here with the rest of us, and with Much More to Lose.
Well, we can take solace in that.
It is natural that people would scream out loud about where they can go next – and it is normal for them to realise there is no where worth going. Social media is no good and it is not a disaster either, but it is a vice and one that we have all mainlined with little recourse. And we are ashamed of it. Do you think finding another platform will make things better? Maybe at first. But eventually everything moves in the same direction. This river is flooded already. You have been faced with as real a reason as ever to leave the digital world we have made – at least on Twitter - and instead you gaze directly into the sun and ask why it burns. Yes, I want to leave this terror of my own making. But I’m hoping there’s another one just like it down the road.
Don’t judge me too harshly on this: no one will be happy when this is over. Elon’s fans will grow tired of their billionaire king failing to live up to whatever deal they thought he signed, and the rest of us will suck it and see. I only have sympathy for the few of us actually working at Twitter. Now that is not a life I’d live.
Where was I? …The day of reckoning.
Well, I am cynical by nature, but I should take this moment to clarify: this sort of mass event would be incredibly painful and then not painful at all. We would all learn to live with it and we are slowly learning to live with it already. Our privacy online and in the Real World is being sapped from us and it is drainage like a leech: All In and then All Of The Time. Think about the small parts of yourself you are giving away for free every day: the cost of playing the game. Consider what’s next. Telephone companies are hacked, and then insurance… It is only a matter of time before these things are as regular and American as the World Series. Don’t stress, that is comforting. The only thing that will save us from ourselves is going through it all together. And we have not even mentioned the advertisers yet. Now that would be painful. That is an industry with more money than sense, folks, and they’re the ones getting the files to your secret digital life. All so they can sell you a Coke. Boy, it tastes good too.
And another thing: Twitter is a public square in name only. I have no bones in repeating myself, and so I won’t, but the richest man in the world buying it is still something to sit and think on. That is not to say it is a good place or anything to be proud of. Twitter is private – that is a fact – and it is influential. Perhaps not even because of the website they have made, and certainly because of the people who are on it. But that is the reality of the situation, folks. I understand how painful it can be to admit that a tech company did exactly what it said it would do (with the exception of making money). These guys are shooting fish with someone else’s bullets. Who cares if they miss. You’re fired – see you on the other side. Enjoy the payoff, punk.
Besides, there is plenty to worry about in the world. Don’t spend too much time thinking about all of this. At the end of the day, you are only on the apps because everyone else is. That much will always be true.
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