"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Never NeverTweet Land

Thanks to Ezra Klein, I finally understand Twitter:

Twitter is weird. A huge amount of what’s written there is metatextual commentary on other tweets intended for a knowing audience reading in a specific moment. It’s an ephemeral, self-referential mode of discourse that is unfortunately not ephemeral or tied to reference points at all — in fact, it’s designed to be broadcast, archived, searched, and embedded by anyone, in any context, at any point in the future.

There’s a term for this: It’s called “context collapse.” danah boyd, who may or may not have coined the term, explained it in a paper co-written with Alice Marwick:

"Every participant in a communicative act has an imagined audience. Audiences are not discrete; when we talk, we think we are speaking only to the people in front of us or on the other end of the telephone, but this is in many ways a fantasy. (Social norms against eavesdropping show how ‘privacy’ requires the participation of bystanders.) Technology complicates our metaphors of space and place, including the belief that audiences are separate from each other. We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded. Our understanding of the social media audience is limited. While anyone can potentially read or view a digital artifact, we need a more specific conception of audience than ‘anyone’ to choose the language, cultural referents, style, and so on that comprise online identity presentation."

We write for an audience we think we know, in a vernacular they’ll understand, using reference points they’re familiar with. Six years later, our tweets are weaponized to an audience we don’t know, thick with terms they understand differently, with the reference points completely absent.

So it's blog comments without the blog posts. I can only imagine the trouble someone could make for me if they bothered to retrieve my Eschaton comments from ages gone by (or at Salon's"Table Talk" before that) and flung them about without context.

It’s not just context collapse, though. Part of constructing your community on Twitter is bounding it. Part of winning retweets and likes is sending missives your community will love. Given how human beings police group boundaries, that means making jokes only your friends understand, slamming common enemies, expressing sentiments in ways that signal group belonging.

Twitter is a medium that rewards us for snark, for sick burns, for edgy jokes and cruel comments that deepen the grooves of our group. And then it’s designed to make the sickest of those burns and the worst of those jokes go viral, reaching far beyond their intended audience, with untold consequences. That’s good for engagement on the platform, but it’s often bad for the people it happens to.

"Table Talk" was divided into broad categories, and each had its regulars. The rest of the community looked upon the "Politics" thread as the neighborhood where, if you found yourself there you didn't stop at the red lights. "White House" was the white-hot center of the "Politics" category.  This was during the Clinton Administration, and we were rabidly partisan about the intransigence of the Gingrich House, the Starr investigation, the impeachment and Senate trial.  We were the crazed mutants of "Mad Max."  We scared even the "Politics" regulars; and we liked it that way.  Take all those comments out of context now, Lord knows what we would all sound like, but it wouldn't be the way we sounded to each other then; and it wouldn't be good.

The very first tweet was sent in 2006. This is a young medium, and over time, we’ll (hopefully) figure it out — how to interpret it, how to couch it, how to delete old tweets automatically. But for now, the lesson is clear: #NeverTweet.

Table Talk is long gone, those comments, as far as I know, completely inaccessible (but is that true of anything on the internet?).  Then again, I'm not James Gunn, I've never worked for a multi-national corporation jumpy enough to fire me because I put my hand on a woman's back or wrote and directed two major motion pictures but also published some impolitic jokes.  I was a pastor for awhile, which made me just as vulnerable (my favorite crack was the church member who, when he was really annoyed with me for not kissing his ring finger, accused me of acting like a lawyer), but that was hardly so public a position.  I have had my blog posts used against me, read in ways I never intended; but that was a minor matter that ultimately didn't change the direction my life was already going in.

Still, I wonder if we wouldn't be better off without this medium of communication.  We don't seem to be very responsible with it.  We imagine we are all super-heroes, using our power for good; but we behave more like infants with our hands on the fully loaded pump shotgun.


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