Sometime last week, during a brief moment of breather between mainlining updates on Twitter’s ongoing collapse, the text on my computer monitor began to blur and blur. I naturally panicked and quickly found myself squinting at my optometrist’s website and Googling at the same time”Screen suddenly hard to read. Am I dying?” Fear flared up inside me, immediately activating a question I always suspected I would one day confront: what would I do with myself—and my life—if I couldn’t stare at screens anymore? I’d spent the past month reluctantly pondering the alleged collapse of social media and possible alternatives to: the Elon Musk of everything, such that it was physiologically ironic that now even my eyeballs rebelled against the idea of tackling yet another platform change by trudging further into the depths of the internet.
Since Musk’s takeover, the question of the hour for Twitter users has been simple: Where is the journey going? The front runners seemed to be Discord, a former gaming community platform resembling a Slack descendant and early internet chat room, and Mastodon, which is essentially a chunkier Twitter spread across a loose federation of self-hosted servers . (For our purposes here, you can basically equate “server” with “community” or “digital treehouse,” with each “treehouse” having its own name and membership, but more often than not anyone can visit someone else’s treehouse.)
On the one hand, I had a passing familiarity with Discord: I joined back in 2021 Casey Newton and a handful of other journalists in an experiment on a mega chat room segmented by our respective newsletter readership. What struck me then as now while messing around in a few other servers was how neatly segmented everything was. On Dirt Chat, hosted by friends who run the culture newsletter Dirt on Substack, I was able to switch between channels dedicated to discussing books, fashion, TV recommendations, and crypto; On another media-centric server, I could choose to join the conversation in the #yay or #ugh channel. (On my personal lot of Discord Land last year I created channels dedicated to appreciation of the Irish rock god Hozier and the Netflix show Peaky Blinders.)
There is a purity to the organization that Discord offers: instead of throwing myself into the maelstrom of politics, memes, and passionate GoFundMe links of Twitter’s central line, here I could choose the exact nature of the topic and even the specific mood of the discourse, in which I want to participate. But with every robot ping, the downside became apparent: you either had to mute almost everything, or engage in an endless hunt across every channel and server to track down the source of every notification. Trying to keep up with Discord made me feel like a squirrel with a great scarcity mentality, now released into a sprawling soccer field full of acorns. It was hopeless to think I could pick it all up, but I didn’t know how else to get involved beyond a cursory check-in. Without a retweet feature to algorithmically bring things to awareness, jokes and links would disappear in seconds or require a lot of context; Much like in real life, I had to be pretty much right there to get it. Funnily enough, a lot of the best conversations revolved around tweets that someone had pasted.
This led to a deeper question: What was it that I actually wanted to copy from Twitter? I figured I wanted a community, and Discord (as well as Substack Chat, Reddit, and other similar forums) seemed to offer what felt like an intimate dinner party compared to my usual timeline — but it also felt like the gathering sort of thing an discouraged the occasional drop-in. Perhaps I was a lot more avoidant than I wanted to admit, and what I was actually looking for wasn’t in-depth conversation circles. Maybe I just wanted to be a voyeur.
So Mastodon offered the most functional Twitter-like experience of microblogging, following, retweeting (known as “boosting” there), and similar shuffling of content and clout. A friend referred me to the Debirdify tool where I could see which Twitter friends were already on Mastodon – about 40 in total, mostly on the journa.host and mastodon.social servers (I joined the latter after applying and had not received permission). join newsie.social). It was easy to argue with the site’s minor differences: DMing someone was pretty tedious and also dangerous similar to posting something publicly, and often my computer would update the feed on my screen in real-time, which felt like it would I stare straight into the heart of a strobe light. In terms of content, the mood was very much geared towards LinkedIn and self-promotion on Twitter. I quickly realized that it wasn’t just the sprawling 500-character limit that made Mastodon seem so tedious to read, but also this growing irritation in the back of my mind that made it clear just how pointless it all felt. Maybe the question wasn’t where do i go online to connectbut how badly I didn’t want to connect anymore anyway.
OK. I hear myself And trust me, I used to roll my eyes pretty hard at writers and journalists and a whole cadre of guys who built their careers on being online just to resist being dependent on the platform of the day grumble once they reached a certain level of professional safety and could afford to leave. I used to think it would be pretty obnoxious of them to complain, no different than watching a champion swimmer nag about pool conditions after winning the competition. How could you justify saying it Miscellaneous People to log off and touch weed when there was clearly a connection between shearing off successive chunks of your time and energy and your selfishness for algorithmic approval and the cold hard results that came out of it?
What I understand now, having spent my entire 20’s online – striving to be as connected as possible, to be as current as possible on micro and macro, as much as possible –brave as possible – is the compromise. Like anyone privileged to be behind a screen for most of the pandemic, the limitations of virtual connection have finally become painfully clear to me. I think about the old college friendship I let fall apart because the other party isn’t on social media at all, and we never figured out how to reliably update each other about our lives without the ability to have to outsource it to a Zuckerbergian profit machine. I think about the time I confessed to a friend how hard dating was, and she thoughtlessly—automatically—said in surprise, “But you have so many followers!” I think back to the weeks I’ve been in the Summer was home alone, bedridden with COVID, obsessively consuming every Instagram story available on my feed. And now, with a shameful degree of melodrama, I’m wondering if it will be like this one day when I die and everyone just keeps posting as usual.
That’s a crazy thought, you might say. But that’s how my brain works now. With the demise of Twitter, the TikTokification of Instagram, the almost guaranteed obsolescence of Facebook, and the Metaverse’s total horror premise of cannibalizing even more of real life for online life, the idea of just finding the right new platform on which you can stare under cover making a connection, exchanging a form of presence for a shabbier model, I feel goes against everything that’s been important to me since. I’m not sure I can fool myself again. Can you?
In her 2019 pro-logging-off book/manifesto how to do nothing the artist Jenny Odell wrote: “Let’s not forget that in a time of increasing climate-related events, those who help you are unlikely to be your Twitter followers; they will be your neighbors.” When I first read that line years ago, I was outraged. How condescending, I thought, to dismiss the proven kindness and generosity of a universe of mutuals in such ominous terms. I wouldn’t be the person I am without mine. Lately I’m not sure if it’s an online connectivity issue Well or Poorly. It’s too far away for that. We can now only decide whether we want to more.
After recently rereading Odell, I walked down the steps of my apartment building and pasted a handwritten note with my number and asking if my neighbors wanted to start a group chat. We have almost everyone in the building in it now. And honestly? It’s kind of dead as of now. But I find I like just knowing we’ve got each other there.
https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2022/11/twitter-is-dying-and-i-dont-feel-so-good-myself Twitter Is Dying, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself