Twitter is Good

People often ask me, zolltan, what is your favourite social network? Actually they don’t ask me that, and thank G_d, because what kind of terrible bland promote-synergy-enterpreneurial-gobbledygook world would we be living in if this was a topic of frequent discourse. What kind? The kind you’re living in now, because I will tell you what my favourite social network is.

People who aren’t on twitter assume that twitter is all about sharing what you had for breakfast and reducing political debates to hashtags. And it’s reasonable to conclude that since hashtags are awful, so twitter, the fount of hashtags, must be awful. #hashtagsareruiningourdiscourse. To non-users, twitter is about the shallowness of modern life. Whereas to the people on it, it looks a little different. Here are two comments I’ve read about social networks on twitter: “No one is as happy as they appear on Facebook, as depressed as they appear on Twitter, or as employed as they appear on LinkedIn” and “Facebook: be the first of your friends to like this; Twitter: be the first of your friends to hate this.” Twitter is about expressing toxic rage, and a mob mentality on one hand and dead-eyed cynicism on the other.

And that’s true. Twitter is terrible. But it can also be good. For me, twitter is good for two things: jokes, and links to reading material. It’s true that every social network has its niche, and you wouldn’t use one to do what the other one does. One-liner jokes are a twitter niche. But aggregating news is something that facebook and reddit also try to do, for example, and twitter is way better at it from my perspective. I think it’s because twitter allows you to be more elite-centred with your choices, so it’s more likely to be good than “what’s upvoted on reddit” – even among some of the more esoteric subs. On the other hand, “sharing” things on facebook implies a certain commitment – that the article somehow corresponds to your identity. So what people want to share on facebook is very different – and worse – than what people actually want to see. But I don’t know if this explanation is actually reasonable. What I do know is that during the last three days, in addition to Iran deal analysis, op-eds about Canadian icebreaker fleet, etc., here’s what twitter has given me to read/see that I think is worthwhile:

1. A story of murder 
2. A drafting joke
3. An interesting map
4. Nassim Taleb’s rather crotchety-sounding paper about the precautionary principle (about which maybe more soon?)
5. A meditation on Soviet architecture
6. Statistics on the beliefs of tech moguls
7. An article about the ineffectiveness of anti-sweatshop activism and what can be done about it
8. Wells Tower (the non-dead man’s David Foster Wallace)’s essay about an elephant hunt

plus a bunch of funny one-liners.

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