Yes to the market economy, no to the market society.
-Lionel Jospin, 🇫🇷French Statesmen, Independent, 16, September, 1998
Over the next few weeks I’m going to do my best to transition my writing from Twitter back to my blog where, frankly, I can stretch my arms out and feel some freedom for a while.
A clear page. A blinking cursor. The writer’s best and worst friend.
I don’t expect this to be easy. Twitter is a great product. There’s so much I like about it:
- It’s the place powerful, smart, and educated (in the academy or elsewhere) people go to see what’s happening in the public
- A regular workin’ stiff like me therefore has direct access to what I like to think of as Expert Power, and that was so rewarding to me.
- It’s a place people go to negotiate their interests, express their politics, and build an agenda. In this way, it functioned like the old Letters to the Editor page of my local paper
- It’s got some great features, like Direct Messaging and Periscope
- It’s pleasing as hell to use as a reader- during my time there I pushed the Like button some 31,100 times, hopefully making someone smile a little bit
- It’s challenging to fit meaning and your authentic voice into 240 characters and I liked that challenge
- There are real people there on the other end of the screen
- There’s a lingo, a rhythm, and a beat to the place that’s hard to find elsewhere on the late, great Internet
- I like to think I made real friends there, people I could trust, but you never know. Apart from local friends who use Twitter, I met with one other Twitter user earlier this year who reached out to me on his way through Los Angeles. We met and had coffee. Nice.
On the other hand, it’s also an awful place, or in the words of one person I followed obsessively on Twitter, a “trust-shattering” place.
- It’s very addictive to someone like me
- It’s a hall of mirrors that surfaces few trust signals expcet for the blue covfefe checkmark
- It’s a misinfo and disinfo weapons factory open to the world at large
- It exhilerated me one moment and made me feel despair the next
- It’s easy to offend people there, to mistake signal for noise or noise for signal, and to alternatively hurt someone else or be hurt yourself
- It’s too easy to ignore your own sense of things there and get swept into the roiling, swirling moment, to join with whatever school of fish you’ve fallen in with
Using twitter obsessively for almost two years is, in a very real sense, like being in the public square of your locality. You never know what you’re going to see in the real public square. There might be a mass demonstration one day, a person urinating on the sidewalk the next, and people screaming, shouting, and brawling the next. It’s the actual public, the commons, the space in between the spaces of our private lives and I found that dynamic endlessly rich & deep, like a vein of gold in the earth. And I mined that metaphor, that allegory for all its worth, baby. A few months ago, I celebrated this discrovery as akin to finding my voice again, to finding my muse. So for that, I’m grateful for the time I spent on Twitter and the people I read.
That said, I’m probably not going to delete my Twitter account, or my tweets. They are my words, after all, and if Twitter wants to pay for the archiving and hosting of them for time immemorial, have at it Jack!
But I’m going to leave my tweets in “protected” mode so I can have some semblance of control over who accesses and reads my words and thoughts over the last two years. Of course nothing *really* ever disappears from the internet, and “protected mode” won’t stop my words from escaping Twitter, but mirroring/hosting an archive of all my tweets is a right afforded only to someone with access & control over the credentials used to login to my Twitter account. So at least there will be some friction there between my words & a bad actor.
Which brings up an important programming note that’s slipped under my radar recently. You see, though I’ve had my Twitter account for almost 11 years, I only actively used it in the last 18 months. You can see from this archive graph my Tweet activity over time.
For most of my account’s lifetime, I let Twitter lie fallow, refusing the participate in the private public square of our shared existence. Once I did return following election of Donald Trump, I was hyper-aware that I was donating my time, labor and, in Zuboff’s phrasing, my digital exhaust to a publicly traded company owned by private investors. This reality is easy to forget inside the devilish little app, but it dominated the content of my tweets since I returned in 2017.
I was also obsessive about archiving, storing, and analyzing the body of my work on Twitter. So unlike most people I think, I’d regularly download .csv files showing my tweet metrics. I’d also download the whole enchilada: The @JeffWilsonTech’s Tweet Archive, more or less me, my real self, as stored on disk by Twitter in their datacenters.
I’ve been doing that at irregular intervals for most of the last two years. I’ve copies from 2017, 2016 and before that, but I’ve also got January 2018, December 2018, and April 2019.
I like to think of this transition -which, if it was announced, I missed- as the actual enclosure of Arendt’s public by the private. I’m sure it’s going on at other large private firms that are day by day dismantling the open standards of the internet in pursuit of the logic and plunder of Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism. It’ll probably happen here at WordPress.com too.
And my guess is that it’s changed because Twitter users don’t actually download their archived tweets very often. So when we do, we don’t really notice the obfuscation, the misdirection. We don’t see the intent. We see the download (in my case 2 Gigabyte zip file), we unzip it, and we look at the files & folders. Then we close out cause there’s not much here you can do unless you understand how JSON files work. Maybe you click the readme.txt file, but probably not. (Incidentally, I’ve uploaded mine for you to review).
So you download it, it’s no longer friendly and easy to use. And it’s got much much more information about you, about the ads you engaged with, the list of email addresses you’ve used over time, who you coresponded with and -creepily- attributed and unattributed engagement. So your subtweets are being watched folks. There’s that and much, much more.
The new Twitter archive is a digital dossier of you and your habits, your every interaction on Twitter. It’s a product -not your’s, not mine, but Twitter’s- that can be packaged up and sold on the behavior futures markets by the masters of our world. I have no evidence to suggest this is happening, but I can’t think of another reason to give me this rather than the old archive format. This is a shipping product.
Caveat emptor, friends. And Happy Trails to you and your’s, wherever you are.