Googling “Twitter is dead” pulls up nearly two billion hits, which isn’t an obvious indication of vitality. Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer, writing in The Atlantic, supercharged the meme with their ‘eulogy’ for the platform, which described it “entering its twilight” as the tensions in its “inherent (and explicit) attention market” have been exposed.
From the beginning, there were a few useful precepts that those of us who have obsessed over the platform had to believe. First, you had to believe that someone else out there was paying attention, or better, that a significant portion — not just 1 or 2 percent — of your followers might see your tweet. Second, you had to believe that skilled and compelling tweeting would increase your follower count. Third, you had to believe there was a useful audience you couldn’t see, beyond your timeline — a group you might want to follow one day.
LaFrance and Meyer don’t quite escalate to the ‘Ponzi’ accusation, but it’s implicit. By promising explosive, distributed audience growth, Twitter encourages impossible claims on a stressed global attention reservoir, as if everyone were able to grab ever larger pieces of other people’s time. Attention undergoes inflationary devaluation, and subsequent implosion, as the bubble collapses into a morass of disillusionment, among a flood of “spam … artificially inflated popularity scores” and fake, ego-tickling twitter-bots.
There’s a positive case for Twitter that steers around this diagnosis, but a more telling engagement would embrace it. The attention stress dramatized by Twitter is the specific way our long-awaited ‘future shock‘ finally arrives, rushing legacy human systems — biological, psychological, and social — through their speed limits. “Information Overload” is formatted to the Twitter Time-Line, as message density, or a splinter-stream. If there’s confusion about what Twitter ultimately is, that’s at least in part because the currents running through it arise elsewhere — the magnitude is the message.
Whatever we thought future shock was going to be like, thanks to Twitter we’re being told. It’s a time crisis, personalized as a partially navigable inundation. Beyond all the facile questions of consumer utility, what is being encountered is something historical, planetary — even cosmic — and it is waiting to overwhelm us, whatever we do. There’s simply too much coming in. However we’re going to ‘adjust’ to that, the time to begin is now.
(UF‘s first Twitter Mind remarks are here.)