My Kingdom For a Watercooler: Why Twitter’s Rumored Changes Pretty Much Wreck Everything
(Disclaimer: This post uses an excessive amount of GIFs. But there SOOO many good angry ones, I couldn’t say no. Apologies in advance.)
Twitter is, apparently, looking at becoming Facebook 2.0.
An algorithm-driven content feed. A souped-up search engine. Group chatting.
These appear to be among Twitter’s priorities to make its service more relevant and easier to use, an issue that has plagued the company ever since its IPO last year.
My Twitter feed has been an explosion of rage and disappointment, my tweets included. Over the past hour I have, in fact, vacillated between outright depression, despair, and attempts to soothe myself with thoughts of how I’ll live without my very favorite social media experience on planet earth. I try to tell myself I’m being dramatic, that maybe it won’t be so bad, but it doesn’t stick. Alogorithm-driven content feed is exactly what I hate about Facebook as a user. It’s why I have segregated accounts, one for my “real life” and one for my author life, and I barely ever go there. When I do, I have to be feeling pretty masochistic, because pain will absolutely be involved. I will see things I don’t want to see. I will miss things from people I want to interact with. Oh yes, I could say “I want to see what Bob is doing” and go to his page, but that requires me to consult a checklist reminding me what I want to think about. It involves switching feeds from “top” to “news” (so much cultural slip-showing there), though only on my computer because I can’t seem to figure it out on my phone. I can subscribe to “notifications,” changing my experience from a calm, friendly perusal to ALERT, ALERT, ALERT.
I despise Facebook. I feel I shouldn’t say that because I’m an author, and maybe I just dissed a reader’s favorite thing–so let me clarify, I’m totally fine with Facebook EXISTING, but it’s not for me. I half-heartedly put some stuff up sometimes on Facebook because I am told as an author I should, and out of respect that some readers want me to be there. I always wonder if anyone sees it, though, or if they like me have nothing but ads, Huffington Post articles, and the same popular conversation which made me uncomfortable four days ago sitting at the top of the page. I assume everything I do on Facebook goes into a void, because I’m not a media conglomerate, so I have no influence. As a consumer, Facebook offends, upsets, and confuses me. As an author, it stresses me out, makes me feel by turns guilty, angry, uncomfortable, nervous, and on rare occasions, engaged with my readers. Even on the occasions I go through a more active Facebook period, every single day results in someone saying, “did you see what someone said?” and the answer is always, no, I did not. Usually I can’t even find it on their own page unless I search for an hour.
Also, anyone can FB message me, which on my author account is usually with a businesslike something which requires me to look something up or link or type more than a quick response, or remember that I just agreed to something. It’s because of this I will never, ever have business Facebook on my phone again. Only my personal account is there, and with the exception of a few people, I don’t read or answer messages. Because Facebook is a drain. Facebook makes me sad and hollow inside. I’m hoping someday I use it like I now do Goodreads–every few weeks, to update or check something, and to manage whatever hell the notifications and messages have wrought.
On the other hand, I love Twitter, especially as it currently is, before it phases first through Facebook 2.0, then dies and
cools in the earth beside walks around like a zombie beside Myspace. I love it because I only follow the people I want to. They’ve even made it so if there’s someone politically/politely I “should” follow but don’t actually want to, I can mute them and they never know. Perfect. My readers/friends/curious strangers can follow me, and I can follow them back, or not. I don’t have to pollute my feed with guilt, aggression, or spam. Plus, when the people I follow talk, I get to hear them. Oh yes, I miss stuff, but that’s like being out of the room when someone tells a story. It’s okay. I like them. They’ll say other cool stuff, or someone will retweet it.
The number of wonderful things Twitter has brought me is immeasurable. It got me my agent. It’s introduced me to a conference ballroom’s worth of author friends and contacts. It’s introduced me to several of my new favorite authors. It’s helped me connect outside my genre. It’s allowed me to have conversations with readers, many who have become friends. It’s allowed me to find a new, better way to get news, and most recently after Ferguson, showed me the wonderful world of reporters on Twitter. It has shown me many events in real time: deaths, invasions, aggressions, moments of joy, moments of shock. It does all this organically. Despite its (current) signature chronological scroll, it largely functions horizontally. It forges connections, facilitates networking like a social media shot of souped-up Red Bull. It allows me to stretch my legs, laugh, explode, inform, fuck up, and recover. I check Twitter all day long. It’s always open beside me. It’s on the front page of my phone. It’s my reward for a long spate of writing. It’s where I connect, unwind, and learn.
I’ve gotten used to the ads. I’d pay a hefty month subscribing fee to get rid of them. I’ve come to like the conversation thing, at least the ability to figure out what people were talking about. I really hate the dumping of “top favorited comments” into feeds, but by using the Mac App on my desktop, that doesn’t seem to happen to me too much, though I assume I’ve lost a ton of followers because I favorite everything. I’m annoyed by this weird header which is four times as big on the desktop and tiny on the phone/app but must use the same image. I hate that I can’t edit a tweet if I misspelled. But otherwise, it’s perfect. It’s everything. It’s controlled by me, designed by me, built by me.
I can’t say I’ll bail the second it goes up, but I’m already mentally preparing myself to hate Twitter the way I hate Facebook. It bums me out, and it freaks me out, because realizing Twitter can and probably will do this makes me acknowledge probably everything will do this. The great egalitarian days of the Internet are dying. Everything will be turned into money and profit and manipulation. Pretty soon unless I’m able to be published by a really big media giant, my website won’t be findable or loadable because I won’t be able to pay to get it there. The books I write were never anywhere but in the back corner of the bookstore anyway, so there was this fantastic moment where maybe I could stake out my crazy web homestead and reach readers that way, but now that I’ve let the pessimist out of the bag, I’m just assuming everything will fuck up eventually.
This is a lot to hang on Twitter’s algorithm, and I know I’m blowing it out of proportion. It comes, though, at a point where I already feel like I’ve had it with balancing eight million fucking social media networks, when I’m exhausted from too many conferences and overwhelmed by how fast, nasty, and confusing online rumor mills can be. In my head, Twitter felt like the bar where I could always go and at least hang out with people I liked. Maybe it was real, maybe it was all in my head, but even if Twitter comes out in the next hour and says JUST KIDDING, WE’D NEVER DO THAT TO YOU, I think I’m going to keep my utopias in my head from now on, or at least for a while.
Navigating social media sucks. It’s hard enough to learn it, period, but when they keep changing not only the rules but the goddamned interface, it’s hell on earth. I’ve closed my Twitter app more today than I have ever, because it’s making me sad to look at it. I had my big sad, I wrote this therapy piece, and now I’m ready to say, “Well, I guess I’ll check everything every few weeks, or once a month, and just write books instead.”
I have liked interacting with people. I want to keep doing it. I like networking and chatting with fellow authors and with readers. I like seeing the world this way. But if you make it feel like stress and work, you stupid greedy idiot CFOs, I will not follow you. I’ll miss the magic you facilitated. But if the magic is gone, there’s no point in hanging around to watch you die. I’ve never been a big fan of zombies.