brown and yellow caterpillar on white hand

It never feels good

I rarely feel better after logging into Twitter. Anxious, small, overwhelmed, exhausted, hopeless… those are the feelings that more often follow me after punching the log out button. And yes, it’s usually a stern punch.

I recognize that vileness exist in the world (and the past few weeks have provided more than enough evidence of that), but when I am on Twitter, I feel like I’m swimming in evil’s concentrate. Using tools like Tweetdeck, I can filter out retweets and maximize the benefits of lists, but it’s still overwhelming to see everyone “expressing every single opinion that they have on every single thing that occurs all at the same time.” Perhaps things will get better as Twitter seeks to attract new audiences, but right now, as I’m watching the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s July rulings, I’m not confident it will. 

Internally at the New York Times, journalists have been encouraged to use Twitter less. In a leaked memo first reported at Insider, I found the following statement salient not just for journalists, but for academics as well:

“We can rely too much on Twitter as a reporting or feedback tool—which is especially harmful to our journalism when our feeds become echo chambers. We can be overly focused on how Twitter will react to our work, to the detriment of our mission and independence. We can make off-the-cuff responses that damage our journalistic reputations. And for too many of you, your experience of Twitter is shaped by harassment and attacks.”

We give far too much weight to Twitter’s impact on social and political life and “the public square.” [see also: Cal Newport]. Collectively, we overestimate its influence, obsessing to an unreasonable degree over how it will react to our content, knowing full well that any storm we create today will be subsumed by next week’s hurricane of rage. It screws with the way we write, the way we think about our mission, and our focus. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m glad to see organizations like NY Times begin to reckon that. Colleges and universities would do well to follow suit. 

Finding a new drug

So I have been looking around for other spaces to fill my desire for online community. Two spaces present some possibility: LibraryThing and Metafilter

I have been a member of LibraryThing since 2006, though I’ve never been much of a contributor. I catalog all my books there and occasionally use it to find recommendations, but I haven’t actively participated in the group forums. From the outside, the groups feel overwhelming. There are a variety of reading groups, many with vibrant and active users who seem to already have a close-knit community. I’m also a slow reader with limited time for reflection and writing about my reading, so I’m not sure where I would fit in.

As for Metafilter, I’ve used the site to find interesting content for years. The community there is respectful of others’ lived experiences and has recently created administrative structures to help ensure the community works toward inclusivity. From the outside, it feels like a community that respects each other. I don’t have any relationships with any other users (I would suffer from the same problem of being the new guy among old friends), so I would have to start somewhere.

I’ve looked at a couple Discord communities, but none really stick for me. This is a shame because Discord has the vibe of FriendFeed back in the day, but in a Slack-like environment. 

When I first joined Twitter in 2007, I made some wonderful professional connections. Now, most of us are scattered to the wind, and the space left by that absence has been filled with a hurricane. 

Three things I liked

First, Charlie Warzel, writing for The Atlantic and author of “Galaxy Brain”, has an interesting reflection on why Google search results have become so boring. Perhaps, in addition to the unnecessary amount of real estate given to ads, it is possible that search has just become that good at finding answers and filtering out misinformation. 

“Google Search might be worse now because, like much of the internet, it has matured and has been ruthlessly commercialized. In an attempt to avoid regulation and be corporate-friendly, parts of it might be less wild. But some of what feels dead or dying about Google might be our own nostalgia for a smaller, less mature internet.”

Second, I was this week years old when I learned that Merlin Mann has been collecting little bits of wisdom on Github. These are a few of my favorites:

“Every few months, take at least one panorama photo of your kid’s room. At least annually, secretly record your kid talking for at least ten minutes. I promise you’ll treasure both, and then you will curse yourself for not having done each way more often.”

“Organizing your email is like alphabetizing your recycling.”

“Most team culture comes out of a combination of what is tolerated and what is rewarded. If you legit want your culture to improve, change what you reward and rethink what you will tolerate.”

“If you want an honest opinion, ask for the second superlative. For example, if you want a thoughtful answer about someone’s job, ask them their second-least-favorite thing about it.”

“Never argue on the internet. No one will remember whether you won or lost the argument; they’ll just remember that you are the sort of person who argues on the internet.”

“Priorities are like arms. If you think you have more than a couple, you’re either lying or crazy.”

“If you really want to help someone, offer something extremely specific. “I’m here for you! 😬👍” is not nearly as cool as “Can I drop off a lasagna at 4?””

Third, I really enjoyed this conversation with Shannon Mattern, theorist and professor of media, design, urban architecture, and anthropology at The New School for Social Research. The conversation is wide-ranging, but if you jump to the 13-minute mark, Mattern discussed the value of libraries, as purveyors of critical information literacy, spaces for civic engagement, networks for bridging the digital divide, and as world-builders who do not simply disseminate information, but also validate the type of information that is most important to a community.

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