The Sun Shines Dully On The Mountaintop


Or: “The Internet Strikes Back!”



Well, howdy-do, Bloggers!

So here is a thing, a thing to understand…a thing that’s taken rather a long time to dawn on me, but it finally has…

Little by little, I am being pushed out.

By “optimization”, you see. Because every time something gets optimized, implicit in the very concept is that something non-optimal gets excluded from its normal operations…and I am nothing, have never been anything, probably never will be anything, if I’m not a Non-Optimal User, so that thing being excluded is what I do, so what is being excluded is me. And it’s a bit natural, I suppose; in point of fact it’s certainly far from unprecedented; and it’s not even very strange that it’s starting to really ramp up now, this process…nevertheless it took me by surprise, and nevertheless it is not what anybody has ever said they mean or meant to do, and nevertheless it’s really kind of dumb. Because how much of life can we really live through, folks, without acknowledging that there really probably is no Third Way in a game designed to be zero-sum? I mean, you can get Third Ways, I think; it’s just that you can’t get them without giving something up, and that something has to include at least zero-sumness…

So the white matter being finally deemed less sheerly profitable than the grey, its incipient connections, its connections-of-incipiency, are cautiously carved from the bulk of cognitive operation, and set on a separate platter to cool and waste…

And so welcome all Bloggers, to my farewell to Twitter! Never again will such a time come, when after being burned by one social-media Thing I turn to another and expect it to be different! And I have to admit that it’s that very fact that makes me so reluctant to go…because this isn’t just the end of Twitter, for me.


But perhaps I’d better explain how it all happened, anyway.

One day I looked at the screen and noticed that I had “tweeted” TWENTY THOUSAND TIMES…and after rolling around those zeroes on my tongue for a bit, I figured that might translate to something perhaps over a hundred thousand words? A hundred thousand words that could’ve been set down elsewhere, a hundred thousand words that is Twitter’s to do with pretty much as they will, instead of my own, my very own and no one else’s. It’s quite a lot of work to not get paid for, if you want to think of it that way, although I wasn’t totally sure that was the way I wanted to think about it…until the news came that Twitter had sold the last two years’ worth of the total Twitter output to some data-miner, and that decided me.

My account was locked; private. In theory no one could sample it and use it to make a buck. I was invisible to evil things like Klout, for example?

I think?

But to Twitter I was not invisible, and when they did their big sale they included me in it…which means all the stuff I thought I escaped through trying to be a “responsible Twitter user” was stuff I actually didn’t escape at all…and it means money for someone else now, my twenty thousand tweets, in some way or another. If some marketing company had asked to “follow” me, I would’ve declined to allow them to! But if they wanted my data anyway, they could go over my head to Twitter with a fat cheque in hand. And, I know…

…Some may say that was the bargain I made going in. Well, those people are right, of course! But that doesn’t mean I have to stay if I don’t like the bargain anymore. An online community is a fine thing, a fine and helpful thing, but on the corporatized Internet the thing to remember is that it isn’t your online community. It belongs to someone else. It takes place on their premises. There’s a contract, all of that. The system belongs to them, and they get to decide what to do with it; all you get to decide, is how you feel about it. And for myself, I feel like I can’t tolerate generating any more chatter, that to me is just chatter with my peers, but that to Twitter is stuff to roll up in lots and sell off to whomever, to be that person’s asset — and not mine — forever and ever. At first, it seemed like not much to lose, and anyway as long as I kept my account locked I wasn’t losing it; and if it all got sent to the Library of Congress to be part of some public record then I didn’t mind that. And if Twitter parsed and tweezed and analyzed my words along with everyone else’s in order to produce some kind of snapshot of aggregate data, well, I didn’t really mind that either. But for Twitter to collect me for someone else to parse and tweeze and analyze, for money, this is a different story…and twenty thousand tweets is rather a lot of me to be in someone else’s pocket, and so that makes it a different story too…and besides…

It isn’t just Twitter. All these platforms run in about the same way, they have the same rules and the same provisos, and ultimately the same philosophy about whether it’s permission or forgiveness one should be most concerned with being able to lay one’s hands on at need. Google is certainly a past master at this, picking up whatever isn’t nailed down and claiming they thought it had been discarded there. Books. Faces. Sunbathers on the roof. Ironic, isn’t it, that you can’t own the signal content of microwave radiation that passes through your actual physical body, but that whatever Google can see it feels free to make off with? Well, integration and ideology have their own logic; I am not sure that I was ever informed I could delete my Google blog by means other than deleting it, but as it turned out this was perfectly true, and I could. I’m sure the reason no one mentioned it was because they reasoned optimization is always a good thing, because, y’know: optimal…and therefore to want to get rid of just part of Google was a crazy insane want, since wasn’t the whole point to make Google a monolith? A highly desirable monolith. In a strange way this reflects the values of libertarian New Atheist tech billionaires very well, since the New Atheism employs the same questionably self-stabbing sort of defence as this: hey, if you don’t want Darwin then you shouldn’t get Pasteur either! Not that I’m entirely unsympathetic to that somewhat-vindictive view, but I’m also conscious of the fact that this is the same sort of shit that religious nutjobs pull all the time…adolescents pull it too, when they want things their own way, as when do they ever not…while sensible adult religious people scrupulously avoid pulling it, so why in the world would scientists employ this kind of umbrella defence, this defence of a monolith? This monolithic umbrella defence? Sure, we’ve gotta keep the rain off, but surely there’s a better way to do it than balancing a hundred tons of rock above our heads on a stick? No, fuck you, you take all of it or you take none of it!! You believe Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days exactly or there’s NO GOD AND YOU GO TO HELL…!

So it’s fairly revealing in general, this sort of stance…in a Phil. of Sci. way, but forgive me, I forget we’re not talking about Phil. of Sci. now, are we? But only about how all these online services tend to operate in the same way, rather as a flock of swallows flies. Ultimately, I believe, it’ll be their very drive for optimization that brings them low, as they dispense with hard-to-quantify diversity in favour of smallification…the only reason I used Twitter as long as I did was because I found a third-party client for the visually-impaired, as some of you may recall me saying a hundred times or so. They can’t keep it simple, because they don’t know what they’ve got but they don’t want to lose it; Twitter didn’t do “feature creep” it did “overnight bloat”, and Facebook started out as a bunch of crap that cluttered up your view of the bunch of crap it was cluttering up your view of, and every day they throw another shovelful on and every day they fail to understand what people use their product for…which, really you can’t blame them for that, since the users don’t know either, but even so. Even so.

Even so.

There are lots of ways in which I’m a non-optimal user. I like looking at lists instead of running searches, and I’m more likely to buy something I see in a non-targeted ad than in a targeted one. I don’t like the “desktop”; I want a GUI that looks like a bookshelf instead. Word processors make me scream. I write 6,000-word blogposts. I write 6,000-word emails, from which (in case you don’t know) words occasionally disappear as the computer does the other things it’s got to be doing while you type. I don’t like the word “email”, or “e-mail”, or any of the ways you can spell it: I think it’s a joke that got out of control, much like the word “blog” itself. I used to be an eccentric, and now I’m just a curmudgeon. But, the thing to understand is, it isn’t me who’s changed…!

But it’s the computers that got cranky. A couple of years ago I found myself wondering out loud at a young friend: “what am I going to do about the Internet?” She probably thought I sounded nuts, but it is a good question, because…uh, all actions are ultimately taken by individuals? I don’t know, maybe that sounds screwy after all…I mean, obviously I do not head a large tech company, I am not in the government, at first blush it seems like there’s very little I can do “about the Internet”…but then, I never said I could do much, I just strongly implied I must do something, and I still believe I must do something. I can’t so much as get a word-processor that works for writing, but that just means I’ll have to aim lower, won’t I?

What am I going to do about the Internet?

It’s slowly turning kind of evil. I would ask if you’ve noticed this, Bloggers, but of course everyone has noticed it, we all know it and we know we know it. How evil is Apple? They don’t even want you using the Internet; they want to use it for you. How evil is Google? They want to take all your data for the greater good. How evil is PayPal? How evil is Amazon? How evil is Facebook?

How evil is Twitter?

Well, we don’t know about Twitter yet, but it’s not looking too sunny, and all the trends are against them. The flock of swallows has a delightfully flexible pattern of flight, but its rules are rigid! Twitter must follow suit with whatever is going, as everyone else must too. Kickstarter must do it, even as YouTube, even as Microsoft. No one is free, though that’s what the Internet used to be all about. And it seems quite apparent to me that the rate of change for the worse is accelerating. “Social media”, that shit’s out of control, you know? It’s blowing up all around us. The train is slowly smashing into the other train. All these tiresome people (like me) are forever quickly whipping up some half-baked soggy pancake of an opinion (like this one!) to try to explain it all, to help put it in perspective…but truthfully, these are still such early days, the perspective is still quite a long ways down toward the other end of the telescope. Twitter has been tremendously useful to me, and also the most terrible time-sucker…it’s not going to be easily replaced, and I’m going to really miss talking to all the people! But that I’m going, this isn’t the fault of those people. Heck, it isn’t even really my fault! Did I make Twitter?

I don’t even have the power to make a decent word-processor appear.

Some of you may know this: about fifteen years ago or so, I gave up having a bank account. I couldn’t afford the fees, you see! So I just gave it up. This seems STRANGE by the standards of 2013, I know…I get asked all the time how I managed to live, how did I manage to do the most basic things, how I managed to get paid for heaven’s sake, without a bank account. The answer is a bit boring…

It’s just that, fifteen years ago, you could do such things.

Because the system would let you.

And now…it won’t. Or, it mostly won’t. Well, it’s for sure that getting paid is tougher, anyway! And the rest of the world is like this too, there are all kinds of little ways that are being gotten rid of all the time, and you have to be a stainless steel rat now. Theft is easy, by comparison with getting by through using the “little ways”. Theft technology is always improving, after all; theft is a boom industry, resolutely modern. Well, think about it, it’s actually easier to scam a thousand dollars with a debit card, than to cash an actual cheque

And: AHA! Back on topic. So anyway, there was this thing that happened: I was going to donate to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The street team folk they hired approached me, and I said I didn’t have a bank account at the moment but was anticipating getting one again soon (“but then how do you pay for your credit card purchases?”), and when I did I’d be happy to donate, and would they call me again in a couple of months. Which they did. But you see, what I didn’t understand about all this, was that many charitable donations are now apparently made exclusively by automatic withdrawal. But, dinosaur that I am, I thought I could write them a cheque!

Hell, I thought that’s what we were talking about!

But it wasn’t, so I never did donate. They were a little annoyed, I guess, at how such a little thing could cause me to abandon my plan to donate. They explained to me that the automatic withdrawal really wasn’t what it sounded like, didn’t work the way I seemed to think it did. And I said: really?

You mean, in the fifteen years I’ve been away from banking, they changed the mechanism?

“Yes, yes! It’s different now!”

However actually it isn’t any different, but instead it’s exactly the same. I know this because I checked, and believe me checking was not an easy thing to do, since young people who work in banks are really not very well-informed about how the bank does business. They all think the mechanism’s different now, too! But the only thing different about it is that young people accept its workings much more uncritically. So just as you let the computer remember your passwords for you, and you leave JavaScript turned on, and you accept third-party cookies, you also give other people regular access to your bank account, and place your faith in the contract you have between you. But, it still isn’t safe for you, you know? Because the contract doesn’t protect you from the breaking of the contract, anymore than helicopters flying overhead can prevent oil spills. But instead it all — bottom line — costs time and money to clean up. I have six or seven different passwords, and I change them all up regularly, and enter them labouriously by hand each time I do anything at all that technically requires them…and nobody knows what they are, and they’re not written down anywhere. In a like fashion, a lot of older people don’t use automatic withdrawal precisely because it can bite you in the ass and everyone talks a lot of inaccurate shit about how it works, shit that absolutely stops mattering once it doesn’t work. We make acts of payments, instead; it’s more secure that way, and you never have to hang on a voicemail tree waiting for the relevant person to talk to you about why something fucked up, that wasn’t supposed to. How, thinks the relevant person, could it have fucked up in the way you describe? When it isn’t supposed to! So there’s every possibility that you’re not telling the truth, in the Relevant Person’s mind, and this slows things down a LOT, and most importantly doesn’t do anything to rectify your problem. A secret of modern banking is this:  that everyone thinks about types of fraud that never happen, just about all the time…so if you do things in a non-standard way, if you want others to do things in a non-standard way, some sort of suspicion inevitably falls on you. Yet, look, we have these things called cheques, right? They’re still out there, they still function as part of the money supply, promissory notes will always function as part of the money supply…they haven’t actually been made obsolete yet!

The guy on the other end of the phone is starting to get a little perturbed. This auto-withdrawal stuff is totally safe, just as he’s been trying to tell me; I shouldn’t let some antique prejudice stand in the way of making a donation that I, after all, have already said I wish to make.

But, I point out to him that I am not letting it stand in the way. It is not standing in the way. Because cheques are real, and I like paying for things with cheques, and it’s my money. I like handling my money in a particular way, in a particular way that exists and is legitimate for me to choose, and it’s my money. So it isn’t my fault that his organization is not set up to handle cheques; and it isn’t his fault either. Neither of us made this world, neither of us chose to arrange things in such a way that I have money in my hand and am holding it out to him — he has made his sale! — yet he cannot take the money because it is not the right kind of money, or rather it is not the right kind of the right kind of money, for him to take. So it isn’t his fault, and it isn’t mine: we would each consummate the relationship if we could, but we can’t. Because the system won’t allow it.

It’s been optimized, you see.

Nothing has changed, about the legitimacy of cheques!

But the activity surrounding them has been artificially depressed.

And so it is with Twitter, just as it is with Facebook and PayPal and Amazon and Apple and the elements of the Googleplex and all the rest of it. Twitter was a simple tool, that’s gotten complicated: like an electric hammer, it’s now extremely excellent for hammering a shitload of tenpenny nails under ideal conditions, and not good for one other thing besides that. If you are an Optimal User of the electric hammer, then things are only getting better and bettter for you…but if you’re a Non-Optimal User, there’s the door. Because diversity means robustness, but there’s no such thing as “high performance” robustness: that would be a contradiction in terms. Robustness is staggered cycles, multiple overlaps, different clock-speeds, slow transmission, and lots and lots of redundancies; robustness is not one signal flashing over every node in a system in a microsecond, it is not by its nature a thing of efficiency, but it is a thing that (from a certain point of view) impairs efficiency. Frank Herbert got at this very presciently with his “BuSab” stories back in the late 60s and early 70s — the Bureau of Sabotage, set up with the mandate to slow the wheels of government, thus reducing the damage the juggernaut might cause. We might think of this today in a variety of connections, for example the “generation gap” that affects judges and legislators in the deadly two-step of computer-industry regulation…where it isn’t that there are no preexisting legal and moral principles to apply to our 21st-century questions about digital automation, but it’s that older people haven’t kept their knowledge-sets updated about such things, and younger people are for the most part uncritical swallowers of the company line. Which uncritical swallowing, don’t get me wrong, results not from any deficiency in the good sense of young people…but it’s that the thinking of the tech world’s billionaire class is saturated in pure ideology, and they’re not shy — and not stupid, either! — about loading every message they can with subliminal political content. So the only thing to separate the younger people from the older, really, is that the young people already have the experiential tools with which these ideological biases could be interrogated…but they’re not very practised at this kind of interrogation, whereas the older bunch who are more practised at it simply haven’t got the tools in the first place, and don’t even know how to get them, because they haven’t done the necessary readings, and the necessary experiments, to begin to know where these might be purchased. Thus the Bureau of Sabotage would find a lot of decent employment in this, the Gap Year of the software industry! But unfortunately BuSab is a fiction, so bad laws get passed very quickly, and judges are slow to catch up to them, and all we have to rely on to slow the wheels is that fortunately-plentiful gummy substance known as human stupidity…

But where was I. Ah, yes! Optimization. Twitter and Facebook and all the rest of them, and how the Internet is pushing me out. But it’s not just me! I’m just the canary in the coal mine, the Eternal Suboptimal for whom even good things rarely work properly: full of non-standard desires and off-script complaints. But you feel it too, don’t you? Even if it’s not yet making you keel over in your cage? Social media: it may not actually be a good thing, as currently constituted. The primary currency of the Web is, always has been, and probably always will be conversation…but accusations of “sociality” may just be a sort of spin, that attempts to make conversation into something other than it is. Mark Zuckerberg recently claimed “sociality” as an anthropological principle that one could make a sort of Moore’s Law prediction about — and who better to hold forth about anthropology than a programmer? — the idea being that “sharing” is and always has been increasing over time, and that the secret of Facebook’s success is that it gave people a way to share better. Man is born sharing, if you will, yet everywhere he is prevented from knowing what his neighbour had for lunch yesterday…complete garbage, of course, when the real secret of Facebook’s success is that it TRICKED people into sharing what they would ordinarily keep private, and is not Facebook’s one-and-only asset really no more than a very large list of True Names? The flock of swallows darts and dodges; now Twitter wants your true name as well, now Google must have it, now everyone demands it. Unwanted information about others intrudes into the act of self-expression so cherished as a outlet valve, a way of experiencing the flexibility that so often the ordinary working day won’t give us…intrudes into the experience of freedom, as though to have it one must accept various other arbitrary predicates about its availability, its permissibility, its societal justification, by God…! As though to have it, one must be part of a group, that is defined by some other person’s will. Twitter, you know, started out its life as just a sentence you could post, with the option to add a link. That’s all. Even the verification of celebrity identities came later; in the beginning, it was just a hammer. Just a hammer, sitting on a bench, and anyone could use the hammer.

But just look at it now!

A friend remarked (though it may have been a retweet), that while Facebook is a place where you talk to people you already know, but with whom you have nothing in common, Twitter was a place where you talk to strangers who share your interests. And this was what made Twitter a sort of anti-Facebook, for a time…for a time...and thus something I found irresistibly valuable. But the flock demands just a certain type of competition, you know? Actually, if I were the head of the NSA I would be really annoyed right now…all this conformity of competition would have me on a slow burn. I’d be especially furious with Mark Zuckerberg! I’d call him up and say, “buddy, buddy, if you wanted money why didn’t you just ask for it? Why take the damn thing public, don’t you know you could’ve crashed the resource?!

“If the intelligence community propped up American Impressionism, do you think it’s beneath us to prop you up?”

The interesting fact of the matter being that it wouldn’t harm the intelligence community’s interests much to just shower free money on social media, with no strings, in a post-Patriot Act world…would it? Strings are no longer necessary, so here’s some money, don’t worry about monetization, if we want the information we will take it, but in the meantime don’t you want to be an American success story? Don’t you want to own an island like Marlon Brando? Do charitable works…summer in the Hamptons…hey, go nuts, kid…

My brother thinks that’s all the sheerest fantasy, by the way: pure conspiracy theory. But I say, “what, you think the brass of the NSA are bad at their jobs?

“You don’t think, if they acted as Angels for the Impressionists in Venice CA, they wouldn’t act as Angels for the start-up kids in Mountainview or wherever?”

But anyway…the truth is, maybe they aren’t really that good at their jobs, because the growth of the social-media graphs is really just that: growth. Just pure growth, pure connection-making, drawing more and more lines between more and more dots, decreasing the notional distance between profiles. And this really isn’t the way to wring information out of the True Names most efficiently, by simply forcing growth…is it? When there could be so much more interesting stuff to manage, in a wilder crop as well…

But whatever, whatever, anyway anyway, pardon me! I am getting off-topic. All this stuff isn’t why I’m leaving Twitter! I don’t really care about the NSA and the CIA and the LSD and the U.S.A, you know? I can’t affect any of that, I don’t have the power to make choices about any of it outside the voting booth, right? I mean, I am a guy who enjoys living in a cabin in the woods, and I would definitely live in one, but I wouldn’t be there for political reasons, if you catch my drift! But I would be there pretty much exclusively for the wood-chopping and the sunsets. And in the meantime I am not there, but I am here in the world of cities and infrastructures, setting up a little e-shack online to chop a different sort of wood. Freedom…self-expression…conversation…community, over the last seven or eight years I have really grown to love my online communities, I love the people in them and the possibilities too. And Twitter has only been second to this blog, for delivering to me the joy of online community, but the thing about Twitter is…

The thing about Twitter is…

…Is that Twitter is no longer happy just to leave hammers lying out on benches, for anyone to use. And as a result of that, Twitter is making me think really a lot harder than I would normally wish to, about how much my community is also Twitter’s cash cow.

Twenty THOUSAND tweets!

Twenty thousand of them, and if I don’t stop soon it’ll be thirty thousand, and then fifty thousand, and they’re all so much Bitcoin, to Twitter. Yet, I still don’t want to go. Yet, I still can’t stay. And it bugs me a lot, that I’m trapped between these two bones, but then I remind myself…

I didn’t make things this way.

And Twitter has real negatives, too, it occurs to me once I start thinking about it, once I start thinking about it…for one thing, as I have said previously, Twitter bleeds away my impulse to write for other platforms. This relative flurry of posts around these parts recently, those have been brought about merely by me thinking about leaving Twitter, you know? And in the course of an ordinary day, having decided (almost wrote “deicided”) (!) to leave Twitter has opened up fresh vistas of free time for me as well…why I even went for a run today, and that’s something I haven’t done since I was in Grade Eight!

Swear to God!

And as well, there is the recent study (sorry, link not handy) describing how the e-multitasking that comes with being active on various different platforms gradually makes people more likely to experience depression. On Twitter, I thought aloud about this a bit…wondering, is it not a bit like the trouble of addiction? Is it not like chasing the dragon? At first, being a creature of split attention and multiple aspects is transporting, invigorating, wildly exciting…but then, inevitably, the feeling of importance and of significance becomes subject to the Ramp Effect, as you’re forced to split your attention more every time, to get the same high. Plugged-in! Wired-up! Wired not Tired! And you know what it is to be Bryce in Max Headroom, you know what it is to be all the Oracle-like support people in RVs and underground bunkers and on satellites in TV shows…like Ozymandias in front of his screens, but for you it’s even better because the watching is an active process…!

But then soon enough, the whole thing becomes work, just work. Frazzledness; tunnel-vision. And the dragon gets farther away the longer and harder you chase it, and you forget just what it is you’re doing all this for…

…Unless, that is, it is your work, and then I don’t know how the calculation goes. I suppose, if Twitter is useful to you for your work, then it just tips the scales just slightly, and gives you a reason to stay? I had a friend who used Facebook entirely for organizing her political activism, saying “oh, it doesn’t matter if they track me, I’ve seen my CSIS file, it’s about six inches thick…I figure they tap my damn phone, for me there’s no downside that I’m not already experiencing anyway…!”

So everyone’s calculation is different, true enough. And there are all kinds of Suboptimal out there.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not still the canary in this coal mine, and it doesn’t change the fact that Twitter has its negative side. More than a few friends of mine talk about the uselessness of political discussions on Twitter, the massive blood-surge of frustration and anger…and then there are the petty public squabbles, the defriending and unfollowing and disliking. And, that’s all just with the “hammer” version of Twitter! Some of you probably know the circumstances surrounding my deep and severe quitting of Facebook, how I got a Quiz one day from a friend — well, from Facebook telling me it was a friend, which is a significant difference really — and actually it was her young son who sent it along, because Facebook teaches kids to click “I Agree” without thinking too much about it…

I’d had a discussion with another friend, actually, about the Terms & Conditions of Facebook and whether they were scary or not…and I had determined, myself, that while they sure as hell looked scary, as long as you were okay with putting up your True Name in the first place that everything else was probably not that bad in comparison…

…But I hadn’t anticipated receiving this Quiz, and then halfway through completing it realizing it was actually just an attempt to phish my medical information. And right then, I realized that if this could happen, then Facebook must be just about as evil as the day is long, and I needed to get off of there. So I tried the gimmick a friend of mine had stumbled on a week previously, where resetting your birthdate at Jan. 1st, 1900 made Facebook sufficiently mad at you that (in accordance with the T&C) they had every right to kick you out and delete your profile…

…But one week on, Facebook had plugged that loophole, so I had to wait for the Supreme Court of Canada to rule that Canadian citizens could not be debarred from deleting their Facebook profiles if that’s what they wanted to do…

See? Everything that isn’t nailed down, that’s what they feel entitled to take…

…And so eventually I was able to leave, and deprive them not necessarily of the information I had entered, but at least I was able to deprive them of the ability to call me a Current User…the ability to interpret even my inactivity, anyway, and believe me when I say: that’s not nothing.

But my reasons for leaving Twitter are a bit more straightforward. Twitter sold me to a data-miner (oh, how the head of the NSA must’ve hit the ROOF!!), and I’m simply not okay with that, so I’m leaving. My Twitterfriends say they don’t want me to go. Some of them are even perhaps slightly annoyed at my determination to go. Am I not — essentially — leaving them?

Am I not showing some sort of vague disdain for our community?

But I’m not leaving them; and really, I’m not even leaving it. I’m only leaving Twitter. One day soon, I have no doubt, Twitter will collapse, as Facebook will collapse, as all the increasingly-calcified and crypto-authoritarian social-media platforms of this day will collapse. But the community, the conversational partners, will continue on…and simply meet up somewhere else. Somewhere less toxic, somewhere less overdetermined. Somewhere less slowly-going-wrong, and somewhere there are fewer Smoke Monsters lurking to turn it all to shit. Somewhere just a bit more, I don’t know, a bit more “Internetty”? All these social-media places, they’re very un-Internetty, even disgracefully so…central switchers, server farms, but you know that is not what the Internet was built for, the Internet was built for routing around massive physical damage in a flexible way…Facebook and Twitter and all the rest of them, they’re just versions of the World Wide Web itself that are myopically ring-fenced and micropaid. God, just imagine if Tim Berners-Lee had been like Mark Zuckerberg! “I have this great new thing called the World Wide Web, it’s an excellent device for turning you all into Matrix-like commodities BUT THERE ARE PICTURES…! I know I am ranting and ranting and raving and raving here, guys, I know that…I know that, and you have my apologies. It’s just that it’s not easy to give up this side of my online community, even if I know it can really only be just for a while. Let me just say to the NSA and the CIA and the LSD and the USA…look, I don’t blame you guys. This isn’t your fault either. I was okay with you surveilling me, I knew it going in and I know it going out too. Your evilness is of course endlessly-debatable, and if I’m honest I come down on the side of “oh fuck yes, they’re evil as shit”, but nevertheless YOU were a trade-off I was willing to make…

But meanwhile to the corporatized Internet at large, I have this to say:

Dude. Get your shit together.

Do you even know how many products and services you’ve got, that I won’t use? Online payment systems are a particularly thorny problem, since PayPal has allowed themselves to become politicized in the wake of the Wikileaks blockade, and Google probably does have some viable alternative but then again it’s not like they aren’t planning to summon Gozer the Destructor in late August of 2015. So, I could so easily be part of GDP, but instead I’m opting out, you know what I mean? So just for the sake of my own sense of ethics — and because your lack of ethics is standing in my way — I am forced to write my MP and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and the CEO of Canada Post, and demand such a thing as an “e-money order”? Canada Post of course can have no infinitely-plastic Terms & Conditions, you know…they have rock-ribbed federal statute instead. And you guys have had it very easy thus far, in your Gap Year…right?

People pounding corn down in the steel canyons of what used to be Manhattan…it won’t come to that.

But one day soon, the young people with all the experiential tools, sons and daughters of computer folk, that class of tech-savvy youngsters who every one of them grew up online…one day soon they’re going to find themselves fundamentally unsatisfied with the Internet options they’ve been given, and in that day you will find that all the AOL people really and truly have disappeared. It’s actually happening now, you know?

It’s just that you don’t care to see it.

Though the canary drops over dead in its cage.

Online community is something you don’t know you can’t live without, until you have it. To add any community to yourself, is great. Feels great. Twitter, for example, is excellent. Facebook is excellent too, and oh Shelly H. from high school if you’re out there…! My old and much-missed, very much-missed girl. I left Facebook, because I understood it enabled evil, on the very day I found you on it. Facebook tempts, and Twitter tempts, for their dancing girls sway to and fro….but actually I can’t talk about it much anymore. There’s no point talking very much more about it. Is there? I am simply a Suboptimal User, and I am being pushed, slowly but surely pushed, to the margins. Though no one else but me appears to see it, this is the most dramatic excision I have ever seen. In one way or another, everyone I know and/or love online is being pushed out of someplace

But of course, you know? Because this is the GAP YEAR of information technology. This is where they scoop things up, or shit things out, mostly unregulated, because no one cares or no one knows, or no one knows to care, or cares to know. Me, I’ll keep the WordPress blog because I trust the WordPress people. For now. But I don’t really trust any tech company, anymore…do you?

And if it’s even anything that can be called “social media”…then from now on NO THANKS, eh? Because this is the biggest and most fertile and most fucking heartless of a field for scamming, that I’ve ever seen in my life…

Though I’ve been from Maine to Mexico.

Listen. I fucking MISS Shelly, all right? I miss her more than I could ever express to any one of you. That girl’s a part of my soul. And because I quit Facebook I will never see her again.

But: it’s worth it. And she would agree.

If she knew.

And so I offically quit Twitter, as well. As of this moment. To my Twitterfolk, I hope we can still be friends…

But this is the end of me and Twitter. For real.

And though I will stop short of urging you to quit it as well (after all, everyone’s suboptimal calculation is different!), I will say this: that if you feel like you’d be somehow letting me down by quitting it…

Well, you wouldn’t be.

Because, of course…

I’m already gone.


45 responses to “The Sun Shines Dully On The Mountaintop

  1. I’m gonna keep the account running ’til Monday morning or something, so I can make sure I’ve properly saved everything and properly accounted for everyone. Because I am the kind of person who tends to make a dramatic gesture of finality and then realize he’s forgotten something important, so has to sneak back in in an undignified manner to grab the…keys, or whatever. Not taking any chances with THAT, here!

    After all, no one is ASKING me to quit Twitter!

    But in my Twittercircles I believe many people are thinking about it…I stole from Vera Lane up above, so I might as well steal from Peggy Lee too…

    That gets to it too, I think.

  2. Holly, who has already quit Twitter, mentioned this…and this

    Bit like the “plugged-in multitasking/chasing the dragon” thing I reference up above, but can’t find the link to right now?

    So maybe these inclusions will be a decent compensation for that lack.

  3. Good piece of thinking here.

    In computer science circles, we say things like ‘premature optimisation is evil’ (but what is ‘premature’ in this very very young medium? — in its gap year, as you say) and ‘avoid local maxima’ (but as we know so little, how can we know what is local…?). So I think many of these corporations will optimise themselves out of existence. For me, I’ve been feeling Google Search optimise itself into uselessness since late 2008… There’s nothing as good as it yet, but maybe it was never that good anyway.

    You were always a more social user of Twitter than I was (and am, and probably will be). You talk to other people, you’re social. For me, I find Twitter difficult to use for that. I just post messages in bottles, mostly for my own amusement. Newsgroups, now they were for talking. And listservs. I suppose there were always lurkers on those things, but were there ever vast bodies of people who did nothing but post, unreplied-to? So these days I am on the look out for places where discussion is fostered. And I am trying to start using email again, in the way I once used it over a decade ago, to correspond with people.

    Anyway, here’s a raised glass (from the deck) to all who disembark the good ship Twitter!

    • Ah! I wouldn’t know where to find BuSab short stories, I’m afraid…seems to me I have read a few, but I don’t know where it was I stumbled on them. But Whipping Star is there, and then Dosadi

  4. Thanks, David!

    I’m intrigued by the implied position that “mature” optimization is non-evil…if that’s the case, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a case of mature optimization in a product or service! The funny hair-splitting here reminds me of creationists talking about breeding vs. evolution…there are all kinds of optimization, but only some of them end up being actually optimal, right? That is, if the concept that truly optimal solutions always exist is to be protected…

    I’m not entirely sure that the type of “sociality” that Twitter enables really is all that social, actually…I’ve been fortunate to have many reasonably long conversations with my fellow tweeps, but that length is something you and I are probably about to exceed…Twitter is fast, and that’s a selling point, but the diaristic slippage is brutal: once a conversation lapses, it’s hard to return to it…and even if I was pretty social, I still spent a lot of time posting without receiving any reply, as well. Broadcasting, basically, out into a really very large aether. I think it’s in the nature of the beast, probably…Twitter’s a hammer, but it’s just a hammer, it isn’t a multi-tool…

    Listservs and newsgroups, these are gone, but Twitter’s not a good replacement for them, so I think I too shall be on the lookout for places where discussion is fostered…

  5. “Maybe it was never that good anyway.”

    You know, you may have something there. Maybe it wasn’t! And maybe Twitter isn’t. Facebook is certainly a big mess o’ nuthin’ much when you give it a good squint…

    Maybe a whole LOT of these things we use are actually not as good as we’re given to believing they are…

  6. Well, I’d say “nihilistic” is a pretty good descriptor for Facebook! But considering I have that conversation just about every time I meet anyone I ever went to school with…

    You do give up a lot, though. There was this woman I met a while ago, and me not being on Facebook sort of queered the deal for her…?

    Hmm. Haven’t thought about that in a while…

  7. A thing I’ll be curious to see is just how dispersed to the four winds my old blog readership became, after my much slower writing of much longer posts, in a much more humourless vein…

    (Although I think those Superhero Sex ones are a little amusing, anyway…)

    Because of course it’s a well-known phenomenon of the blogging world that once you step away, it’s awful hard to step back; and new link-engines are driving traffic, these days. So, I wonder what will happen?

    Well, whatever happens, it won’t be for want of me posting a buncha irrelevant junk, I’ll tell you that much!

  8. I’ve actually been thinking for some time about reorganizing my blog and its sidebar to enable a different sort of reading of the material. You all know my feelings about diaristic slippage and how the “Greatest Hits” links of the sidebar are a bit of a kludge? Well…

    It may take some doing. But, the cancellation of Trout v. 1 has made me think a little bit not just about how fragile this archive is, but also about how it’s sort of a crap archive…and to have those two things together, man it is just not a good recipe for stability, nor safety, nor security neither. Even with this blog being intact, stuff disappears even from my view and recollection ALL THE TIME…and if somehow WordPress should disappear one day, who will even know what’s gone missing? At the librarians’ talk I went to the other year, they talked about how every library has two missing walls: the first is where the buzz-bomb hit, and blew it all up! Where we know what’s missing.

    But the second is an invisible blown-out wall…where we don’t know what’s missing. And this wall, just like the other, needs careful repair…

    Random thoughts from a Blogger who somehow forgot to have the nice dinner he planned for himself! And previous to that, had missed lunch as well. Cripes, how I keep on going I don’t know…

    But now would maybe be a good time for the dinner.

  9. This is why I take the option where every time I post something on any blog I have, a copy is e-mailed to me. And then I keep the e-mail. Now, GMail could go away as easily as Blogger or WordPress, but it’s better than nothing.

  10. No, they are, in this sense: Google may, any second now, decide to pull the plug on Blogger, and wipe out all of the blogs on it. If they do that, though, your GMail account will persist, with everything in it.

    Just because you couldn’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and since what we’re talking about is keeping the stuff existing in some form, all you have to do to not delete it is not delete it.

    I agree that there’s no defense if Google decides to wipe out both of them at once. But I think it’s much, much more likely that they’ll wipe them both out at different times, which gives us time to come up with backup plans.

  11. You’re saying you anticipate Google wiping out Blogger and Gmail? You interest me strangely; even paranoid me doesn’t imagine them dumping Blogger and Gmail…

    Tell me more, Matthew! Christ, that never occurred to me…

  12. Well, it would be inconvenient, right? It’s something we’re getting for free that we count on? Therefore its days are numbered.

  13. Lots of industry observers think Blogger’s days are numbered. After all, like Reader, it is a diversion from Plus. To some extent this is true of GMail too, but email feels more fundamental to the internet… but then again, I think Facebook has been undermining this. I suspect there are a lot of people for whom email is little more than a Facebook-update notification system.

    • That would be SHOCKING, wouldn’t it, if Google killed Blogger. How many people have blogs on there? How many words have they written on them? To me that just seems like the CRAZIEST disregard, for oneself as well as others, to announce one day…what? “You’re welcome to port all this stuff over to Google+, and keep using it there”?

      They’ll have an uprising on their hands, I predict. If I weren’t me, and I had a Blogger blog, and they announced they were turfing it unless I’ll go for a purely “voluntary” upgrade to their Facebook-competitor arm…jeez louside, I mean alternate-Me may be a sheep, but he’s not a fucking lemming…!

      These guys are gonna bust themselves, before anyone does it for them.

  14. I have a theory (to be honest it’s a bit of a work in progress) that most of us, well many of us, well maybe just me, are most contented with the technology that existed when we were children. And when technology pushes forward we get sucked along but it’s disorienting and unsatisfying but also exciting.

    My dad became a total TV addict by the end. He just sat there retired and watched morning to night sport for months and years until he had a stroke and I couldn’t help feeling that if he’d had just a radio he would have been much more contented. He couldn’t really handle television because he didn’t have an immunity to it, and so television scooped him out.

    The internet would have done it too, if he’d lived a little longer.

    I guess that’s how I feel about the internet. It’s a miracle and I’m addicted (not to mention reliant on it for my income) to it but I don’t think I’m good at resisting it. Now if life was just some books and musical instruments and maybe some comics and my bike I suspect I’d be more at home. Plus a television for the evenings, because like Grace Jones said ‘it’s OK on TV but you can turn it off’.

    I do have a feeling that the internet is something like a savannah and the best way to live on a savannah is to keep moving your herd around. And facebook and twitter and your favourite message boards are villages and towns and cities. The anti-savannah in its various forms.

  15. You may have something there, Clone. How’s everything at home?

    Books and musical instruments and comics and a bike and the odd bit of TV sounds like some very functional living, doesn’t it? I’m not sure any of those things ever counted as “disruptive” technology…perhaps our technology’s just getting a bit shit, as it goes further along? Books and bikes and musical instruments, I mean those are the really unalloyed good things, aren’t they?

    The problem is one of attentional resources, as sometimes it seems I just keep saying and saying…”plugged-in-ness” is in a way a concentrated essence of urbanity, everything is something to watch as closely as you’d watch a car while crossing the street. The environment’s essentially chaotic and demanding…and that means it’s tiring. Oh, radio was a good one too, wasn’t it?

    But the Internet…I dunno, man…

    I think we’ve all felt the drag of TV, like a pack of smokes you stay up late just to finish. It marks time while eating time, and gives no time back. I can’t go into bars and restaurants in Vancouver because the walls are papered with flatscreens showing sports highlights, and honestly I DON’T NEED IT…I don’t desire it. I un-desire it. I like sports, but I don’t need my taking-a-break time to be wall-to-wall sports…it’s just so…

    Pushy, I guess. Is there no other food but hot wings? Is there nothing else to do but watch highlights with the sound down? Is the most important thing in the world “affiliation”, and is there absolutely no other kind of affiliation? I watch the people in the bars and restaurants I don’t enter, and I can’t help thinking of them as people who are not really fans at all, who are all mostly faking…

    Sorry, been up thirty hours or something. That may’ve wandered from the point somewhat.

    Maybe bed is now the thing?

  16. This “disruptive” thing must be really getting out of hand, if I’ve heard about it…my God but engineers make shit historians!

  17. Oh, I’m OK at home. Ups and downs, but spring’s here.

    I read a Victorian guidebook to England – can’t for the life of me remember who wrote it – which talked about how the only parts that hadn’t been utterly ruined were those far away from the railway line. Which is a little weird because now railway lines have a retro sheen on them, especially compared with their hellish children, the motorways. But to that writer, who’d grown up before the railways, they were a monster. Albeit one he probably used extensively travelling around writing his guidebook

    By which I mean that the technology that comes around in your own time can for some , on balance I think I’m one, be just too much to handle. It’s so novel and exciting but also vile and it’s flushing your childhood world down the toilet. I find the internet, which provides me with a living, to be horrible and fascinating and if we should lose it tomorrow I’d probably be relieved.

    As for musical instruments being benign, I don’t know. Grade 7 Cellist going through her scales = fantastic. Teenage novice with a Peavey Vypyr trying out his amp’s full range of Stygian distortion effects on his two Manowar riffs = not so much.

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