It was different in the old days, though. Most everyone seems to agree on this. And maybe it was the mishmash of tweets that randomly passed through the tubes at the same moment that made it so.
Twitter always had a high-modernist novel’s scope—you peer into the boxes, and see someone having tea, a war you should have known was going on, a parent’s take on a 4-year-old, the latest ProPublica investigation, a screenshot of some idiot, a video of a black person being killed by police, an ad for Quiznos, and then Donald Trump tweeting about the television program he’s watching. The stack of information was contextless, traumatizing, and bizarre, but also energizing, the way a city makes you walk faster. It did that, but for your mind.
How Twitter fuels anxiety
But Twitter’s algorithm increasingly selected the most popular tweets to show you—which tended to be the ones that made you go “What! Ah! Ooooh! Eff that!” To pull down your thumb was to ingest different (quantitatively proven) emotional cues one after the other, your brain a player piano, simply responding to the notes in the feed. No one meant to build such a machine, but there it was. And it was addictive as hell.
At the same time, the things people said on Twitter became real things. Real historians extensively corrected people’s fantasies about the Confederacy on Twitter. People got hired and fired because of Twitter. Innovative companies’ share prices tanked when their CEOs said weird things on Twitter. And, of course, the president did things on Twitter.
This platform juices us up into strange emotional states, and now, whatever people say or do on the platform has ever-more real-world consequences. “Never Tweet” was born, on Twitter.
Reverse-chron cannot reverse the development of the platform, nor the changes that have come to the world outside Twitter, the high-keying of everything. But maybe reverse-chron will ever-so-slightly push Twitter away from what it became and back toward something simpler. The most potent tweets will not all be stacked together. Twitter could still be the place that surfaces important topics that the mainstream media ignores, but with slightly less emotional whiplash. Twitter could feel less like a battleground and more like a healthy corrective conversation. Poco a poco, change for the better?
Probably not, though.
Over the last few years, I’ve tried everything to make Twitter not Twitter. I limited my usage, turned off notifications, turned off retweets, used tools like Nuzzel to sort links from talk, and culled and diversified who I follow.
Other people unfollow everyone, mute extensively, nuke their accounts, try to switch to Mastodon (or whatever), or simply await the rapture, scrolling.
Twitter’s new features aren’t what users asked for
None of it really does anything to the service itself. It doesn’t return Twitter to the edenic state I remember, and loved, the one that introduced me to new social worlds, brought my attention to important injustices, the one that Kathryn Schulz called “sentences with friends.”