Yearning for President Blog – OAG #9

The Tweet-storm, in the new era of President Tweet, remains a nostalgia-inducing afterimage of the blog and of the era of President Blog, but it may also portend a return or attempted return to coherent, accountable, and consequential civic discussion in a mass society, back from the Great Flood of clicks.

Whatever Twitter offers to discourse or its preliminaries, information does not want only to be free to move on, or free to displace, then be displaced. It also wants to be free to stay, to be appreciated, to be invested with and to be attached to content, for a virtual community even if only a community of two or for a “community within” – the community of mind known to neuroscientists and philosophers, and, if they are right, to each and every one (or more) of us. Information does not want just to negate. It also wants to posit. Information wants to be free to be ephemeral, to be forgotten, to live for an intimate moment and vanish, but it also wants to be free to endure, to be recalled, to survive, to stand and fight as well as to snipe and flee.

The tension turns up in a social media phenomenon I noted a couple of weeks ago in, of course, a Tweet:

When I referred to “unwieldiness,” I meant the difficulties for both author and reader in organizing and responding to a “tweetstorm.” Depending on the app being used to compose and read, the storm1 may be interrupted at multiple points, either by author error or by a by a design not really intended to assemble and exhibit a long series of tweets: As a reader, when interested in a Thread (less often than perhaps once upon a time), I more often than not find myself clicking around looking for a rendering that simply presents the unadorned procession of tweets in order, without premature “conversation,” obstreperous “show more”‘s, and intervening errors.

Developers can seek to bridge the gap between instant impulse and extended consideration in different ways, perhaps with a focus on execution speed at transition points between Twitter and other-than-Twitter host. I hesitate to get into the technical questions before I have done some more work of my own, including on speeding up this very site, but I will note that there has been significant effort on the composition side, in the creation of tools for breaking text into tweets or quickly converting blocks of text into readable images. Why these tools have not caught on more broadly may in turn have to do with negative reactions to tweetstorms.

A storm or drizzle or bleating spate of tweets suggests a kind of bid for dominance, or at least a step on to a virtual soapbox. When I take my tweet-maker in hand and drizzle over your timeline in twenty or fifty emissions, I am defying Twitter’s forced formal egalitarianism, in which every tweet, of the million-follower star as well as of the new egg, takes up the same ca. 140-character moment of space-time.

Now, Twitter is not by any means a realm of complete equality. Still, some alternative options to deliver essentially the same extended content may be illustrative of the key way in which it mostly is.

If I were to compose a ca. 3000-character text, put it on my blog, and then proceed to tweet 25 minimally mutually distinct links to it, one per minute, I might be seen to have obviously spammed my followers’ timelines.

I could instead break the original text itself into 25 different numbered tweets, and likewise tweet them out, one a minute. The result would take up the identical amount of Twitter-turf, each tweet just as much a self-promotion, but, if every tweet was substantially different from every other one, I at least would have satisfied one of the two most basic Twitter imperatives, the presentation of novelty (as novelty for me and possibly for you), even if I’d still be failing on the other, connected imperative, on spontaneous immediacy in answer to the basic Twitter question – “What’s happening?”

The labor and preparation involved would also contradict the imperative of spontaneity, as also visible in the overly prepared Twitter storm, written out somewhere else for just this purpose. The artificial storm would almost certainly lack the aura of a thought in the process of being thought – because it obviously would not be that.

The deficit would be even more apparent were I to storm some major part of this post using David Winer’s “Little Pork Chop,” which partly automates the reconstructive disassembly of text into tweets. The result would partly satisfy both requirements, and also partly fail them: Like the contrived, pre-written but hand-delivered storm, the porked storm would also not be a “real” storm, and it would be even less likely to be received as one. It would take up the same amount of words, but, because Little Pork Chop goes instantly to tweets, rapid fire, the result would be less attention-commanding than the same series of tweets transmitted “the old-fashioned way” over a longer period. (No doubt LPC could be modified to imitate the Tweet Storm, but… that would be dishonest, and might even invite Twitter prohibition.)

The differences between the pork-storm and real storm bring us back to the initial observations on the gap and its difficulties. The aura of novelty and immediacy in the “act of tweeting” before a public consisting potentially or in theory of millions upon millions, or some significant percentage of one’s followership plus who knows how many others via retweets, may be irreplaceable and unique, regardless of how we attempt to mediate between “tweet here now” and the longer wave form of blogging -which latter also once seemed to provide an astonishing advance in bringing widely separated minds together on a topic of mutual interest, but which now seems to over-stress our patience.

Or we could put the matter in political terms, as during the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election, and in so doing also illustrated another alternative twitter and site mediation:

The Tweet-storm, in the age of President Tweet, remains a nostalgia-inducing afterimage of the blog and of the era of President Blog, but it may also point to a return to the possibility or image of coherent, accountable, and consequential civic discussion in a mass society, back from the Great Flood of clicks.

Notes:

  1. Sam Wilkinson’s term is, indeed, probably better than, say, “Twogging” for a series of tweets all on the same subject, deployed to bypass Twitter’s trademark character limit. I might suggest “Bleeting,” and I’ve also used the term “Tweet-Drizzle,” which seems less pretentious than “storm.” Twitter or rather its Tweeps seem lately to have moved in the direction of the simpler “Thread.” []


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Burt Likko
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Is the in-between point between a Tweet and a blog post the “Facebook essay”?

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This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance.  They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

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[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

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+ BTW, I recently upgraded some this and that on the back end of the blog, and it does seem to make comments post much faster [. . .]
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For WordPress self-hosted people, there is already a "restore legacy editor" plugin, even though Gutenberg hasn't been installed yet as the default.

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+ I thought you were on WordPress.com, not self-hosted WordPress. I can't find any info on WordPress.com and Gutenberg or Gutenbergerish editing, so I don't know [. . .]
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