Birdsite Was a Parade
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Categories: Modern, Not an expert

Birdsite Was a Parade

Apparently twitter is in trouble (for readers in the future, twitter was a microblogging service especially popular from 2016 to 2022 with hundreds of millions of users, heavy representation among thinky talky Anglos and elected officials posting under their real names, where who people followed and clicked on and most of their posts were public; users were showed a feed of posts selected by a secret algorithm). Internet communities tend to be pompous about themselves, and pompous twitter users pronounce that it is a public square or a town square. I have another simile.

Twitter was like a parade in a small American town in the middle of the last century. All the local notables help to organize it, and they assure everyone that its an event for the whole town. But somehow the same few people are in charge every year, and some kinds of people who participate are made much more welcome than others. The parade is so much more exciting now that the chain gas stations and that new burger joint agreed to sponsor it (although sometimes its hard to see the floats from the Carnegie library and that little flower shop downtown between all their tinsel and neon). Things that happen between the organizers at the parade shape the town’s politics for the year to come. Everyone remembers how two rival mayoral candidates made up after working together to replace the 4H club float after it was damaged in a flood. Helping with the parade brings some people opportunities. Everyone in high school talks about how the Parade Queen from 1959 moved to the city and became a star on the teevee!

But local cynics note that what happens at the parade also reflects existing relationships. Everyone knows that the car dealer on the committee who voted to let the hockey team go ahead of the tennis club sponsors the hockey rink. A lot of the organizers are pretty high strung and like to see their names in print. And people in the audience hear the participants making deals between themselves and don’t always like what they hear. But everyone has to attend the parade! Its the big event of the season! The newspaper and the local radio talk about it for weeks. If you don’t attend and applaud, are you a good citizen? The parade is for everyone, and everyone who is anyone is in it! Its bipartisan and has all the respectable churches and even a synagogue. If you don’t like it, do you really belong in this town?

I don’t know what twitter will become. But I hope that seeing it bought by one person will help people understand why it was never a town square.

Edit: also, if any of my readers were twitter users: I’ve lost online spaces or seen them change into something different many times before, so if you are mourning the site, I can empathize even though it was not my place. Anyone who squats rather than owns on the web will keep losing their home.

Edit: another popular metaphor is twitter as a mall eg. or Maciej Ceglowski (from 2016)

Edit 2024-06-12: an essay by someone who liked the site and did not see doom coming

I’ve been on Twitter for a long time. … I was a pretty early joiner in 2009, when science bloggers (as I was then) all eagerly pounced on the opportunity to share and chitchat together on this new exciting platform. There were deep conversations, fun and silly jokes. Subtweets and so much drama.

Most of us felt the joy and the fun over all these things, but what I think we also felt, but barely ever talked about, was the underlying excitement. If you just said something clever enough, got noticed by the right people, something, then magic would happen. Virality was in the beginning generally a good thing. As a writer, sometimes it was your work that got noticed. You might catch the attention of an editor. You might end up in the New York Times! There was a constant feeling that you were where things were happening, and anything was possible. Editors were listening. Other writers were reading.

For the first time, on Twitter, I felt like Someone. I felt worthy of being someone. I was not just a girl who peaked in college, not just the weirdo in grad school who people rolled their eyes at for singing to the mice.

Bethany Brookshire, 29 May 2023

(scheduled 19 November 2022 after a chat with Robert W. Gehl on Mastodon)

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