Paul Ford, great sage of internet culture, has a piece in Wired where he puts the inevitable dismantling of Twitter into perspective.
Musk is merely the vehicle. The real reason Twitter lies in ruins is because it was an abomination before God. It was a Tower of Babel.
The internet is always in motion, like the human life it reflects, things are always swinging from one end to another.
- Online media business models swing from “information wants to be free” to full-locked down paywalls.
- Content is King one year and the next the power shift to the aggregators, curators, and portals.
As the internet figures out what works best, it swings back and forth searching for the optimal fit. It’s the internet’s own version of the circle of life. This is what Ford evokes when he says that the teardown of a centralized network like Twitter was inevitable, the internet’s way of bring things back to equilibrium. If there is a ghost in the machine, perhaps this is it.
But when I go back and read Genesis, I hear God saying: “My children, I designed your brains to scale to 150 stable relationships. Anything beyond that is overclocking. You should all try Mastodon.”
But in the same breath, while we all begin to navigate this new world of distributed social networks, we must never forget where we came from and that, eventually, the forces of capitalism will figure out how to gather an audience large enough to be targeted and monetizable. Maybe we’re already seeing the fresh roots of this new world with generative AIs that will be able to craft millions of customized sponsorship messages for each splinter of the community.
If anything is constant, it is that the internet is an excellent platform for testing innovations, at scale.
But someone will figure out the details. The reason the Babel story matters is not that it happened once but that it happens over and over: We Babelize and de-Babelize. The internet is an engine of both processes. Eventually, brands will find purchase in Mastodon’s rocky soil and grow engagement. Billionaires will order the construction of new marketplaces of ideas. Everything will centralize again, and it will seem eternal, as if the tower could never fall. For now, let’s enjoy the scattering.God Did the World a Favor by Destroying Twitter
Same as it everwas.
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