By Anne T. Donahue
Last night, I downloaded Threads, the latest Twitter-like platform (from the sick, twisted mind of Mark Zuckerberg) and felt another piece of my soul die. Is this it, then? A million platforms until we recreate the magic of Twitter circa 2009-2014 and wait for it to combust in the same vein as its predecessor? Is this how any of us pictured our lives when imagining the majesty of being grown-ass adults? Are we so desperate for comradery that we’ll resign ourselves to adopting as many social media platforms as possible until we feel a little less alone? If an app implodes on the internet and we’d long stopped engaging with it, does it still exist?
Reader, I do not know. Between you and me, I’m supremely bummed that Twitter managed only to get worse, and more bummed still that we’re chasing the ghost of something we’ll never get back. More and more, social media is starting to feel like showing up to the after party of an after party that all of us know, deep down inside, we shouldn’t be showing up at.
But what else are we supposed to do? I’ve made lasting friendships through Twitter. (Best friendships, even!) Despite its increasing awfulness, Twitter still delivers comedic gold at the hands of some of the funniest people I’ve ever read. Ultimately, my move to these up-and-coming apps has been one of pure desperation: I just want to laugh and shoot the shit like we used to. I want to recreate the feeling of kicking it in the mall food court (or the area in front of the movie theatres my friends and I used to hang out at) and linger in hopes of a meaningful – or entertaining – exchange. When Twitter was good, it was excellent. And when it was bad, it was basically a platform for bigotry and verbal assault. (Three guesses as to what it is now.)
With every new app (Blue Sky, Threads, Mastodon, whatever-else-you’ve-sought-solace-in), I feel more and more like I’m engaging with something I know is going to let me down; like I’m showing up to a high school reunion in which maybe a quarter of the people I liked actually show up. When Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again” I know he certainly wasn’t referring to a website, but alas: it applies. What Twitter was when we weren’t having the worst times of our lives was something we can’t recreate because we’re all too social media savvy now. We’re also more cynical, slightly smarter, and constantly on the verge of throwing our laptops into the sea. We’re wading into new social media pools expecting to be let down because it’s basically inevitable. Somebody always ruins something. Elon Musk is always lurking, I’m sure.
And yet I can’t let it all go yet. I like knowing I’m not the only person witnessing the world unfold in the way it is. I like having access to the brilliance of people whose tweets are so funny I need to physically share them or I will perish. I like being privy to the reports of actual journalists who are letting us follow world events in real time. I like the moments that remind me that people aren’t all bad and that we’re not all doomed – and sometimes, even now, as everything burns down around us, Twitter (and its tech contemporaries) still does that. We’re all still kind of stuck in the mental space most of us went through in that small stage between being growing up and not being quite ready to: we’ve outgrown what used to fit, but we’re still not ready to abandon it entirely. It’s complicated. I hate it. It’s social media! The entirety of humanity survived before it existed – technically, without it, we’ll be fine.
But maybe that’s not what matters. Maybe – to be the most annoying optimist in the world – our grief over the end of the internet as we once knew it indicates that despite our (earned) defeatism and willingness to admit that Everything Sucks™, we would still rather comb through garbage than feel alone. Maybe our disappointment is less about an app, and more about how much it means to connect with people we like and to forge bonds and to communicate in a way that’s a little more accessible than mailing letters or talking on the phone. Maybe it’s indicative that we’re not quite entirely broken if we’re so willing to sign up for another attempt to maintain our place in a collective. Maybe it’s a sign that we’re not ready to go anything alone because, as my favourite quote in Fleabag says, people are all we’ve got.
So if that’s what this all means, then I guess I’ll be sticking around social media a little while longer. I like to hear about your lives. I like to see pictures of your kids. I like to make jokes and read the news and make jokes about the news (within reason). I also really enjoy knowing that among everything, we’re banded together in navigating multiple apps and laughing at ourselves for participating. We’re all fools! But at least we’re being fools together.
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