In 2012 when a species of Carnera blue butterfly in Indiana’s Lakeshore National Park The Dunes died suddenly during the summer during a worsening climate disaster, Gregor W. Schuurman, who was working as a conservation biologist at the time, had an epiphany. His refusal to accept the changing patterns of the planet was beginning to seem misguided. This prompted Schurman to join the National Park Service’s newly formed adaptation team as an environmentalist, where, among many other responsibilities, he was tasked with finding out-of-the-box solutions or alternative futures, as I prefer. think about them – in the face of a relentless climate reality: all things come to an end at some point.
The main goal of the adaptation team is to find out what opportunities exist on the other side of extinction. Lately I’ve been thinking about Shuurman and his colleagues. One of the common narratives that have surfaced has to do with the news of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Amazing culture deal worth $44 billion– in one form or another, the end of the innovative social network has come. The blue bird was destined for the same fate as the blue butterfly Karnera.
It’s still too early to tell how bad, or even better, Twitter might be under the Mask, but that hasn’t stopped users from all sorts of speculation. The platform that revolutionized face-to-face communication and gave voice to generation-defining movements, one of the few places where niche online communities have proven necessary refuge ports even during outbreaks of persecution, will soon meet its end.
Was this acquisition the last sign of final decline? Musk will certainly implement changes when he takes responsibility, but to what extent? Or perhaps an alternate future?
Hyperbole is instinctive on Twitter. So it wasn’t surprising to hear about the predicted apocalypse: the eccentric and polarized billionaire planned to turn the site into a troll paradise under the guise of free speech (with better tools and no moderators), creating a domino effect that would trigger an exodus of Twitter supporters. Forecasters have warned of a migration so important that the place itself will lose what made it an important resource for countless communities of people.
But endings can also be a driving force. In fact, endings are the main context in which the social network should be understood. Essentially, the social internet is a collection of apps and websites where people openly and sometimes belligerently communicate, impersonate others, and troll strangers. Within this online ecosystem, platforms are created, implemented, and abandoned or closed with great regularity; some 70 percent of startups will not last longer than five years.
The digital exchange of which we are the benefactors today has been enhanced from loss. And so it continues to this day. Brilliant ideas are born in the graveyard of what was. All modern platforms are built from, on top of, or in relation to someone else’s purpose. The brutality of this fact is also its beauty: endings are an inevitable part of the life cycle of the social internet. And after what has gone, what has been lost or ended, new platforms are being built from parts of the old ones. No Facebook without MySpace (and no MySpace without Friendster). No Spotify without Napster. No Instagram without Tumblr. The lifeblood of the platform is partly a product of what came before it.
One of the many aspects inherent in the digital age, and especially social media, where the reshaping and retooling of relationships is constant, is the certainty of impermanence, the certainty of ephemeral. Things are here and then, in a spectacular flash, they are gone.
None of this should come as a surprise. The dominant discourse of the last decade, accelerated by the collective belief in technology as a necessary and useful medicine, has centered around endings. And not just the usual endings, but sudden decapitations (Vine) and a quick rise followed by an even faster fall (Quibi, WeWork).
The discourse goes far beyond the theater of Silicon Valley. In pop culture, we regularly speak the language of the apocalypse. Some of the most compelling television series of recent times have attempted to detail the beautiful and complex nature of human bonding through various doomsday scenarios where survivors face global collapse (Station Eleven; Y: Last man). More and more, our everyday conversations are adorned with ostentatious completion: the way we talk about the police (protect!), climate change (end times!) and education (ban books!), suggests an emphasis on endings. This week a leak Supreme Court decision annulling Rowe vs. Wade sparked a conversation about who has the right to decide when the pregnancy should end. Endings are one way we have learned to better contextualize our relationship to time and history. Endings teach us where to place meaning.
Maybe that’s why I’m willing to give up Twitter if and when the moment comes. (If I had to guess, we’re still a few years away.) The expectation that our virtual havens should last forever is false. We shouldn’t expect it, and we shouldn’t want it. For all its scope and greedy maneuvers to dominate the social realm—to be everything in its online existence—even Facebook has failed to capture the awe and magic of real-time Twitter sharing. It is a cultural force, a hundredfold. wealth of understanding built into its various sister communities – Black Twitter, NBA Twitter, Relationship Twitter, Freak Twitter, etc. – cannot be quantified because what they provide is needed here and now. But they cannot exist forever as they are.
What Twitter is today is not necessarily the best or most useful version of what is possible for users in the future. A more interesting outcome of Musk’s acquisition and possible user exodus is how it could help launch the next iteration of the social internet somewhere else (and no, I don’t mean the metaverse, which is meant to be inhabited as an interior space). The inevitability of the end of Twitter should not cause despair – there is excitement about what awaits us on the other side, from what will happen next. For me, this has always been the fascination of the social internet: we are constantly finding new ways to interact, to create, to be. No matter what, we never stand still.
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