Great piece from Tanner Greer on the evolution of online discourse from the early days of the internet to today’s firestorm of Twitter.
First, a fond look back on the early days of online conversation — the days of the blog, the forum, the pseudonymous publisher, the rule of the idea and its impassioned, argued defense:
There were two aspects of this older internet ecology that set it apart from the current get up. The first was its clear division into hundreds of separate communities. This was most explicit in the forums, which usually did not allow users to comment unless they created a log-in and agreed to very specific community rules. But this was true even of the blogs that anyone could view or comment. No blog was island—or if an island, each was part of an archipelago, a constellation of commentators interested in a specific topic or problem. Perhaps you cared a great deal about the Iraq War, or peak oil, or New Atheism. You would find people blogging about it, read their posts, write your own posts in response to what they were typing, and try to leave incisive comments in the threads attached to posts you liked.
On the devolution of this discourse with the expansion of Twitter, and its absorption of much of the older communities of conversation:
But if writers were to have people read their blogs, then their blogs had to be good. This was the price of participation. On Twitter, anybody who can think up a snarky 140 characters retort can contribute to the “conversation.”
And finally, a couple of choice descriptions of Twitter in 2020:
Twitter is an undifferentiated mass of writhing souls trying to inflict their angry opinions on the earth
The users of Twitter are one great mass. The ponds and lakes of the blogosphere have emptied into a heaving sea. In this sea, Twitter users are linked together, but linked weakly. They are unmoderated, unorganized, atomized—but stuck all together.
Twitter can be a great place, but it takes conscious effort and maintenance to make it so. The resurgence of independent publishing, newsletters, and podcasts makes me optimistic that sane communities of interesting conversation can break free of the mega-platform, shallow oceans of noise. Lets revive the exciting days of the internet in 2005, but maybe with fewer forum flame wars. Perhaps the 2020 version of blog comment thread toxicity can stay behind on Twitter.