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A Twitter Life

I started using Twitter in earnest in August of 2010. At this point, the service was about four years old. I've never been an especially early adopter, but I'd heard about it and it sounded interesting and it was clear that Facebook was always going to suck; there was something deeply attractive about the idea of interacting with people I hadn't gone to college with, who also weren't necessarily part of some fandom.

I say in earnest because I had previously made sporadic use of a real name account. I'm a lawyer, so I need to be relatively circumspect about what I say online, and my first and only anonymous Twitter account was inspired by an initial desire to be able to talk freely about politics and current events.

I immediately discovered that I had little or no actual desire to "talk freely" about politics and current events. This was unexpectedly liberating.

I grew the account organically, without really trying too hard. The basic rule of thumb at first, and for a long time, was that I could get one follower for every twenty or so that I followed, more or less regardless of what I was posting. I tried various types of post, but nothing especially inspired the people I was interacting with. Pet pictures got reliable interaction. A few jokes (mostly if I'm being honest my wife's jokes transcribed by me) blew up.

I noticed that the few tweets that blew up happened because they got retweeted by someone with a bigger following, and for a short period of time I tried to chase that, but I never managed to capture the magic. Some stuff that I thought was good would go out to 50,000 followers in a retweet and then nothing. So I just hung out.

The downsides to Twitter are well known, but it's easy to forget the upsides. I've never been especially good at interacting with people, but I liked the cocktail party vibe on Twitter, the way you could just kind of talk to people and, if they didn't respond, move on. I was (finally) learning how to network in my professional life at this time, and Twitter helped me understand how to surf interactions without taking things too seriously.

I've never been a "shitposter," but I did sometimes enjoy teasing people, and for a brief period I would mention celebrities, not by name but by handle, to see if I could get someone to reveal themselves as the type of person who vanity searches their name. Once John Roderick mentioned one of my tweets on his show (long before the "Bean Dad" thing), and it bothered me a bit, because what I'd said obviously bugged him. But it only bothered me a little. This aspect of Twitter, that you can talk directly to anyone, brings value to the world. Or brought, I guess; the celebrities have mostly stopped interacting.

My follower count topped out around 950-990. I don't think what I was posting or the way I interacted changed much, but it was like hitting a wall. Suddenly I could follow 100 people and none would follow me back. One of my mutuals suggested that, unless you engage in the more dramatic forms of follower chasing or have a separate platform that drives follower engagement, there are certain levels where follower counts organically top out, largely network dependent. This seemed accurate, although maybe it's just cope.

But I also think something had changed. I found myself looking at follow counts more before I followed people, because I'd noticed that I had long ago stopped reading my entire feed, and I knew folks with a large follow count weren't really going to see me, even if they followed back. I'd always known this intellectually, but over time it because more baked into the way I interacted with the site.

I had pruned my list to the point where I was down to 700 or so follows to 950+ followers, very few of whom were bots or RT factories, but a fair number of whom were inactives I kept around to inflate the numbers a bit, if we're being honest. I rarely set foot in that 700 person timeline. I had a private list I called "Dunbar" with about 100 of those followers in it, and sometimes I went there. But mostly I started using Twitter's search function to get around.

This is how it's shaken out. Every day, there are three or four people's timelines that I look at. I branch out from there to look at the stuff those accounts are interacting with. I feel like this gives me a reliable sense of what the current thing is, leavened with some cat videos. Mostly, that's what I'm there for.

I did a purge, hoping to reboot my interest in my follow list, and got it down to about 350, partly by deleting folks I hadn't thought about in years and partly by unfollowing larger accounts but moving them to a private list. Sometimes I look at those timelines too. Not always.

The bottom line is, I never found a tribe. I am, I suppose, a reliable *audience* for certain grey tribe Twitter folk, the type of people who know who David Chapman is. But that club mostly isn't taking new members, and it really isn't entirely a fit for me, and it's kinda, as the kids today apparently say, "ran through."

The tribe that Twitter chose for me is, I suppose, "law twitter." But those folks are mostly much younger than me, and that makes a difference when your affinity group is defined by a profession. And the pleasure of interacting on Twitter with an intermediate appellate court judge is mixed; it is a pleasure sometimes, but also sort of disorienting and vaguely threatening.

Still, I've known those folks for over a decade, watched them build practices, get married, etc. Mostly at a distance, sure, but that's my fault more than anything. It has the furnishings of a home. Partly *because* it isn't organized as a fandom so much as it's a loose collection of lawyers who follow each other on Twitter. Ironically, in this sense Twitter is becoming more like Facebook.

Maybe the truth is the lifecycle of our interaction with these venues mirrors what happens in our life. You start out with the excited feeling of being in college, meeting new people. Eventualy you find yourself having strained conversations with people you dated thirty years ago.

All this is sort of fine? But the algorithm is displacing even this level of human interaction. It used to be if I saw something funny on Twitter and went to hit the RT button it might have a few hundred retweets, with rare exceptions. Nowadays, it's more likely to 16K. I think this is at least partly because of amplification by the algorithm. I have my TL set to "latest," but (a) I'm sure they are lying to me, and (b) most people probably don't. And, increasingly, I don't see the point of interacting with or signal boosting something that tens of thousands of people know about already.

So now I'm trying smaller forums. It's a mixed bag. They tend to be more niche than I'd like. I enjoy having the opportunity to talk to someone about tiny houses, but do I really want to cultivate relationships on a forum for people who are interested in tiny houses? Basically, the forum model is a fandom model, and I've never really been attracted to fandoms. And it inevitably feels like a retreat.

I'm not here to suggest alternatives. It's not an "engineering a better experience than Twitter" issue, if that were the case we would all be using micro.blog or whatever. I think the future is going to be about learning to interact with the algorithms. It's not a future I'm super excited about, but as a deeply religious client of mine used to say, "I try to stay teachable."

abortive blog content left here primarily fpo of illustration

2019-09-16 Almost five years. Sitting in a conference room, waiting for a meeting to start. Had a conversation about mental illness with an old friend by Facebook Messanger yesterday that made me sad, because I didn't really know what to say.

2014-11-03 Looks like this isn't really going to be a blog. Please try to contain your disappointment.

2014-10-31 Facebook is really, really depressing. But I've resigned myself to not being an "I hate Facebook" hipster on Twitter. Taking an aim at the remnants of hipsterism in my life in general.

2014-10-29 Coyotes make truly terrifying noises. Outdoor cats are still fine. Elections are happening, which I don't much care about, except to be happy I'm not an elected official. Trust me, I've watched people lose elections, it's no way to live.

2014-10-15 Spaced was a really depressing show.

2014-10-14 Remediation is the word of the week. One year sorted.

2014-10-12 Missed a day, ran 5k. Today I'm sitting in the fall weather with teen mom cat in the carport. Fall makes me nostalgic, and nostalgia is bad, but there's a good energy in the air. Optimism. Hope it lasts. And that's the problem.

2014-10-10 It's Friday, and I'm mad at nostalgia again.

2014-10-09 Work piling up, and I'm having to spend all my time on...well, never mind. It's all vanity, in the end. I keep thinking about Victorian newspapers, full of train schedules and gossip and bad fiction.

2014-10-08 Couldn't see the blood moon. Did it set before I could get out there? I watched an amazing lunar eclipse from the beach in Maine in 1982. Ever since then lunar eclipses have been lame, partly as an inevitable consequence of aging and partly because lunar eclipses really are kinda lame.

2014-10-07 Don't even ask.

2014-10-05 Followed a lot of people on Twitter. I'm testing something, and the tilde folk deserve a follow. I remember my dreams when I woke this morning but got distracted feeding cats and don't remember them anymore. BTW, this isn't intended to be a dream journal, I'm just recording early morning thoughts and the dreams have been bleeding through.

2014-10-04 Another morning. Dream about music and the fact I never listen to anything new. We were listening to cassettes of bands named after blogs I read. Everyone was cooler than me. It's dark out and the animals are strangely calm.

2014-10-03 On Survivalism. Apparently people are watching Youtube videos about how to make steel and so forth, on the assumption that this will give them some kind of advantage after a societal collapse. I submit that there's a flaw in that thinking that's distinctively of this age. History suggests that the people who will have an advantage in ANY situation are the people who control resources, through violence or other means. My guess is that being able to make steel might make you a more valuable servant, but the dream these people have of entering the master class by being post-apocalypse entepreneurs is misguided. My reaction to these videos is kind of like a 1970s middle manager's reaction to the suggestion that he should learn to type.

2014-10-02 I don't remember my dreams. Is this a dream? I mean that seriously. It's 2014 and I am thumb typing this blog entry into an ssh shell in my phone. That's not why I think this might be a dream. I remember when GUIs happened in the late 1980s, how suspicious I was when they abstracted away the shell. I knew intellectually that the shell itself was an abstraction, but I didn't really *know* that.

Not sure people understand when I'm joking. Not sure I do anymore either.

2014-10-01 Couldn't sleep. Maybe I should start a blog. It's dark and cold and my elderly cat is a demented and won't stop crying. We're all doomed.

~~~

We will learn to fear the blockchain.

"Lis pendens" is Latin for "lawsuit pending." It's a document you file in the property records to put potential buyers on notice of pending litigation relating to the property, generally with the intent to prevent sale. None of this is legal advice, and you shouldn't be looking for legal advice on the internet anyway.