Tuesday, November 11
It’s late on a Tuesday night in November. The temperature outside has been in the single digits for a couple of hours, and is projected to reach a high somewhere around 5° tomorrow. It’s the kind of night where I’ve got cabinet doors open wide and a trickle running from the faucets and I might just leave the heat on when I go to work tomorrow, utility bills be damned.
I’m about halfway through a bottle of red wine and halfway through a box of peppermint tea. I should probably stop on at least one of these. I’m pretty sure neither one is going to knock out the dwindling but tenacious remnant population of whatever microbe has been colonizing my respiratory system for the last week.
I’ve been working on userland again tonight. Showing people squiggle.city the other day, I got yet another reminder that the social part of the unix trip is one of the really compelling parts (maybe the really compelling part, if you think about just where the modern internet came from), and the book doesn’t address that stuff directly at all yet. I’m going to try for a long, discursive chapter about unix-like machines as shared spaces and re-write some of the other parts to line up with it better. I want to communicate something small but important about how the web emerged (and emerges!) from this matrix of other, older, less obvious things.
As my time at SparkFun winds down, I’m looking at how much of my life has been spent on this one little in-house IRC server with my coworkers. It’s a space with a lot of idiosyncracies and a lot of petty office drama, not infrequently a source of considerable stress, an ocean of stupid YouTube link bullshit — I’m gonna miss it so much.
Love is a buffer full of text.
I just pulled up Twitter and clicked “unfollow” three or four hundred times. I didn’t exactly think I was going to do it until I did it, and it was actually kind of a wrenching exercise, but I wasn’t sure how else to make myself stop using Twitter. I literally don’t follow anyone now. I uninstalled the client on my phone and my tablet and such. I suppose I’ll check in now and then, but I’m going to do my level best not to post things there. Or at least I’m going to try that and see how it goes. Twitter has been kind of a huge part of my life for a long time. I still have a lot of thoughts — good and useful ones — that want to become tweets.
For the longest time, I had this essay in the back of my mind, a long apology/defense for/of twitter-the-form and twitter-the-place. I wanted to talk about how twitter felt to me something like IRC with more time lag and “channels” defined by emergent networks of loose association rather than by a single decision to attach yourself to a named message stream. I wanted to talk about how, like a lot of great media, it was a vast array of different experiences and modes for a vast array of different people all at once, and how as a kind of protocol accidentally captured by a corporate implementation, it was a thing vastly better than the superficial similarities to commons-enclosing corporate silo-empires like Facebook might suggest.
I really loved twitter, at its best. But then on the other hand, a couple of things started happening.
The first was that twitter’s capacity to amplify, focus, and recirculate every negative emotional & intellectual experience started to eat away at me. I followed a bunch of people whose concerns and interests I shared (or wanted to share), people who probably take joy in the things I take joy in, people working on problems I care about, or wanted to learn how to care about — and somewhere along the way I began to notice that every time I read my twitter stream, I got depressed as hell. Lost and confused and sad and angry for days, sometimes.
The second was that Twitter the company really committed to the Facebookification of the internet in a way that became impossible to ignore. Somewhere within that organization, the decisions were made and carried forward to begin dismantling the basic structure of the thing (a reverse-chronological stream of length-constrained messages from users you felt like explicitly following on purpose) that was the twitter protocol.
I don’t know how much those two things are related, but once the latter became really inescapable, I decided it was probably time to quit. I guess I probably won’t be writing that essay about how great twitter is. But it really was pretty great for a long time.
Too bad it wasn’t actually just a protocol. We really need to figure out how to do protocols again.
In the meantime, I’ll be on IRC.