Unified American Discourse

Besides the NBA China story, the Joker hot takes, Trump tweeting about the #donothingdemocrats, the outrage over a #cancelWWEnetwork match, and the venture capitalists butting heads with Scott Galloway, it was a fairly quiet weekend.

How did this happen?

When I first joined Twitter in November, 2009, it was mostly to follow Knicks and Giants beat writers. Shortly thereafter I found the finance vertical. My introduction into this new world began with StockTwits and Blodget and Weisenthal and TRB.

Twitter started in 2006, but our little sandbox exploded with users in late 2008 and all throughout 2009 as you can see in the chart below*.

The financial world was in free fall and people went searching for answers. On Twitter, they found a community of reporters, traders, fake traders, financial advisors, and investment bankers. Insiders and outsiders and everything in between. We asked questions and shared stories and made jokes and it was fun and exciting and new. But that was ten years ago and as Dorothy said to Toto, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

In Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, he wrote about the consequences of electricity finding its way into communication (emphasis mine):

His telegraph erased state lines, collapsed regions, and, by wrapping the continent in an information grid, created the possibility of a unified American discourse. But at a considerable cost. For telegraphy did something that Morse did not foresee when he prophesied that telegraphy would make “one neighborhood of the whole country.” It destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate…Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct. He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse; that it would not only permit but insist upon a conversation between Maine and Texas.

We’ve always been defined by our differences; different races, cultures, religions, and of course viewpoints. That’s what makes our country special. But before social media, the differences were often simmering in the background, occasionally exploding to the surface. But Twitter has killed the simmer, leaving only daily explosions. Morgan Housel wrote about this in a recent post:

TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington recently wrote: “I thought Twitter was driving us apart, but I’m slowly starting to think half of you always hated the other half but never knew it until Twitter.” This is a good point that highlights something easy to overlook: 1) everyone belongs to a tribe, 2) those tribes sometimes fundamentally disagree with one another, 3) that’s fine if those tribes keep their distance, 4) the internet increasingly assures that they don’t.

There is no going back. This is now the world we live in, and you have two choices, complain, or adapt. Full disclosure, I complain.

We can’t control how noisy the universe is, but we can decide how to listen. The best way to lower the volume on your feed is to get rid of the accounts that are bothering you. “This is exactly what causes groupthink.” Stop it. I follow plenty of people who’s views I disagree with, but I don’t follow people I disagree with who are jerks. Ugh, and now I’m defending myself against nobody in particular. I thought blogs were a safe space.

For all its flaws, Twitter is still a great place to ask questions and find answers.

*This post started as something very different than this. Sorry for anyone I left out. Find the list Twitter Accounts