The description — which Musk owes to former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo — envisions Twitter as a place where the masses gather to share what they find interesting, meaningful, or memorable and talk about it with others. Facebook didn’t describe itself as a city square, but it was based on a similar principle.
But Musk or no Musk, the vision of a global city square is dead. We’ve seen too much and we don’t want to look, listen, or trust the quarreling voices crammed into one place.
Therefore, there may never be such a thing as Twitter or Facebook again. The world is too divided and contradictory for any app to bring us together.
This vision of connecting the world and summoning the masses has always been partly fictional and wholly problematic. But the idea also has wisps of beauty and truth.
Even if you’ve never used Twitter or reluctantly turned to Facebook, you’ve gained something from the hope ingrained in social media. In it was the desire to expand your human interactions beyond the physical world and an implicit desire to better understand each other.
Broadcasting to the world can be profound and useful. In the hands of a Minneapolis teen, Darnella Frazier, social media helped reveal the murder of George Floyd. It empowers people in Iran to show the world and each other that they are determined to gain freedom. That one time we joked together about llamas on the loose. It can also show or encourage the worst of us.
Whatever happens, many starry-eyed Silicon Valley technologists can no longer imagine raising billions with a common goal. A principle of cryptocurrency and the related blockchain technology is that no-one can be trusted and no one knows anything, as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey said in some recent tweets. Essentially, the dream of a global city square is for suckers.
What we have instead of a town square is an explosion of private parties. The text and audio app Discord, Snapchat, Twitch, Truth Social, group text chats, and Zoom are all about interacting with people we want to be with.
There are still billions of people using Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp and WeChat in China. But the city square principle is starting to fray.
You are not on YouTube to hear everyone, but to spread in self-chosen communities around Mr. Beast, “CoComelon,” or that guy who roasts the perfect Thanksgiving turkey. Reddit, Substack, and Tumblr also work this way. Twitter itself may have always been best, not as a central plaza, but as smaller communities of interest or identity, such as Black Twitter or UFC fans.
And if Facebook’s driving idea was that you were one click away from a meaningful connection, TikTok’s big idea is that you don’t need any friends at all.
Instead, computers will guess your desires and spit out bite-sized moments calculated to please you. You may never come across an uncomfortable idea. Mark Zuckerberg is remaking Facebook and Instagram to work more like this.
Part of me laments the loss of the principle behind Facebook and Twitter as central places for global conversation. And part of me thinks, cleaned up all that.
It was often exhausting and horrifying to be thrown into the human cacophony. As in the real world, the powerful in the town squares often had more of a voice than the powerless. And why should we even listen to those jerks over there?
The idea of mass social media may have always been doomed. In our age of abundance and fracture, it’s hard to stand behind one megawatt movie star, all buy that album, or rely on the same truth.
Perhaps the magic of social media as a global city square is that it happened in the first place. It was a temporary shared delusion.
Why Christmas shopping is different this year
This week is the official kickoff of the seasonal shopping mania, but you may have noticed that the “holiday” sales started weeks or months ago. Yup.
Your shopping behavior in 2022 will foreign. All those leggings, TV sets and bicycles that sold out during our pandemic-fueled shopping frenzy? No, you don’t want them that bad anymore. Businesses are stuck with a lot of merchandise that isn’t as popular. Inflation is changing what you buy and more shopping has moved from the internet to physical stores.
These unexpected events have messed up typical retailers’ holiday plans and will result in some great deals – and some bad ones – in the coming weeks.
To help you navigate a confusing moment, my colleague Jackie Peiser has published a Christmas shopping survival guide with tips for saving money.
➦ Kudos from Jackie: More stores and websites charge money to return items. You may want to take extra care in choosing gifts (and self-gifts) so you don’t stick your cousin with a waffle iron that he has to pay to return.
A tip from Laura Wittig, the founder of the climate-conscious shopping and information site Brightly: Use wish lists available at many online stores or tell friends and family what you want. It may be less of a surprise when gift giving, but buying the right thing the first time is better for the giver, the receiver and the planet.
➦ Is Amazon Prime worth it to you? The Post’s Help Desk team has put together a handy quiz about your shopping and other habits to answer that question.
Help us help you. How are you navigating online shopping for the holidays? What are your strategies for buying the right things or buying less? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask us your questions about technology in your life. We’re all in the same boat.
Your cell phone company keeps track of who you call, where you go on the internet and your location at all times in order to send ads to you and make more money. Yes I know.
You can say ‘no’ to this. Tatum Hunter shows you which settings to change at each of the three largest US phone companies. It’s a small task to feel powerful today. And read more from Tatum.
Brag about YOUR one small victory! Tell us about an app, gadget or tech trick that made your day a little better. We may include your advice in a future edition of The Tech Friend.