Recently when contemplating some issues around social media, and Twitter in particular, I was reminded of an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the episode ‘Earshot’, Buffy is infected by a demon and wakes up with the ability to hear the thoughts of everyone she meets. At first her new power is exhilarating and exciting, a way to gain knowledge and insight. Soon, however, the gift becomes a curse. She can’t block out the constant noise of everyone’s internal chatter and eventually the horror, suffering, pain and violence inside other people’s heads overwhelms her. She ends up bedridden, unable to function, hovering on the edge of insanity.
That episode aired long before the invention of Twitter, but the parallels with social media are uncanny. The controversial takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk to me is just a symptom of a wider problem with the platform. We are not designed to function with this constant stream of voices in the background of our lives.
You are eavesdropping on conversations that have no relevance to your life. Most of the topics which receive attention are well beyond the average person’s expertise or even basic understanding.
As a result of this place many people get angry, confused and depressed, even radicalised – attacking everything in sight with no sense of compassion, forgiveness or understanding. Open minded ambivalence, which I believe is necessary for a rational life, is nowhere to be seen.
Many are now waking up to these issues and leaving Twitter in droves. Others fear impending changes to a platform controlled by a megalomaniac businessman. Deleting is freedom.
For the music industry this poses a number of problems. The impact of the old traditional music press, album charts, radio and TV formats etc is long gone. Now artists have to use these platforms just in order to survive. Many musicians have complained about the record label’s constant need for ‘content’ and the expectation that you share everything you think, feel and do. Few musicians seem to have actually thrived on Twitter (Jason Isbell is an exception to this).
Even if you get popular or go viral you could end up targeted, harassed, doxxed or stalked. To be ignored on these platforms actually seems like a blessing. Yet how can anyone (artist or writer) build a career without social media engagement?
For fans it often feels like a constant stream of people shouting ‘LISTEN TO THIS’ or ‘BUY THIS’ or ‘READ THIS’. Fun for a while, if you can keep up, but soon it grinds you down.
As a blogger I started using Twitter only to share posts. As time has gone on it seems fewer people actually click links from Twitter. People are now expected to write their thoughts condensed in tweets, or threads. You must hit tweet at the right moment, to get the right engagement and contribute to the worldwide conversation. Music Twitter has recently become an endless sea of controversy and in-fighting, just like every other subgroup on the platform.
And yet I can’t quite quit the place.
No matter how noisy the online world gets, I believe we need people who are strong enough to withstand the din.
In terms of music, I do think that Twitter is an important place where likeminded fans can find each other. It’s my belief that the streaming algorithm cannot do the job of a dedicated fan/blogger/writer – that is, to not just listen to the music but to understand the song, to connect with it and advocate for it to be heard. If Twitter can help with that, then it must also be a force for good.
And maybe the test of a first-rate intelligence is now the ability to hold the WORLD’S opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
Buffy eventually switched her power off by drinking the heart of a demon, fed to her by her vampire boyfriend. If Elon Musk wants to really save the world then maybe he should just switch the whole thing off and set us free.
Until then the call of the hive mind is too much to resist. I have to believe a better online world is out there somewhere.
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