Burning Shore
7 min

Platform Shuffles

Originally published on January 23, 2024

The shifting marketplace(s) of ideas

These days I basically no longer use Twitter, or X, or Twix. I have been on the platform since around 2010, when I decided not to ever get on Facebook, but wanted a social media space to play in. These were the years when, if I told people I was not on FB and so did not have a handle, they would sometimes argue with me angrily, as if I was insulting them. This happened multiple times, and compelled me to double down in my resistance to the Zuckbook. As a freelance writer, it was kind of a dumb move, and I certainly missed out on many cool events over the years; for a while my social and cultural life felt like it floated thinly through a palpable vacuum of information.

Richard Williamson (@rcwmsn) / X

 

The work of Richard Williamson (@rcwmsn)

I liked Twitter. I cultivated my garden, shared my stuff, gained a decent number of followers, and used Tweetdeck to more closely follow my friends and colleagues. I never put it on my phone, and I was never addicted to it. I liked the fact I could go away for a week and nobody seemed to care. With a few exceptions, I avoided vexed “political” arguments on a platform that was obviously geared for flame wars and tedious grandstanding. I would unfollow at the first whiff of strident militancy. When I drew the occasional troll, I mostly turned the conversation, either by not letting them get my goat, or by immediately addressing all the readers of the attack, speaking of the troll himself in third person (I will leave the exclusionary gender there). This tactic mostly worked, though occasionally mean people said cruel things that hurt or irritated for days.

I read through a lot of links in my feed, which I appreciated then but have little use for now, when I am intentionally shifting my “media diet” away from the screen. I followed some intelligent conservatives, and watched the rise of cancel culture. As a tried-and-weird Gen X subculture denizen, this new policing did not please, but it did not seem like the end of the world. When a fellow gently but sincerely took me to task for posting a Chogyam Trungpa quote in 2019 or so, given the alcoholic guru’s behavior with women, I realized Twitter was not the place to try to hash out shifts in generational sensibility around crazy wisdom, excess, and spiritual risk. I just moved on. It was a sad and disappointing development, but so is the gradual loss of the historical and cultural context that shaped you.

Mostly I just forwarded stuff and shared cool links, a curating function I picked up as a music and culture critic in the 1990s and have always loved. But that culture started to collapse when Eldritch Musk took over the platform. Reading the writing on the wall, I tried to download the immense record of my personal tweets over the years and failed after numerous and varied attempts. (If ya know a backdoor that won’t take a week of hacking, don’t be a stranger.) This embittered me. When Twitter officially became Twix, and the algos started getting seriously fucked with, the vibe was no longer fun at all, even as the platform became a less reliable broadcast mechanism for announcing my doings. When I learned that links to Substacks were being aggressively marginalized, I realized it was basically over for me. Fuck that shit.

Substack has its own problems. While the pushy commercialism is growing more galling, and many of us have reached the ceiling on the number of Substacks we want to follow, I still feel positive about the basic mechanism of a revenue-producing newsletter. I realize that it deepens the silos we increasingly inhabit, and that some of those silos are nasty-ass. But as platforms become more like utilities, it becomes less useful to pressure them as if they were newspapers of record. I suspect that Nazis make calls and swap texts on their iPhones.

So here’s what I am gonna do. I am going to turn to Burning Shore more frequently, posting the occasional monster essay but also offering up shorter and chattier posts that take up some of that old curatorial function, maybe even some best-of lists, and of course information about my writings and appearances. I will also regularly announce Alembic events I had a hand in programming, many of which can be streamed for those not in the Bay. After some internal wrangling, I have also decided to turn the paid subscription function back on, though I have no plans at the moment to offer subscriber-only content. We will see.

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I hope you enjoyed this flicker of Burning Shore. I have started up paid subscriptions again, though for the moment will not be offering any subscriber-only content. You get what you get. You can also support the publication by forwarding Burning Shore to friends and colleagues, or by dropping an appreciation in my Tip Jar.

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