In "Why People Are So Awful Online," Roxane Gay pinpoints something that we've been talking about for a while and completely nails it, as usual:
In our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale. We hold in equal contempt a war criminal and a fiction writer who too transparently borrows details from someone else’s life. It’s hard to calibrate how we engage or argue.
One person makes a statement. Others take issue with some aspect of that statement. Or they make note of every circumstance the original statement did not account for. Or they misrepresent the original statement and extrapolate it to a broader issue in which they are deeply invested. Or they take a singular instance of something and conflate it with a massive cultural trend. Or they bring up something ridiculous that someone said more than a decade ago as confirmation of … who knows?
Gay says "we seek control and justice online" and that's why we want our voices heard. True enough--but at what price?
The first paragraph especially resonates with what happens on Twitter. Remember the radical librarians getting all up in arms about Little Free Libraries?
Today, Twitter is all up in arms again about titles--"should you call a professor doctor or professor or or or"--and though it's an important topic, and was fifteen years ago or so when people first started making an issue of it and talking about it endlessly, do we really need to revisit it quarterly?
Maybe we do. Maybe this is like the old days of ChronicleVitae, when I used to get frustrated because it gave no new information and finally realized that it wasn't meant to be informative for people past the first year of grad school. The fault was with me for reading stuff I already knew, not the medium for putting it out there. Maybe Twitter is the same way.
Yet I confess that most of the time a subset of academic twitter is too "inside baseball" for me to understand at all. Shade is thrown, and subtweets proliferate like minnows, and knowing references are apparently caught by those in the know, of whom I am not one.
It's all a bit like being back in junior high and not knowing what the cool girls were talking about, except that now I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure it out. As Gay says, she now has a life and family and can't spare the time.
I've been writing about Twitter here for 10 years, and while nothing can touch the levels of misinformation and horror that the former guy brought to it, Gay may well be right about the level of negativity it has now attained.