Twitter is becoming 4chan

Like a lot of people, I’ve been following the gradual decline/devolution of Twitter, and in this post from his Garbage Day newsletter, Ryan Broderick — one of the sharpest anthropologists of the modern internet, in my opinion — breaks down what he thinks is happening:

My best guess is that what’s happening to Twitter right now is similar, in a sense, to what happened to 4chan around 2011-2012. Like Twitter, 4chan was never a place for mentally healthy people, but it began to lean into its worst impulses as it became increasingly fixated on what supposedly “normal” people were doing on sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and eventually Instagram. And one theory I’ve always had is that that initial anger and resentment was actually a quality of life thing. 4chan users could see that the site they were using was broken, janky, unpleasant, and quickly racing to the bottom culturally and it created a radicalization loop that set the groundwork for the full far-right takeover a year or so later. So, in that same way, maybe Twitter users are obsessed with TikTok right now because it’s, at least from the outside, a nicer app full of seemingly happier users. Or, at the very least, users that are more earnest, which is the worst possible thing a Twitter user can be.

Jim Carrey: There is no me

I hesitate to read too much into an interview, but this Q&A with Jim Carrey from a few years ago is a great look at someone who has submerged themselves so deep in a role (in this case, as Andy Kaufman, Carrey’s comedic hero) that he either a) suffers some kind of psychic break, or b) has gained a kind of Buddhist/existentialist insight into the nature of existence, or c) both. Thanks to Matt Webb and his Interconnected newsletter for reminding me of this:

Mr. Carrey, have you ever had a spiritual epiphany?

Well, I have gone through a lot changes in the last few years and a lot of realizations — and I guess you could say awakenings about things. Everything is touched by that, everything I am doing creatively right now seems to point to the awareness of a lack of self. What are we? Why are we here? And the answer to both of those questions is: nothing, no reason, as far as I am concerned.

What do you think prompted those awakenings?

I guess just getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamt of and more and then you realize, “My gosh, it’s not about this.”

Is that what happened to you?

Yeah, sure. It didn’t happen to me. There is no me. But it happened. And it pushed me towards the realization there is no individual here. There are only energies. Playing Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon in 1999, for example, I realized that I could lose myself in a character. I could live in a character. And when I finished with that, I took a month to remember who I was. But there was a shift that had already happened. And the shift was, “Wait a second. If I can put Jim Carrey aside for four months, who is Jim Carrey? Who the hell is that?”

What do you mean?

If you want to talk scientifically, break it down to a cluster of tetrahedrons that somehow believe they are athing. But they’re ideas — just ideas. Jim Carrey was an idea my parents gave me. Irish-Scottish-French was an idea I was given. Canadian was an idea that I was given. I had a hockey team and a religion and all of these things that cobble together into this kind of Frankenstein monster, this representation. It’s like an avatar. These are all the things I am. You are not an actor, or a lawyer. No one is a lawyer. There are lawyers, law is practiced, but no one is a lawyer. There is no one, in fact, there.

The bizarre world created by cheap drop-shipping and Twitter

From Max Read’s newsletter:

I counted nearly two dozen accounts and websites with similar logos, storefronts, wares, and nonsense names: In addition to Narry, Himmo, Rotu, and Tadu, there’s Zodu and Bexe, which like the four James identified also have black-and-white logos and claim to be “committed to providing unique products at tremendous values to our customers”; Zimma and Rommo have identical storefronts to the Zodu/Bexe family of shops but feature rainbow, rather than black-and-white, logos; Dula, Potta (or, according to the logo on the navigation bar at the top, “Putta”), Bezenpy, Bezenfy, and Tozdy, have Zimma/Rommo-style rainbow logos but a different storefront and a promise to “dedicate ourselves to providing the latest blanket, clothes, canvas, ornament, jewels and accessories”; finally, there’s Poxo, Gota, Duno, each of which sports a rainbow logo but claims it “curates 100 amazing fandom-related items and accessories.” All of the sites sell a narrow and largely overlapping range of products, a dollar-store mix of junky gadgets, clothes, household decoration, and ear-wax cleaners.

Should we let the horse leave the barn?

Brian Feldman wrote about some of the criticisms of ChatGPT and questions about what the impact of AI software is going to be:

“All of these questions are asking “Should we let the horse leave the barn?” while the people asking stand in front of an empty barn. If years of collective online activity is anything to go by, this stuff is good enough for everyone else. If ChatGPT is a blurry JPEG, it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of web users are totally fine with blurry JPEGs. I see them all over the place. (Sometimes, as I wrote in 2014, the blurriness is the point.) We love parlor tricks like SmartChild and Akinator.”

“Whether or not machine-text and -art is “good” or “convincing” is not the relevant issue. The issue is whether it is “good enough.” Clearly, to many people, it is good enough! Internet users are really skilled at convincing themselves that the convenient thing in front of them is the thing they want, whether that’s a barely coherent machine-generated article about what time the Super Bowl is or dubious footage a preferred/reviled political candidate.”

“I just think it’s worth reiterating that the story of internet culture recently has not been one of austerity or moderation. It’s about taking the easy route and flooding the zone with the same meme templates and TikTok sounds everyone else is using at a regular interval — as opposed to things that are creative and unique and, well, good. This has been true for years: consistency over quality is a winning strategy in terms of audience growth. All of the stories I read about content creator burnout are about how exhausting and awful it is to have to post so often, rather than about what most artists have traditionally struggled with throughout most of human history: being in a creative rut. To me, that’s extremely telling.”

“A flywheel system that encourages this type of brainless output incentivizes the proliferation of automated systems that let people continue to pump out at-best-mediocre stuff while shirking responsibility for what’s actually generated. So I see the twisted appeal of the shortcuts, and am not more aghast about it than anything else I’ve seen over the last decade. The posters have been sleepwalking for a very long time.”

The connection between a volcano and Frankenstein

(via Matt Webb’s blog)

1815 saw the eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia. Global temperatures fell. The next year, there were crop failures in Europe, and snow fell in New York in June. Two other things also happened as a result:

  • Lord Byron holidayed at Lake Geneva with some friends, but the weather kept them indoors. To pass the time they told ghost stories. From that trip we get both The Vampyre (the first modern vampire novel and precursor to Dracula) and also Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  • Driven to move by the collapse in grain prices, the family of Joseph Smith Jr migrated from Vermont to the religious hotbed of New York where he began to receive visions. Later, he founded a religion, writing his visions as The Book of Mormon.