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8 July 2023

Why social media has become tedious

The launch of Twitter rivals should feel exciting – but it no longer does.

By Marie Le Conte

It was very odd at first, being on Bluesky. I managed to get a very early invite to the new I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Twitter social network, and decided to use it straight away. It’s now been about two and a half months.

There was, and is, something of the uncanny valley about it. It looks and feels just like the bird app, and was even created by Jack Dorsey, who launched Twitter in the first place. It was also eerily quiet for the first few weeks.

A handful of us had, essentially, seen that the ship we were on was threatening to capsize, and had decided to get in the lifeboats, just in case. We sat there for a while, waiting for the ship to sink, unsure what to do in the meantime.

It all got livelier last week, when Elon Musk managed to break Twitter again, in a way that felt like it could be final. Did he mean to trial a new system whereby non-paying users could only see a few hundred posts a day, or was he trying to find cover for some stupid thing he did by mistake? We may never know.

Point is – everyone with a Bluesky invite fled to Bluesky, and the party finally got started. Twitter friends sought each other out, we prayed that trolls and bores would take their time to jump on the bandwagon, and the whole thing felt like kids being reunited at summer camp.

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It was, in a way, quite invigorating. Until about ten years ago, going from platform to platform like Tarzan swinging between tree branches was the done thing. You’d move quickly to keep your username, then decide exactly who you wanted to be in that whole new world.

Some networks, like Instagram, are still going strong. Others, like Ello, which I only ever used to post pictures of the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, disappeared from public consciousness after a few weeks.

For a certain generation, a pleasing symmetry had developed between our online lives and our real ones. We were young and endlessly moving between jobs and houseshares, and every year or so we’d also pack all our bags and move to a different corner of the internet.

Eventually, on the computer as in life, we grew tired and weary, and longed for reassuring stability. A lot of us made Twitter our home, put up our feet on the sofa and decided we would stop moving. We made friends and enemies; met some people in person, decided to keep things close but virtual with others.

Then Musk happened.

The first wave of evacuees fled to Mastodon, which always seemed well-meaning but overbearing from afar. Others – myself included – decided to stay put, and wait to see which way the wind would blow. Earlier this year some writers were lured in by the promises of Substack Notes, then quietly returned when they realised that no one had followed them there.

Meta has now launched Threads, its Twitter rival, but it is already getting panned for its algorithmic timeline and overabundance of bland influencers. Over on Bluesky, controversies around content moderation and Dorsey’s wackier beliefs are raging already.

It is a sad state of affairs. After a decade spent in stasis, social media is evolving again, and it should feel exciting but it doesn’t. New platforms used to have honeymoon periods; they always felt fun and fresh for a while, and it would take some time for the cracks to start showing.

Why does every new app and site now feel dull and draining within a matter of weeks at most? Perhaps our expectations are at fault. Fifteen years ago technology still felt exciting. We’d flock to new places because it felt like being let into the future, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

It seems fair to say that the promises that were made to us wound up feeling hollow, and more than a decade of debates about trolling, misinformation and misuse of personal data will suck the joy out of pretty much anything. We were naive, for a little while, and now we aren’t. We know that whoever runs the platforms of today and tomorrow doesn’t really care about us, or what we want. If this is a big adventure, we’re the marks, not the protagonists.

If I’m being entirely honest, I suppose that age may have something to do with it as well. I remember what it was like to move houses as a teenager; I’d throw all my earthly possessions into bin bags then merrily trek across London, friends and beers in tow. I moved again earlier this year and it felt like the worst thing that could happen to anyone. It took me months to recover from it.

Young people seamlessly flocked to TikTok a few years ago, and not a complaint was heard. It is possible to think that the many bros of Silicon Valley are fundamentally a problem, but that our aching joints are the real reason why this all feels tedious. Twitter had become an imperfect but comfortable haven for the ageing online generation; I’ll give Bluesky a go if it all collapses but if that fails too, I may just have to let the tide take me.

Read more:

We are heading for social media burnout

I closed my Twitter account. So now what?

What does the end of Twitter mean for news media?

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