The World got a Favor because of the destruction of social media

What Twitter can we learn from Quakers? Robin Sloan’s perspective on the notion of silence in a Quaker setting and what we do on Twitter

We have to think that our choice is social media platforms, or nothing at all. I keep thinking about something that Robin Sloan, a novelist and former Twitter employee, wrote this year: “There are so many ways people might relate to one another online, so many ways exchange and conviviality might be organized. Look at these screens, this wash of pixels, the liquid potential! The network effect is still consumed by the fuel for other possibilities even after it gets a local maximum.

Allow me a strange turn here. This year I became more interested in how the group deliberates. Early to abolitionism, to Equality between the sexes, to prison reform, to pressuring governments to help save Jews from the Holocaust are just a few things that Quakers have been early to. That is not to say Quakers have gotten nothing wrong, but what has led them to get so much right?

The answer suggested by Rex Ambler’s lovely book “The Quaker Way” is silence. In a typical Quaker meeting, Ambler writes, community members “sit in silence together for an hour or so, standing up to speak only if they are led to do so, and then only to share some insight which they sense will be of value to others.” If they have to come up with an issue, they’ll wait in the dark to figure out what to do. There is much that debate can offer but much that it can obscure. He says the goal is to get a clear idea of what is happening in our lives. We need to let go of our active and fretful minds so we can do this. We go quiet and let a deeper, more sensitive awareness arise.”

I see it in my own mind and that is why I find this powerful. I know how I respond in the heat of an argument, when my whole being is tensed to react. And I know how I process hard questions or difficult emotions after quiet reflection, when there is time for my spirit to settle. I know which is my better self.


How Do We Become More Active and Fragful? Comment on Elon Musk at the Salesforce Conversational OS Workshop on Wednesday, April 17

This is not a meeting for one long time. There is wisdom here that is worth pondering. We do not make our best decisions, as individuals or as a collective, when our minds are most active and fretful. I can imagine the Twitter mind thinking, “Active and fretful” is a precise description. As a result of putting us in an active, fretful mental state and requiring us to fire off statements on divisive issues with one eye to how quickly they will get likes and retweets, Twitter encourages us to make statements with one eye on how fast they will get likes and shares. It’s insane.

It will get a lot worse from here. OpenAI recently released ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence system that can be given requests in plain language (“Write me an argument for the benefits of single-payer health care, in the style of a Taylor Swift song”) and spit out remarkably passable results.

“Happy to talk about it if this is interesting,” Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, texted Elon Musk last spring. He continued, opaquely: “Twitter conversational OS—the townsquare for your digital life.” The billionaires communicate with slogans, brand identities and occasional large sums. It’s up to everyone else to figure out the details.

It is not just Musk that is at fault, he seems to have accidentally shot himself in the foot with his own brand of flamethrower. No, Musk is just a vehicle. It was an insult to God before it became a real thing. It was a Tower of Babel.

God Died Us A Favor by Desdestroying Twitter: The Story of Moses in a Small Town, or Why God Did You Go In Your Backyard

People usually interpret Genesis 11:1–9 as a mythological explanation of why we have so many tribes, so many languages. The descendants of Noah decided to build a skyscraper to allow them to walk straight to heaven, according to the story. God didn’t go in my backyard. They confounded their language by scattering the people. I like to think that God also personally demolished the tower, but that story is apocryphal (Jubilees 10:26).

God does the wrath thing a lot in the Old Testament, punishing humans who would challenge divine authority. It makes sense to read the story in that light. I think the story is a different lesson than the one I have experienced on the internet. Take this theory with a grain of salt, it might be a pillar, because I am an unbeliever, but I think God was not preventing us from being in heaven. God was making sure that we were protected from ourselves.

Every five or six minutes, someone in the social sciences publishes a PDF with a title like “Humans 95 Percent Happier in Small Towns, Waving at Neighbors and Eating Sandwiches.” When we gather in groups of more than, say, eight, it’s a disaster. Yet there is something fundamental in our nature that desperately wants to get everyone together in one big room, to “solve it.” The idea of a town square, a marketplace of ideas, and a centralized hub of discourse and entertainment was preached to us often by our smarter, richer betters. When I return and read Genesis, I hear God say that his children were designed with 150 stable relationships in mind. Anything outside that is overclocking. You need to try Mastodon.


The Fediverse: Searching for tribes in a crowdsourced, multilingual web app at the end of the day. God didn’us a favor by destroying Twitter

People are moving away from the tower by shopping in other places, such as Discord, TikTok and Moj. And some are finding their tribes in the Fediverse, the set of decentralized web apps that includes Mastodon.

The Fediverse is, by design, thousands of servers in many languages. For small groups, they’re relatively easy to administer, and cheap to run. You can chat among your server kin—or blog, or podcast, or share images and videos—and connect with servers in the outside world. The Fediverse apps are all built on a set of rules called the ActivityPub standard, which is a little like HTML had sex with a calendar invite. It’s a content polycule. The questions it evokes are the same as with any polycule: What are the rules? How big can this get? Who will make a chore chart?


God Made Us a Favor by Destruction Twitter: How Many People Will You Be? The Case of Mastodon and the Babel Building in

The true beauty of Mastodon and similar services is that they are designed to collapse. If you want to quit, you’re allowed to follow all your followers with you. If a server shuts off, you can find another. It isn’t one guy. As we debate, it comes with a giant sticker that says: Babel built in!

How will these smaller groups of happier people be monetized? This is a difficult question to answer for the billionaires. Happy people who eat sandwiches together are boring. They don’t buy much. Their phones are behind and have cracked screens. They fix bicycles, then they talk about it, and their friend comes over, and he says, ‘Oh wow, good job’ and they make tea. That doesn’t seem like enough to build a town square on.


The Babel Story Matters: How to Babelize the Internet, and How to Stop the Babelization of the Internet and Generate a Better World

Someone will figure it out. The reason the Babel story matters is not that it happened once but that it happens over and over: We Babelize and de-Babelize. Both processes rely on the internet. Eventually, brands will find purchase in Mastodon’s rocky soil and grow engagement. The construction of new marketplaces of ideas will be ordered by billionaires. The tower will never fall, and everything will become centralized once more. Let’s enjoy the scattering.

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