Twitter is like Middle School

There are great things on Twitter. It’s a great way to find news, engage with people in your field, and DMs are basically replacing email for many.

But there are also problems. Those of us who use the site also routinely call it the “hellsite.”

Recently I realized why Twitter bothers so many of us. I have long referred to Twitter as “Middle School.” Perhaps a more specific popular culture reference is that a lot of it recapitulates “Mean Girls.” But for me there is something that Twitter reminds me of that has great personal resonance. In 8th and 9th grade one of my closest friends was someone I will call “Jake.” For various reasons, Jake was very close and “in” with the popular crowd of “jocks” (athletes, etc.). Sometimes Jake would bring me along to social events with these popular kids. I hated it. The reason being is that they were all very self-consciously fake with each other. They would make unfunny jokes, and everyone would laugh along. There were so many inside references and meanings within meanings. But it was also very dumb. We’re not talking Straussianism here.

I’m not the type of person to make a big deal about authenticity, but even I had my limits. I complained to Jake about the fakery and he admitted that it was annoying, but he also suggested this was the system we were all stuck in. Which was fair enough. Don’t hate the player and all that.

A lot of Twitter conversations in various subcultures reminds me of the performance of the jocks in 8th-grade. It’s all a public act meant to reinforce particular images and perceptions. Often, everyone knows it’s a performance, but everyone also knows that everyone has to go along. And the performers know that everyone knows they are performing.

Twitter brings out the inner Regina George in a lot of users, from blue checks down to people who might as well be eggs. There’s also a lot of moral grandstanding. The earnest and sincere get laughed and sneered at.

For me, the end result is I pretty much tune out every “Twitter controversy.” 99% of the time “viral” outrages are always more complex and textured than the current crop of screamers are making out. But the system rewards flattening reality into cut-outs because at the end of the day there are the “cool kids” and the “uncool kids.”

Twitter is all about being “in” or being “out.”


5 thoughts on “Twitter is like Middle School

  1. Twitter is like a middle school where one out of every six or seven students is actually a robot, and you can’t always tell one way or the other.

  2. From Paul Graham’s essay “Why Nerds Are Unpopular?”

    — Quotes:

    Popularity is only partially about individual attractiveness. It’s much more about alliances. To become more popular, you need to be constantly doing things that bring you close to other popular people, and nothing brings people closer than a common enemy.

    I think the important thing about the real world is not that it’s populated by adults, but that it’s very large, and the things you do have real effects. That’s what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch [AND Twitter! (my addition)] all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.


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