Twitter isn’t over, it just takes a certain type of person. Like me
Twitter – which is celebrating its 10th birthday this week – is a life-obliterating waste of time. I say this at least five times per week while deleting the shiny, perfectly proddable, ever-flickering app from my iPhone. Obviously I re-install it within hours. But I need the break in order to achieve, well, literally anything other than scrolling, reading links, liking and re-tweeting.
It’s rather impossible to sum up to the unacquainted what happens on Twitter, but safe to say I’ve spent most of the past decade holding an iPhone, monitoring the universe with my gob ajar, in a gormless pose of glib content.
As I write, my Twitter timeline rippled with IDS, the BBC and Liverpool FC tittle-tattle. It rocks with dog tips, Olivia Newton John rumours and Djokovic outrage. Some are trying to name a polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface; others think this is fatuous. The factions – Boatys vs Non-boatys, if you will – are beginning to bicker. And this is somewhat of a lull. In an emergency, Twitter is a hive of half-stories, conjecture and trickles of truth. Please note: “Emergency” on Twitter can mean anything from “Nuclear reactor melt-down” to “Madonna falling over in a cape”.
Suffice to say, 10 years since the birth of Twitter, a full phone battery, reliable 4G and a spare hour lying down goggling at it is my idea of perfect bliss. Think “relaxing with the newspapers”, but on steroids. Let’s face it, Twitter saw the back of those dirty, inky, outdated things.
Sure, as a platform it’s far from perfect; it’s pretty but problematic. We are, after all, still very much in the Wild West days of social media law and etiquette. I have tweeted and wished I hadn’t. I have blocked and then regretted it. However, 68,000 tweets and numerous laughs and full-scale bust-ups later, each time I return and feel the warm rush of rhetoric and response. It is still one of the sweetest joys I know.
A common belief, fuelled by company stock price and lack of user growth, is that Twitter has peaked. It’s had its heyday and is on the decline.
This, I think, is overblown. No other apps – Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest – rival Twitter for the service it provides. And for me, it has always seemed obvious it would never build the big, broad appeal of Facebook: the land of the proud Nan, the wacky windbag and the look-at-me charity challenge. Facebook is a place for groups and societies, where Karen can posted 47 new unedited photos of her little treasures. Facebook is enormous, ever-extending and thoroughly fit for global purpose. It’s nice, it’s just not really for me.
By contrast, Twitter has a relatively selective appeal. Not everyone can love how the chats there stop, start, branch off, lose focus and swiftly turn toxic. Not everyone can adore Twitter’s hivemind aspect, its surrealness, its cliques. Not everyone can learn to roll with its anonymous spite and unsettling witch-hunts. Only a certain sort of needy, inquisitive, gossip-loving, snarky mind finds Twitter’s pared-down platform irresistible. And as Twitter newcomers decline, I’m beginning to think the world produces only a finite number of us.
Another reason for talk of Twitter’s decline is the incredible amateur dramatics from users each time the platform updates. Recently, Twitter introduced a function called Moments, which is a rather sweet, handy and brief collation of key Tweets, updated every few hours. Twitter users acted in a similar way to my mother in the 1980s after I plugged in the iron and singed V’s on to the three-piece suite.
Similarly, an algorithm has been added that bungs content which Twitter feels an individual might like to the top of their screen. It’s fairly unobtrustive and is easily turned off, yet still global feedback over the feature led to threats to massacre and maim members of Twitter’s staff. Incidentally, we are now, after 10 years of Twitter, beginning to get to grips with the notion that “people wanting to kill you on the internet” means less that they want to kill you and more that they are slightly upset by your beliefs and at the same time are bored until their mum gets back from aqua-aerobics’.
Still, these reactions to Moments, “While You Were Away” and the shelved plans to extend the 140-character text limit do not suggest to me that users have grown tired of Twitter. I think it’s the opposite. After a decade we are so thoroughly invested in a place we think of it as a second home. Twitter is a place that we feel we own and can retreat to, despite not paying a single penny in rent since 2007. Still, we didn’t ask for these changes, and as a gut-instinct we despise them.
Many of us have been on Twitter for so long now, we can’t help but witter on like old farts about how everything was so much better in the old days. Pull up a chair, kids. I remember when all this was just hills and meadows and me talking to someone from Jesus Jones about sandwiches.
I remember back in the day when Twitter censorship didn’t exist. And Follow Fridays were exciting. And celebrities tweeted without fear or common sense.
I remember when a person could say whatever old nonsense they liked all day long, without social justice warriors or boggle-eyed neocons forming a lynch mob. Apps? I remember when there was no phone app. I remember when there only a rickety homepage that fell over and showed you a fail whale 10 times a day.
Maybe Twitter was much better in the old days, but I think I’ll still be there in 2026.