Something, Messidor, 227 (Microblogging and the self)

I didn’t blog last week. The last two weeks were a kind of perfect maelstrom of stuff and an endless domino rally of deadlines. I’m working from home today because there are no meetings and it is fascinating how much work I just got done in 2.5 hours which would normally take me the whole day in my office. So, I had time to think about what I’ve been thinking about and write about it here. It's also the reason why this post is dated 'something' since I'm not at my desk and don't have my French republic calendar to hand.

Well-known Irish-based microblogging website Twitter dot com.

I was thinking about Twitter dot com yesterday. I know it’s a bit prosaic to have divided feelings about Twitter but I do. There’s different aspects to the way my personality engages here:
  1. The player. The bit of me that is fully neuro-chemically bought into the content-creation-reward function of Twitter. The bit of it that is gamified like an RPG. You’re encouraged to grind away for likes and retweets and gain experience points as your followers. As a gamer this taps deeply into something that’s hard-wired in my elastic brain and I’m deeply and anxiously aware of in both online interaction and in my dangerous habit of slipping into gaming binges to get a kick.
  2. The networker. The bit that reminds you what Twitter was for, why you signed up and what you got out of it; where you’re connected with interesting people or ideas. This is the bit that is optimistic every time I open Tweetdeck that someone might have done a; ‘Hey Tobias, you might like this’ or ‘you should meet this person.’ This is also the bit where I get people IRL come up to me saying ‘I saw that thing you tweeted, thanks’ and I think that it’s worth it if it’s useful to people. I know it’s corny but I genuinely believe the connections I made on Twitter in the early 2010s were responsible for getting my career started. However this is all held back by…
  3. The doomsayer. This is the bit, that every time in a moment of idleness I open Tweetdeck growls ‘there is no joy to be found here.’ And it's right usually. It’s been years since anything on twitter made me joyful or laugh in a way that would have not been possible otherwise. On average its instrumental: I post what I’m up to, I share what some other people are up to and it’s like a bulletin board in a supermarket with no-one really engaging meaningfully. At worst it’s just a non-consensual hazing which by coincidence of being there you’re obligated to be grateful for. That and (and maybe it’s just my curation of my timeline) it’s anxiety-inducing stories of horror foretelling of the collapse of civilisation. In which case I’m divided again, because I don’t want to be complicit in turning away from knowing how others are suffering in the world.
So there’s kind of two reward functions: one is the nasty, neurochemical one that I’d happily be rid of but can’t, a bit like nicotine. The other is the one I get from being, learning or sharing something useful. I guess that’s what I enjoy in the media I consume, learning useful things.

There’s no right answer. Every time a new platform pops up and folks start to migrate I kind of wonder if we haven't damaged online discourse to the point where it's irretrievable regardless of where it is. I’ve found my approach to Instagram much better and fulfilling. I can share events and activities which is part of being in practice but I also put up bits of my life. Documenting a lot of what I thought might be boring and unrelatable bicycle activities seems to have got a good response, I had emails or comments from folks who said they were learning stuff about mechanics or maintenance and that’s great. If it’s useful and I can share some of the stuff I’ve learned or figured out that’s cool. Anyway, I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have as someone who is on the Internet. How do you reconcile all of this stuff?

This reminds me tangentially of a really great quote that Kristina Andersen introduced me to from The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente:
First, you build the machine, then it tells you what it’s for. A machine is only a kind of magnet for attracting Use. That’s why we say things are Useful – because they are all full of the Use that chose them to perform itself. (Valente 2013)
I should read more children's books.

Learning stuff

Since I’m increasingly valuing learning simple things and it gives me a much richer sense of progress and self-growth than followers or likes, I’ve decided to keep a note and make a section on things I’ve learned each week. These aren’t necessarily useful yet but I've found everything ends up being useful at some point. I don’t know, it might be nice to share?
  1. On Google maps, the short description for Starbucks is ‘Seattle-based coffeehouse chain known for its signature roasts, light bites and WiFi availability.’ which I find cute.
  2. Despite being deep into French revolutionary history for a while (see titles of all recent posts) it was only this week that I connected Jacques-Louis David’s famous ‘Death of Marat’ (1793) (right) with the Jean-Paul Marat. I had a real ‘oooohhhhh that Marat’ moment when the connection was made thanks to some untraceable prompt which was nice.
  3. The length of sprocket teeth on bicycle parts have no real standards, despite the widths being pretty well standardised. They’re just a sort of best guess by the manufacturer. If you get your combination of parts wrong you can end up with a really noisy drive because the teeth stay in the gaps in the chain as the chain releases form the cog, essentially trying to continue pulling the chain with it. This is the source of the Bad Noises my new bike has been making and quite frustrating as there’s little guidance, just guesswork and it creates quite a bit of resistance.

Channel recommendation

Here’s a real quick (and bicycle related one). Since I’m sinewy and whippet-like it turns out I’m actually a real good climber as I’ve found from training round Richmond Park and doing Box Hill in Surrey the other weekend. Sprinting is bit harder than trudging up hill so I looked round for info and found this cool little series from State Bicycle Company. It’s a kind of interview format where they interview pro riders (usually with a good sense of humour) while riding fixed uphill. There’s a lot of speculation on the Tour de France in the later ones, some of which is… prescient. Anyway, I like them, enjoy.

Have a great week!