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Future Tense Newsletter: There’s Something Useful Buried in the Shipwreck of Twitter
July 31, 2023

Future Tense Newsletter: There’s Something Useful Buried in the Shipwreck of Twitter

Reading Time: 5 minutes

There’s Something Useful Buried in the Shipwreck of Twitter, Elon Musk X rebrand: Why I still can’t bring myself to delete my Twitter account.

I didn’t start regularly using Twitter until the end of 2015. I had just started working as a software engineer at Uber, and I noticed that many of my colleagues and most of the biggest names in tech were very active on the platform. It seemed natural, smart, and (weirdly) professional for me to be there, too.

When I joined, I felt like I was already late to the party. The site was filled with people—some genuinely famous, some ‘Twitter famous’—and it was an established, mature social network. But Twitter also had something that made it feel like it wasn’t just a social network. It wasn’t for keeping up with your friends or updating your family members or being bombarded with photos of people from your hometown who you hadn’t seen in 15 years; no, it was a true platform, a place where, for better or for worse, if you had something important, or good, or funny, or horrible to say, you could speak and have a decent chance of being listened to.

At first, I used Twitter to keep up with friends and colleagues, the same way I had used all of my other social media profiles. But as I watched the way that others interacted with the site, and the things they posted, I wondered whether I should also use Twitter as a place to share more about the things I was passionate about.

I set up a personal website, started blogging on it (yes, I know, I was very late to blogging), and began sharing links to my blog posts on Twitter. I wrote a post about the books that had shaped my life. I wrote a guide to studying physics. I wrote about the architecture part of software engineering interviews. And, much to my surprise, people read what I wrote. Thanks to Twitter, where links to my posts were retweeted and quote tweeted, the things I shared with the world were actually being shared.

After an infamously harrowing year at Uber, I left the company. A few months later, I wrote about my experiences in a post on my site, detailing the harassment, discrimination, and retaliation I had faced and witnessed. I shared a link to the post on Twitter, expecting, at most, that the same people who had read my other posts would read it and understand why I had left. And I hoped very much that they would understand why what I was saying was important. And they did. Thanks to Twitter, where it was shared over and over again, millions of people read my story.

When I think about where Twitter is now, and stare at the blue bird app on my phone, waiting for it to turn into that ugly ‘X,’ I can’t help but think back to that moment, when Twitter was a platform on which I could be heard, when it was a place where I could bring my story directly to the people who needed to hear it, the people who had the power to do something about it.

I don’t think that my story would have had the same impact if it hadn’t been for Twitter. By the time I had posted my story on my blog and tweeted about it, I had already exhausted every other avenue for sharing my experience with the world. Twitter, of course, was deeply flawed even before Elon Musk took it over and got to work making it worse—it has long been a cesspool of racism, antisemitism, sexism, and harassment. But today, the platform is so unrecognizable that I worry that if an alternate version of my 25-year-old self tried to use it to share her story, she wouldn’t get very far. If there isn’t a place to share these stories, aren’t we worse off for it?

The internet is full of Twitter obituaries, deep dives into what went wrong, and speculation around what will pop up in its place. But amid the wreckage, there’s a reason to be optimistic. The search for the next best platform is proof that we still believe in the power of sharing, evidence that we are trying to iterate toward a better future. And that’s the same belief that animates Future Tense: a belief that we can use storytelling to look back at all the things tech has done wrong and right, and to peer into the future at all the things it could do better.

I started as Future Tense editor earlier this month, and as a longtime Future Tense reader, I’m honored and thrilled to be at the helm of such a unique and impactful partnership. I’m especially thankful to Torie Bosch, Future Tense’s former editor, who led this section for more than a decade and made it what it is today. And I am incredibly excited to meet all of you, Future Tense readers, and learn from the ways you think about the tech-and-society questions that define our lives.

Future Tense is the citizen’s guide to the future. Over the coming months and years, we’re going to expand and enrich our guide. We’ll continue to bring you the things that you love and expect from Future Tense, like insightful coverage of technology and policy. We’ll bring you more speculative fiction, because speculative fiction is one of the best ways for us to examine and understand what the future might hold. We’ll bring you more personal stories, and add new chapters to our guide that cover things like culture, society, art, and more. And we’ll bring you things that will, I think, surprise you, inspire you, and prepare you for what the future has in store. I hope, in some sense, that Future Tense can still embody the best parts of what was once Twitter—that it can be a place to share, to connect, and to imagine—and I’ll be looking for stories that help us do that.

There are big days ahead. I, for one, am very excited about what the future holds.

Here are some stories from the recent past of Future Tense:

The Vanishing Family,’ by Robert Kolker, the New York Times Magazine.

If you’ve been following the news about the UFO/UAP whistleblower and find yourself wanting something a little lighthearted, check out Connie Willis’ newest novel, The Road to Roswell. It has it all: an alien invasion, an alien abduction, conspiracy theories, and Willis’ trademark sense of humor (and chaos).

On Friday’s episode of MediaDownloader’s technology podcast, host Lizzie O’Leary interviewed Congressman Don Beyer about Washington’s quest to regulate A.I. Last week, guest host Emily Peck interviewed Joshua Rhodes, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, about what’s holding our electrical grid together—and what we need to do to keep the lights (and A/C!) on. Emily also spoke with the New York Times’ Emma Goldberg about how this year’s tech layoffs have disproportionately affected women. And on Sunday, Lizzie will chat with MediaDownloader’s Henry Grabar about how empty offices lead to empty downtowns, and why that spells bad news for cities.


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