I don't follow #resistance crusader Seth Abramson on Twitter (it's 2019 and I love myself) but I still always know when he's going on his latest extended rant. Every week there seems to be a new one, another alarmingly long sequence of numbered tweets laying out a conspiracy theory about Trump and Russia and why everyone should panic immediately. These strange chains of tweets extending into the hundreds have become infamous on Twitter, though I have no idea if anyone beyond the platform has even heard of them. (If you haven't.... maybe just leave it alone!)
Try as I might to avoid them I almost never miss one, because every time he begins again someone I do follow quotes a link in the chain. Morbidly curious, I inevitably follow the sequence back to its beginning, where I usually find a word signaling (or warning of) what’s to come: thread/
Of course, while the ultimate example of its excess, Abramson is far from the only threader. Many of us do it. I certainly have! But typically if I find myself building a thread on Twitter, it's because I started posting a perspective before fleshing it out. I shared a half-formed thought and then needed to clarify it, or wanted to add a layer to it. (Or, you know, transparently wanted to make sure it got more attention.) And that’s one of the things I often love about social media, especially Twitter—at its best it's a space for conversation, for adjusting your position as you reflect on it further or as others help you to see it in a new way.
But some thoughts aren’t best expressed in 280 characters, or even in a chain of bite-sized thoughts piled on top of one other. As much as I appreciate how Twitter encourages brevity, sometimes trying to squeeze a complex idea into a small space can flatten it out.
Which is why I want a space for thoughts that are a bit longer. Less off the cuff and impulsive, more carefully considered. So I’m launching this occasional (I promise!) newsletter as a space for the kinds of reflections that will take more than just a few tweets to sketch out.
More specifically, these will be reflections on our digital selves.
Increasingly large (and increasingly significant) portions of our lives now take place on digital platforms. The things we do on social media are less about accenting our lives, and more about living. For many of us, our digital identities are now largely integrated into who we are and how we understand ourselves.
But, like.... when did that happen exactly? When did social media become so central, so interwoven and ever-present? If you're like me, it kind of snuck up on you. In part this is probably because it happened quickly. But our digital tools are also designed to be so integrated into our lives that we don't need to think about them. Which may be why, when we do become aware of how they're impacting us, we can sometimes feel split between online and offline selves. Especially when so many around us regard the internet as "fake," or at least as "less real" than the other spaces in which we reflect, connect, and act.
It strikes me that dismissing social media as fake is sometimes a way to avoid acknowledging its very real effects on us. For all the time many of us now spend online, we're rarely encouraged to spend time reflecting on what the digital pieces of our lives can reveal about bigger questions concerning what it means to be human, questions that predate these platforms. What can we learn about who we are from the sometimes strange things we do on social media (like making a ridiculously long Twitter thread instead of just putting that lengthy thought somewhere else)? In the age of filters, hashtags, and personal brands, what does it mean to be a "real" person? What does "being real" even mean in the first place, and can we learn something about that from our digital lives?
The goal of this newsletter is to explore these threads, the threads connecting online and offline life—following them to their roots in order to try to understand what they reveal about how we connect with one another, how we see and share ourselves, and where we find belonging and purpose in the digital age.
After all, while the internet is relatively new, the things we use it for are anything but. Even as technology advances, what we're grappling with has stayed the same—we're deciding who to be intimate with and who to keep at arm's length; we're charting and transcribing our lives as a means of remembering and understanding; we're figuring out who we are and broadcasting who we’d like to be; we are trying, perhaps more than anything else, to find a place within a community that accepts us. This newsletter will attempt to understand what we can learn about these desires and needs by reflecting on our digital habits.
It will also be a space for updates and news about my work and writing (and probably also photos of my dog, depicted above in the beautiful banner made by my hugely talented friend JP). And, specifically, it will be a place for updates and news about my next big project. More about that in the next thread.
Yours online and off,