“Solastalgia” for Twitter

The homesickness that comes when the environment changes beneath your feet

Clive Thompson

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Colorful physical letters on a white wall spelling out “SOCIAL MEDIA”
Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been seeing quite a few laments for the state of social media.

Several long-term users have busted out essays concluding that today’s social sites have become, for them, deeply depressing affairs.

Over at The Atlantic, Charlie Warzel notes how Twitter/X — with its moderation staff slashed — had turned into a ghoulash of disinformation and agitprop during Hamas’ attack on Israel, and Israel’s attack on Gaza. “Our information environment is broken,” he writes, adding that …

It relies on badly maintained social-media infrastructure and is presided over by billionaires who have given up on the premise that their platforms should inform users. During the first days of the Israel-Hamas war, X owner Elon Musk himself has interacted with doctored videos published to his platform. He has also explicitly endorsed accounts that are known to share false information and express vile anti-Semitism. In an interview with The New York Times, a Hamas official said that the organization has been using the lack of moderation on X to post violent, graphic videos on the platform to terrorize Israeli citizens.

Social media, particularly Twitter/X, used to be — for Warzel and other folks who track the daily news cycle — a vital place. But now, he finds …

… major social platforms have grown less and less relevant in the past year. In response, some users have left for smaller competitors such as Bluesky or Mastodon. Some have simply left. The internet has never felt more dense, yet there seem to be fewer reliable avenues to find a signal in all the noise. One-stop information destinations such as Facebook or Twitter are a thing of the past. The global town square — once the aspirational destination that social-media platforms would offer to all of us — lies in ruins, its architecture choked by the vines and tangled vegetation of a wild informational jungle.

Over at the New Yorker, Kyle Chayka took a similarly dismal view of the aethereal landscape. In a piece entitled “Why the Internet Isn’t Fun Anymore”, he wrote that …

… lately on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, my timeline is…

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net