The Age of Excess

A friend messaged me today about the sad state of affairs when we are reliant on billionaires for communication channels. It was of course in response to Elon Musk purchasing Twitter. The widespread emotional response to this purchase got me thinking about several things:

Firstly, that we have long been at the whims of the ultra wealthy for our access to communication. Zuckerberg and Jack are the modern versions, but before this it was Ma Bell, and before that it was the Church. History is littered with examples of power being based on access to voice. It’s no accident that the first amendment to the US constitution was an attempt to keep that right unbound.

Secondly, it’s fascinating to me how a billionaire purchasing a tech giant triggers a wildly different emotional response compared to someone becoming a billionaire after founding a tech giant. We’ve lived with the weirdness of Zuckerberg and Jack for a while now. And the outright awfulness of Murdoch. They’ve gotten their share of our ire, but it will be different with Musk because of psychological forces at play. We don’t treat as identical a crime of action as we do a crime of inaction. Someone who pulls a lever that sends a train into a dozen bystanders is not prosecuted identically as someone who could have pulled a lever to divert a train from a dozen bystanders. By purchasing a tech giant, Elon has pulled a lever. He will be given far less quarter from the public, a distinction that I don’t believe he is wise enough to fully grasp.

The third thing that came to mind is that most users will stay with Twitter because of the same craving of a bully pulpit that caused Elon to purchase Twitter. That is, we are little different from him. If we were less like Elon, we would be content to send our thoughts and cat photos to our close friends using gmail, or Whatsapp, or group SMS. We would write on our blogs, knowing that few people would ever read what we wrote (and we wouldn’t even Tweet or FB a link to the blog). We would start a newsletter and send it to our eight subscribers.

But we don’t. We have a billionaire mentality as well. We want to broadcast to the whole world, command everyone’s attention, amass as many followers as possible, acquire, acquire, acquire, preach, preach, preach. It is an age of excess, and we are its inhabitants.

If I spend less time on Twitter going forward, it won’t be because I’m mad at Elon Musk for purchasing the platform. It was already owned by weird people doing weird things, people with far too much power who pay far too little in taxes. Jack sat numbly by while Trump violated the Twitter terms of service and sowed discord and false information. Zuck and Jack both have allowed bots and sock puppets to abound in order to show user growth over actual user experience. One type of terrible will be substituted for another. It isn’t that the outrage is misplaced, it’s that it should’ve already been at current levels.

No, I hope I spend less time on Twitter because I already wanted to spend less time on Twitter. I hope I spend more time blogging to nobody, because that’s where I do my best thinking. I hope I spend more time on tumblr, because it’s owned by a friend who has a massive heart to go with his huge brain. I hope I send more private thoughts to close friends and less time trying to win over new ones. I have an excess mentality as well. We were all born with some version of it. Many times in life I’ve had to be reminded that this part of my brain is far too much in charge, and I have to dial it back, simplify, get out on the water in the vast empty sea, write something that I know will never sell, blog what I hope no one will ever read, think silently, read to myself, write a poem in the clouds, and whisper my love to no one.

20 responses to “The Age of Excess”

  1. Thank you, Hugh.
    I am very grateful to have the ability to read your words, to ponder them, to consider the wonder that you inspire.
    Comparing hearts, and minds, noting differences and similarities, discerning the subtle nuances meaning we ascribe to words and their meaning and the way those add up to thoughts and feelings.
    Thank you for opening the door to your amazing mind . . . Your willingness to share is inspirational.
    Be well, Hugh.

  2. Vicki Fitzgibbon Avatar
    Vicki Fitzgibbon

    Well Hugh there is at least one of us listening/reading and nodding at the same time.
    Well said.

  3. I always love hearing your thoughts written out, through whatever medium. I’m not sure it’s fair to say we *all* wish to amass all the followers and reach the largest possible audience; I certainly don’t. I want to keep up with people from disparate places and times in my life in a simple, convenient way. I want to engage in discourse with people who stimulate me and don’t live nearby. Many of them don’t know each other, in the traditional sense, so emails and phone calls and group texts don’t work all that well. Social media provides access to that kind of conversation, and I value it, despite everything I hate about the weirdness of the universe controlled by the likes of Zuck, Jack, and now Elon. They’re all more than a little creepy and broken. The world would be a better place if we all spent a little more time thinking to ourselves and for ourselves. I’ll be watching for your poems in the clouds. Love to you.

  4. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’d love to abandon Twitter, and perhaps I will, but after finally finding my minuscule corner of like minded indie authors there, it will be very difficult to leave. I’ve discovered books and authors I love there and I’m heartbroken at what’s about to happen.

  5. Thank you. Very thought provoking message. So glad I read it. Made me want to read more of your blogs to nobody.

  6. Randy Chappell Avatar

    Hugh, I believe in free speech and I believe that’s what Elon Musk is bringing to Twitter. Oh, and I love your books! Please keep writing.

  7. Writing in a blog could be considered the modern version of writing on clouds for the amount of feedback you receive.
    To be honest I consider both Facebook or Twitter a waste of time and I gave up on Instagram because it was just too much.
    My favorite social media platform is Goodreads.

  8. Teddy Witherspoon Avatar
    Teddy Witherspoon

    Thanks, Hugh.

  9. Well said, Hugh. I heard you.

  10. I originally joined Twitter for two reasons – contacting customer support of various companies who seem to be more responsive on Twitter than by email or phone call, and to keep up with favorite authors. Then the orange buffoon was elected and I got sucked into that. But even then I thought wait a little we might do better than most thought after the election. Well I waited and my fears came true. With Twitter I’m also taking a wait and see approach. My initial reasons for joining are still valid and may not be negatively impacted. But I spend considerably less time on it now without all the drama coming out of the White House, that’s been a relief. As long as there are thoughtful authors such as yourself available on these platforms I will be hopeful. I don’t think I would find any on Truth Social if anyone is actually there🤷‍♂️

  11. Siempre es un placer escucharte, pero también eres un pelín critico.

  12. You’re speaking the truth. I need to write in the clouds as well. Thanks for your words, Hugh.

  13. Wow. I don’t agree with much in this message, but respect your right to your opinions.

  14. Anka Ozana Čavlović Avatar
    Anka Ozana Čavlović

    Dear Hugh, it is good to have a critical review of network communication. We learn while we are alive. This is a process. A wise person recently gave me advice on communication, for example on FB. “FB is not Satan. FB is just a tool, like any other tool we need to use wisely. For example, from one piece of wood we can make beautiful furniture or burn it uselessly.” So, it should depend on us!
    The positive side of network communication for me is openness and sharing between different worlds, social learning and spiritual enrichment. I don’t think I happened to meet you Howey in this traffic jam. I have to admit to you that your blog reset me while I was under pressure from everyday life. Thank you!

  15. I have to agree with Randy C’s comment. Free speech on social media has not been ‘free’ speech for everyone, only those the platform deems worthy to speak. Elon’s intentions seem clear: to stop the muzzling of ideologically opposing views. Truly ‘dangerous’ (e.g. inciting violence) speech is still against the law. Twitter changing hands doesn’t change that.

  16. Well said, Hugh. Thanks.

  17. Well said Hugh! I agree with you whole heartily. You’re an Amazing writer by the way. Take care my friend.

  18. Beautifully expressed, cogent, and right on target. But above all, extremely thought-provoking. Thanks from one of the ”no ones.” ;-)

  19. Will you be in Boone this summer? We’d love to have you join us at HCW and share your adventures.

  20. Thank you.

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