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just pouring one out for my twittr

The letter X, lit in neon colors.

When I was fifteen, I ran a little “e-zine” called Spire that was distributed on the cover CDs of various real, paper magazines. I thought it was pretty cool, and that nobody could possibly have known that it was run by a fifteen-year-old. (In retrospect, it was pretty obvious.) I interviewed people like Nicholas Negroponte and Roger Ebert; I opined about tech in a very nineties, use-a-dollar-sign-to-spell-Micro$oft sort of way; I explored hypertext as a format.

Somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that the ninth issue would be the epitome of what I was trying to do. I decided to rebrand. I went for dark mode, putting everything on a black background with white and neon-highlight text. Instead of the colorful, friendly logo, I used a chrome rendering of the all-lowercase word “spire”. And I numbered each release like an event. Instead of issue 1, issue 2, etc., the new product would be called Spire One, Spire Two, and so on. And the first, coolest version of this would be Spire Nine.

I was fixated on this name and the whole vibe of what I was making. Spire Nine. I’d say it under my breath sometimes. Spire Nine. Even now, I get a funny feeling in my chest when I say it, probably because it’s just so cool. Spire Nine.

It’s a lame name.

I bet Elon Musk says “X” under his breath sometimes.

It’s a measure of how beloved Twitter was that so many people are emotionally invested in its rebranding to X. It was such a deep part of so many people’s lives — it was the backchannel to reality for a lot of people — that removing it feels like a wound. Or, at least, that’s one way to look at it. Let’s be real: it was a multi billion dollar public company, not a beloved community public square. It supported itself through advertising dollars made possible by optimizing for and monetizing our attention. If it hurts, it’s because we bought the product.

Long before it was sold, it was already tarnished goods: an imperfect place with timid management where women and people of color were regularly subjected to abuse, that was used by grifters of all political shades to exponentially grow their followings with a comparative lack of scrutiny. But it was also a place where genuinely positive movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo could grow and thrive; where new writers and artists could find new audiences; where people from wildly different contexts and perspectives could meet.

Its sale solved a problem for its owners, who took Musk to court to complete the $44 billion transaction. It was already tanking. Not anywhere as fast as it has under his ownership, but the graphs were not going up and to the right.

And now the sale is long since done. Elon Musk, as Twitter’s sole proprietor and purchaser, is free to do as he wishes with it. Which, apparently, is to give it a name he thinks is cooler, repurpose its userbase to kickstart a completely different app modeled after China’s WeChat, give the hard right what appears to be free reign, and intentionally lose brand equity with the academics, activists, journalists, and artists who called it their home on the internet.

If you squint a bit, you could surmise that Musk decided he could use the sale to buy himself a few hundred million users with the app pre-installed on their phones in order to kickstart the thing he really wanted to build; his Spire Nine. (Spire Nine.) His original name for PayPal was X (Spire Nine) and he’s been sitting on the domain for years. This is a shortcut to getting to the equivalent of his teenage bedroom startup vision. That’s the kind of thing you can do if you’re a billionaire.

Of course, people have been leaving Twitter all over the place all year: nobody has to use Twitter, after all, and both Mastodon and Threads are providing a readily usable alternative for people who are sick of Musk’s apparently ego-driven changes.

It’s also possible that it’s a big tax write-off scheme, or that he’s high on his own supply (or just high) and is no longer capable of making rational business decisions, or that he’s trying to shake off his underwriters, or any number of other plausible and semi-plausible explanations. It’s hard to say for sure.

What we do know is that Twitter is gone, and each and every one of you reading this will be better off using a fediverse network like Mastodon or Threads instead. Or just posting to the web on your own website and reading other peoples’ updates using RSS. Or going outside and touching grass.

I’ve given Musk plenty of oxygen online, and I think I have to stop. The previous Twitter product was hyper-corporate and already broken and harmful. The new one is essentially irrelevant to my life. There are a lot of really good new things being made, and a lot of people doing great things, and a lot of good planning is happening in my own work, and I think it’s more productive to move forward than bog myself down in nostalgia for the past, let alone preoccupy myself with some billionaire’s teen-level ego trip.

So I’ll say it again: join me on the fediverse. Follow my updates on my own site. Subscribe to the newsletter. Start your own one of each of these things because I want to read them. And let’s forget about that other place.

(Spire Nine.)

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