TWITTER KNOWS BEST

In a recent interview on NPR, Jack Dorsey said that Twitter is a listening medium. We listen to the world; it listens to us; we learn more about ourselves. Through listening, self-correcting feedback, and readiness to change or repent, Twitter brings knowledge asymptotically closer to The Way Things Are, the title of Percy Bridgman’s book. Bridgman is known for describing operational definitions. An engineer may not understand everything there is to know about an I-beam, but she does not have to know everything. She only has to be able to describe it in operational terms: load-bearing, stress, strain, and so on. Twitter brings us closer and closer to the way things are by engaging more and more of the wisdom of the crowd. Listening to each other, responding with sweet reason, accommodating to differences of opinion or emphasis, we glide asymptotically into a society of mutual understandings.

What sometimes happens is that an operational description becomes the only description.

This tends to undermine mutual understanding. In addition, since humans have, as we learn from our pandemic, limited patience with exponential curves and asymptotic curves—anything, basically, more obscure than straight line (Euclidean, of course), the time required to reach sweet reason via the wisdom of the crowd is likely to be prohibitive with respect to other matters, such as survival.

Other factors are also troublesome. Indeed, a standing issue between the hard and soft sciences is the wealth of intervening variables which come up in soft-headed fields like politics, journalism, sociology, anthropology, and so on. A perfect motto for economics, ceteris paribus, is perfect precisely because it is never true: all things are never equal. And, since it is never true, a whole science is created to model situations that never develop quite as expected—rather like the weather.

Sometimes, in fact, the crowd is not really interested in reason, sweet or sour.

The process of listening and self-correction, so admirable in an ascetic community where flagellation coaches are available, is less effective in Grand Central Station at rush hour or when dodging fire from a descending helicopter. In other words, Mr. Dorsey should hire some anthropologists and take their advice. He does not understand the spread or depth or pernicious, destructive capacity of Twitter—despite more than three years of having national policies rendered on the medium. Poorly rendered—like bad sausage.

Apparently he didn’t notice, or he thinks that crowd wisdom will catch up to it by and by, or—and this seems more likely—he is making so much money that he is unable to accept genuine criticism and institute immediate, genuine change—not “studies” and “listening,” as if one were preparing for an earthquake only by improving seismometers.

Speaking of metrics, where are the data gatherers and the data-driven divas and divos of Congress? How much more information do you really need to collect to identify a dangerous monopoly indifferent to the public good?  Where are Zora Hurston, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Professor Boas when you need them?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s