#171: Misery Business

Max Read just started a newsletter that seems like it’s going to be good. Max has written some of my favorite recent tech criticism, such as this mid-pandemic Bookforum essay about the unhinged nature of the mid-2020 internet, in which he wrote the following: “Instagram, cut off from a steady supply of vacations and parties and other covetable experiences, had grown unsettlingly boring, its inhabitants increasingly unkempt and wild-eyed, each one like the sole surviving astronaut from a doomed space-colonization mission, broadcasting deranged missives about yoga and cooking projects into an uncaring void. Twitter, on the other hand, felt more like a doomed space-colonization mission where everyone had survived but we had to decide who to eat.” Read proceeds to discuss what he calls the “Twitter death drive,” in which people with little to gain and everything to lose by tweeting (during a pandemic or not) simply cannot stop themselves from doing so. Liberal commentators frequently attribute this incessant posting to manipulative and addictive software design, while the right blames social hierarchies and the narcissistic jockeying for status that they incite. Both explanations, however, are probably too deterministic, Read argues. Social media platforms don’t force anyone to post—not at all, really—but we seem obsessed with the idea that we are constantly being coerced into using them, instead of considering that we may be the source of the problem. “Rather than asking what is wrong with these systems,” Read writes, “we might ask, ‘What is wrong with

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