Pretend It's a City
Back in 2020, when we were all logging 15 hours of screen time per day (you were too, right?), trying to come to grips with the internet’s sudden role as a critical social lifeline and engaging in previously unthinkable activities like Zoom happy hours, I kept thinking about the end of the movie Good Will Hunting: Ben Affleck’s character, Chuckie, has told the underachieving Will that one eventual Sunday, when the guys arrive to pick him up and go watch the Patriots game, he hopes Will is no longer there because he’s finally left for the greener pastures he’s destined to inhabit. As the film concludes (spoiler alert) that actually happens: They arrive at Will’s house, Chuckie knocks on the door, and after another minute with no answer he realizes with a grin what has happened. Will has departed for California where a relationship and better life await him.
In the depths of the pandemic’s forced digital immersion, this was always my hope for Twitter in particular. We were all dutifully showing up every day for our version of watching the Pats game together—stuck together with nothing better to do—but if one day I showed up and no one else was there, it would be a good sign. Maybe it would indicate that COVID was waning and we’d graduated to something better (even if that was just the return to a semblance of our recent lives).
That didn’t quite happen, at least not for many of us. We did get vaccinated and started leaving the house to socialize again, but the internet had laid claim to a much larger portion of our lives, or at least our brains. For many of us, Twitter was the theater where this drama played out, a powerful lens through which we would continue to view reality as we went about our daily activities. Already significant before 2020, Twitter’s heightened cultural role has been demonstrated again and again, and perhaps never more forcefully than in its currently-unfolding downward spiral.