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26.05.17

Overflowing emotions and wild opinions

Posted 26th May 2017

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Last week, The New York Times published this interview with Ev Williams, one of the people behind Blogger and Twitter. The interview has been endlessly dissected elsewhere, and I don’t have anything particular to add to that debate.

I simply want to focus on the opening paragraph of David Streitfeld’s article:

“Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora‚Äôs box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.”

Now, here’s the thing. This isn’t actually true, is it?

I mean, I don’t even need to give counter-examples tracing back through the years – online forums, Usenet, fanzines, etc. What I’m thinking of is something rather more basic, and rather more popular. It’s called talking to people. My living room often features “overflowing emotions”, and my local pub echoes with the sound of “wild opinions”. And I can’t believe an article in The New York Times has made it necessary for me to state this rather obvious fact.

Now, is there a point to be made about Ev’s work making it easier to reach a worldwide audience? Yes, of course there is, and the article brings this up in the very next paragraph. But that doesn’t stop the initial opening being a massive load of crap. There is no such qualifier in the section I quote above.

I must admit, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would actually write this. Luckily, the article answers this for us:

“The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes.”

Why write an article with a sensible opening, when you can write something attention-grabbing which blatantly isn’t true?

The internet rewards extremes indeed.

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