I’ve been spending this morning partly trying to set myself up on Mastodon. I’m not necessarily jumping ship from Twitter, but I’m just interested in checking out the potential lifeboats.

What the experience has so far instilled in me is a deep respect for the engineering marvel that is modern-day Twitter. To deliver a service so instantaneous and at such scale is so amazing that we utterly take it for granted. That is until you try to use a service in the foothills of scale and maturity.

Twitter is a series of engineering problems that have been mostly solved. But engineering is only a part of it because Twitter isn’t a technology, it’s a medium.

Media businesses from Gutenberg onwards have been an unholy alliance of engineering and art. Engineers create things to allow the distribution of artistic creations. It’s not impossible to find people who are able to traverse both sides, but it’s rare. The creative tension that exists between the two drive media forward, until a new one comes along to somewhat replace them. Radio replaced parts of cinema causing cinema to refocus. The same happened again with the arrival of television and the refocusing of both cinema and radio. The Internet, the World Wide Web, and social networks have refocused all three of the traditional 20th-century media and impacted print publishing and music dramatically as well.

I watched the BBC short series about Elon Musk over the weekend, and one thing that struck me deeply was the revelation that Musk’s grandfather was a card-carrying technocrat. The technocracy movement in the mid-20th Century believed that the best form of government would be one led by appointed scientists and engineers. Joseph Haldeman led the Canadian Technocracy branch.

It’s not hard to imagine that a child who has been told his entire life that he is an engineering genius might subscribe to such a theory. There is something deeply troubling about a belief system, however, that asserts that only one sort of person is eligible for positions of power.

The reality is, though, that as the media industry has now shown over a few centuries, engineering and artistic creativity need to be working hand in hand, in concert with one another. And this is why I don’t think that Musk will be hugely successful at Twitter. His doctrine is from a mindset that I hear often – “This would all be easy if it weren’t for all the people.”

Media have come and gone. Electronic and digital channels maybe more so. Last week it was announced that the Fax Machine will be ending the in UK soon when the last analogue phone lines are withdrawn. I started my social media life in the 1980s on BBSs, then to Usenet for a bit, then all sorts of things until today. Maybe we are at the beginning of the long end for Twitter. But engineering mindsets alone won’t save it if it is indeed saveable at all. And at the moment Musk seems to be making merry by upsetting those with whom he needs to partner.

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