Many of us hope we can return to a glorious past, or perhaps a fleeting moment, with the right policies, owner, and inertia. Maybe we can even RETVRN! to those halcyon days (at least, as halcyon as social media can ever be). There’s still the chance that Musk will save Twitter, though he’ll have to log off first. On Earth 2, Jack Dorsey’s new venture, Bluesky, could come to dominate the landscape. But back here on Earth 1, Meta Platform Inc.’s Threads — which was in no way rebranded and stripped-down Facebook — is the hot new kid on the block.
There’s also the chance the social media we currently know, love, and hate is in its buggy whip stage, soon to be replaced by something actually new. For now, though, we must resign ourselves to the fact that there’s no going home to that magical time in the middle of the ’00s when social media was a revolutionary idea and way to connect.
First, there was Myspace, which in hindsight was better than Facebook. It had its flaws and limitations, but it was more customizable, at least when it came to featuring music. It was the network of Gen X, so naturally it petered out, much like compact disc sales.
Facebook followed and briefly coexisted with Myspace before wholly supplanting it. Twitter, Instagram, and myriad short-lived projects followed.
Twitter would never overtake Facebook, at least in terms of profits or user base (the product that all social media actually sells). Twitter would overtake Facebook when it came to being a digital town hall, though. In its heyday, journalists and nobodies congregated and communed there. Ideas incubated. Narratives emerged. Anyone could commiserate with anyone. It was the digital Wild West.
But the thing about the Wild West is that it can only exist once in each of its forms. As we’ve passed corporeal and are now about to leave the online iteration, we’ve run out of planes, at least ones low enough to involve the fleeting fads and arguments that populate social media. I may not be a theologian, but I’m confident that the highest plane doesn’t involve yelling at relative strangers from afar.
As those of us concerned with such matters are not yet in heaven, we can go to St. Augustine for the time being. We can continue to crave our fixes of dopamine hits from engagement, but that won’t change the fact that the genie can only be let out of the bottle once. Everything after is a pale imitation. It’s Uncle Rico yearning to relive his high school glory rather than accepting that time continues forward. This is especially when we’re talking about Twitter — both the platform and the idea.
The heady days when one could log in and expect to exchange ideas with strangers while getting the thrill of new followers, likes, and shares are not coming back. Any newness has been deleted with the “empty trash” button. When one logs on now, the expectation is mostly for mediocre thinking, jokes, vitriol, and cries for attention. There are also the ingroups replete with their own rules, languages, and customs. The digital realm can never totally thwart human nature.
Migration from Twitter to Threads may happen. Twitter may become Myspace, but the tribes will mostly remain, save for a few trades. They’re already emerging on Threads. The initial surge of creativity Twitter unleashed has been replaced with formulas, repetition, and predictability, regardless of platform. Strangers arguing with strangers, albeit weirdly and productively, is now a dusty digital relic. Mark Zuckerberg cannot reanimate what he helped to suffocate. Elon Musk’s instincts may be too mercurial for things less lofty than launching rockets into orbit. The next player will face the same challenge of dealing with a concept that has grown old and busted.
There is a way to bring back the sort of lively and productive conversation that Twitter once offered, however. You simply have to take it back to the space it resided in before social media. You have to put down the device, go outside, and converse with people. In other words, RETVRN!, but in a way that actually requires some effort.
You may have to coordinate this in the group chat, though.