This year I was lucky to have LibLearnX (formerly known as ALA’s midwinter meeting) in my own backyard. I didn’t realize until the end of my two days at the conference last weekend how much I needed a professional recharge, the kind that comes with bopping around a convention center, attending sessions, bumping into familiar faces, or just milling about the showroom and flipping through ARCs. This year, I particularly enjoyed listening to featured speakers such as Nic Stone, Ibram X. Kendi, Brian Selznick, Clint Smith, and Cory Doctorow.
Like all of the speakers, Doctorow’s talk was ostensibly a pitch for an upcoming book, Red Team Blues, but most of it was devoted to a scathing critique of platform economics. Doctorow described the process by which tech companies like Amazon and Facebook attract individual users, harvest their surplus data to lure in businesses seeking targeted access to users, and then turn around and hold that access for ransom by charging businesses to appear in user feeds and searches. Doctorow frames this as a massive payola scheme, one that degrades the user experience and results in what he calls “enshittification.” Users may notice the change, but by then they have become so invested in the service that it is difficult for them to leave. If you’re interested in a better explanation than I can muster here, I recommend going straight to the source and reading Doctorow’s January 23rd piece in Wired.
Conversations like this are catnip to me. A couple of months ago, I decided to delete my Twitter account. It was a move that nobody noticed and which sent zero ripples through the Twittersphere. The decision was significant to me alone, and only because Twitter was the one social media platform I participated in. I could never get into Facebook or Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. I had the headspace for one social network in my life, and Twitter was the best fit. When I joined over a decade ago, it felt like a professional imperative. Educator blogs I read at the time extolled the importance of building an online presence, of being Googleable. A robust professional learning network promised to benefit my students and faculty by granting me access to the expertise and experience of other librarians. Twitter made it easier for me to look up and over the metaphorical four walls of my own school site to see what was happening at schools across the country and around the world. And for a long time, I really did feel all of these benefits. Like most people, I had a love/hate relationship with Twitter, but the learning that came from the folks in my timeline outweighed the silliness and toxicity that often comes with the platform.
I don’t know exactly when that balance started to shift. I valued Twitter as a professional resource, but over time the content that drew me to the service – school librarians and librarianship – was eclipsed by the gross and annoying stuff. I’m not saying that a vibrant and supportive community of school librarians does not still exist on Twitter. But somewhere along the line the algorithm and I fell out of sync. Maybe it was all of the doom scrolling, the close attention to trends in polarization and disinformation, that trained the algorithm to clock me as someone who enjoys being angry, anxious, and depressed. Or maybe the content I signed up for, the educators I followed, were overshadowed by the people and organizations that could pay for the privilege of reaching my eyeballs. Doctorow made the point that even though he has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, whether or not they see him now depends on his decision to pay for verification. His reach is held ransom. How can I know that the algorithm isn’t replacing the people I want to see with those who have paid for me to see them? Whatever the reason, I’ve been falling out of love with Twitter for a long time.
The final straw was when Twitter’s new owner tweeted homophobic disinformation about Paul Pelosi from a source that even my seventh graders could debunk with some quick lateral reading. Then shortly after, he (unwittingly, I think?) tweeted a photograph of a Nazi soldier with carrier pigeons in a failed attempt at humor. This was the guy who was now in charge of the town square? I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I deleted my account and, after waiting out the 30 days I was given to change my mind, let my feed lapse into semi-oblivion. Now, all that remains of my time on Twitter is the residual detritus of former mentions, my handle no longer a hyperlink but rather cold, dead text.
As Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few….” There are times when I miss Twitter. The FOMO is real. I worry about becoming the-last-to-know librarian, learning about new trends after they’ve wound their way through the information cycle and into Knowledge Quest or School Library Journal. Have I rendered myself obsolete? If I’m not on social media, can I even call myself a school librarian?
We’ll see. Maybe I’ll find another platform. Maybe I’ll go back to Twitter someday. In the meantime, I’m mostly enjoying my time away, rehabilitating my fractured attention span and finding a renewed appreciation for the smaller professional learning networks and in person learning that I’m able to take part in. I was thrilled to run into Courtney Lewis at LibLearnX, someone I always learn from, whether in person or through email. I’m looking forward to connecting with more of you at the AISL conference in Santa Fe next month. And what would I do without the AISL listserv? I may have stepped away from the larger platform, but that has only made me more grateful for the support and inspiration I receive from this community through your emails and blog posts.
I’m wondering if any of you have had second thoughts about Twitter lately? Is it still working for you? What other social media platforms are important to your professional development?