A long time ago I wrote an essay called "Form & Its Usurpers", which was basically a critique of commercially-driven "communication software as a service". It posited that e.g. a Twitter account is some kind of new appendage you can grow out of your body (in the Marshall McLuhan sense of being 'an extension of the human form': like a pair of glasses, or a journal + pen, or a lightbulb, or really anything humans use).

Because you don't actually own this appendage (Twitter does), and because you don't actually have much say in how it operates or what it even attempts to achieve (Twitter owns all that), my basic claim was that any "communication software as a service" will ultimately leave you with some kind of toxic attachment to an appendage that isn't yours and often acts against you: an attachment, in other words, to some kind of 'phantom limb'.

I used to say to people, typing it out through some HTML container erected by one of these services: "What is the value of a phantom limb?" Which was really a way of asking, y'know, what is this all worth? People say they "HAVE A PLATFORM" after they've become well-connected via services like Twitter; those people's enemies then accuse them of misusing the 'platform they have' because they failed to somehow use it for good (& the accusations, flying back and forth, then spin up a cycle of endless fingerpointing + abuse that basically is very profitable for Twitter).

Marshall McLuhan's insight about this, which you can read about in "The Medium Is The Message", is really very simple. It's that humans always get tricked into treating mediums like Twitter as 'neutral': some very-neutral tool that can very-neutrally be used for good OR evil depending on who's using it. They stop thinking about the interests Twitter itself reflects, & the effects Twitter itself creates as we pour society through it (these are people who hosted Donald Trump for years in order to get money). McLuhan said something like 'the medium itself is more important to study than whatever specific content you figure you're putting in'; so whatever you think you're saying gets distorted such that the receiver of your content mostly sees what the medium wants them to see (a lot of stuff about Marvel's "The Avengers", nothing much about small local art scenes or what have you).

It sounds simple and obvious (when I published Usurpers back in the day, many people responded by saying "THAT'S SO SIMPLE AND OBVIOUS"); yet the fact is that people always forget, & then they get tricked into arguing with each other over 'proper twitter use' when they should be realizing that from a regular human's PoV 'proper twitter use' cannot actually exist (because Twitter's masters design that thing to help achieve THEIR objectives, & we conspicuously never achieve ours).

These things aren't 'utilities' that provide us something we need: They're more like a complicated trauma being inflicted upon us by capitalism, shoving lots of scary shit in our faces all the time while tolerating hundreds of things we'd never want to permit.

I published Usurpers in mid-2014, & at the time I figured I was bound for some ascendant career in being a big thinky game critic or whatever (oldtimers know that Gamergate happened a few months afterwards, & derailed many smalltime game people's attempts at doing anything). But even though I had talked shit about Twitter, and loudly declared how it was bad for me + everyone, I didn't actually quit! I stuck around for a long time after that, because that's where my little audience lived & that's where my colleagues were all trapped alongside me (I still thought we could 'really be friends' via Twitter, even though I'd written all about how that couldn't be true). Twitter was an addiction for me, & I didn't actually SUCCEED at quitting until six years later in mid-2020.

2020 sucked for everyone, & I'm one of those dour-faced people who believes 2021 can only be worse (& 2022 worse than that, etc). I was a climate activist for a while leading up to the pandemic, & well... I think you know how bad it is out there, at this point. We're all going down pretty soon, regardless of economic status, & 2020 was a year where I really had to start accepting death in new ways.

Early pandemic I'd go on Twitter, & the algorithm would shove something vile in my face, & I'd feel inspired to post some long rant. This practice had long disgusted me & left me disappointed with myself, but I hadn't been able to stop doing it because I was too desperate to feel a sense of connection with someone out there over issues I found important. I wanted to help Nathalie Lawhead et al with their struggle against the videogame-industrial apparatus, & I wanted to try 'creating space' for smaller videogame work generally... you can probably guess most of the things I 'wanted to accomplish' on there just by imagining any Twitter account from any generic-seeming, left-leaning, probably-white programmer-type dude. That was me on Twitter: a screaming postage-stamp-sized human head, mounted to Jack Dorsey's wall amidst millions of others.

I felt a lot of disgust, towards myself as well as a lot of different people & organizations. I felt disgusted by the 'industry-sanctioned' discussion topics through which we'd all been forced to communicate. It was easy to find a lively, human-feeling chat regarding industrial profit-objects like Cyberpunk 2077, or Animal Crossing, or basically anything that came bundled with a gross corporate hashtag. Those discussions could be nice! Kinda, sometimes... but also not really. It wasn't really what I felt inspired to talk about, or connect with people over.

I don't quite mean to shit on those people out there who do partake in the corporate 'Discourse' + enjoy it. I recognize every person's freedom to approach the world as they like (even if I sigh pretty loudly when money becomes this involved in determining what people like). The issue, for me, was that I just couldn't find lively enough conversations concerning things I truly cared about (like the smaller videogames fewer people have heard of, or even stuff like vegetarianism). I became so disgusted by the way this supposed 'communication utility' tilts the ground beneath us, all I could even see when I turned on my browser was something like 'corporate assholes further enriching shareholders via some shitty scheme'.

I worried at first that shutting my main Twitter down would double my already-significant loneliness & isolation; but that didn't happen. I felt GOOD in the moment of clicking 'deactivate', & I continued feeling good about my choice. I closed down my second Twitter, & then I blocked the Facebook groups where I'd been trying to 'do activism', & then I exited all my other online venues (places I'd come to associate with 'feeling small/disrespected'). All of this felt good. Currently I'm down to just a meatspace-oriented Facebook profile, but honestly I think I'll be closing that one too.

I hoped the extra space in my schedule + brain would cause me to branch out, & find some less compromised ways to connect with other people. This did happen, to an extent! I turned to smaller communities formed around my city before the pandemic; little friend groups, & Netflix watch parties, & something called "Star Trek 'n Pie". I still feel loneliness, but it's actually better than it was during my social media heyday.

I think often about the folks I left behind, who never really lived where I do & existed to me as 'online only'. Like any community, Twitter is full of amazing human beings; it was fun in some ways to all debase ourselves by leaping into this service & trying to talk at each other through the sorta hellish background noise. I'll always miss those people, & in this way it really does feel like a 'phantom limb' to me now. I find myself explaining to my partner what X Person might've said, or what Y Person might be up to currently. Some of them must still be on there, doing the same stuff; others will die to this pandemic, or to a climate change storm or something else. I'm not sure to what extent I will ever find out about them (there's always the chance that I decide to return, or else look a few of them up).

In 2014 we dreamed of all migrating away from that place, to some earlier-internet haven where we could still be together but where we didn't have to drown in corporate hashtags. But it was only ever a dream, & I think we all knew that even then. Twitter keeps its funding because it really does capture people effectively; statistically speaking, it simply inlays enough compulsive behaviours into enough human beings that the resulting social graph captures a massive intractable chunk of reality (& replaces it with a slew of corporate hashtags). This isn't 'The Enlightenment' anymore, & we basically have to accept that we're just some crappy ape-like animals who easily fall prey to each other's business grifts (and no amount of essaying is gonna reshape the grand bell curve of human behaviour that led to such things as climate change in the first place).

I have 'chosen' loneliness the way I always 'chose' it, which is to say it's just my personality to be a dour-faced outsider who never has as many friends as he claims to actually want. It's frustrating to have to turn away from the thing I'd sorta been building on Twitter... but its absence simply feels better to me than trudging through the corporate hell; & this has always been a constant theme in my life generally. I see a big crowd of people to my left and one person scowling at them to my right, & my impulse is always to go ask the scowling person for their story. Now, at last, I can be one of the scowling people who isn't on the corporate internet at all (& is all the better for it, or at least is about the same as usual).

At the end of the day, shit like 'email' isn't really that bad.