Orality, visibility, and some unexpected consequences of the Current Content deluge.
“Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint!” —Sense and Sensibility
A confession: I wasted about three hours of my life in a Twitter Space on Friday night about the unfolding “coup-not-a-coup” in Russia. I was totally sucked into the vortex, even while fooling myself that I was a cool and casual observer.
Walter and I were in the same room. I really hope I don’t bear any responsibility for pulling him in, or else I have 7 hours of reparation to make, not 3.
The host, Mario Nawfal, was shameful—if only because he was so shameless. You would have thought Walter Cronkite himself was moderating the room given the deference he was paid by people who should know better.
Nawfal was constantly ratcheting up the tension by making every piece of breaking news appear existential while simultaneously claiming that “none of this has been confirmed, and we don’t know what’s happening.” He permitted absolutely every variety of crazy thing to be said in the room—including that Putin was sick or had most likely died (and Prigozhin saw it as an opportunity to take control). Many of the most outspoken guests thought there was no just no stopping him, and backed up their analysis with detailed weapons and strategy analysis.
You can tell right away that Mario is misrepresenting himself—he has “No Bias, No Echo Chambers” right there in his bio. That is the first tell. I was in his echo chamber for 3 hours into the early morning hours of Saturday—and he would continue the room for around 24 hours, reaching over 10 million listeners and garnering “global attention” (his words).
I have no idea how much the opportunistic hosting of a room like that increases his Influence in a way that he can monetize in the future. I doubt that it’s a negligible amount. Elon Musk was in the room at one point. The hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who made over a billion dollars in 2020 betting on the collapse of the market, tweeted to Get In The Room. That tweet was seen by 2.6 million people.
I’ve never done crack cocaine, but I imagine being in that room is kind of what it feels like.
I entered for two reasons: 1) it was served to me on my timeline, and I popped in out of genuine curiosity about what was going on in Russia (I was foolish enough to hope that it might actually represent a pathway to the end of the war); 2) but I also went into the room as a bit of a voyeur, fully knowing that it would be a hotbed of mimetic contagion and takes. I wanted to observe how it actually unfolded.
I went in as a Writer, I came out as the passenger in a car on a drunken joyride.
I learned a harsh lesson, similar to the one a young exorcist-in-training was once warned about in Rome (not that I would know anything about that..): be careful talking to demons, or even about demons—because if you do, you never know if they might start talking back.
In other words, you open the door to dark forces.
My faulty perception that I had “spiritual distance” to what was happening in that room cost me. I was reminded that we never just read or listen to or “consume” content—these are all nice euphemisms which downplay the reality. In truth, we commune with it.
I’d like to explain some of the ways you and I are being affected.
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