Since October 2007, [A Life Beyond Traditional Media] has been cryogenically frozen — like this writer, not dead but barely breathing. My apologies to anyone who missed it, even if you’ve given up and aren’t reading. Running a start-up in New York City has been all consuming, and this blog was a casualty. It’s with renewed commitment that I announce my … um … return, and promise to post regularly, though perhaps not frequently.
I miss the old Twitter. The Twitter without brands, celebrities, and hashtags. The Twitter where using @ before someone name was simply our way of identifying to whom we were talking while saving one of our precious 140 characters. (Yes, young'uns, Twitter stole @user from its users.) I miss the Twitter where a couple of dozen of my friends were following each other and had real conversations.
“What is Twitter?” may be the most dreaded of all social media questions. (Really, just use it and it will start to make sense.) Back in 2007, I described it as the digital equivalent of a café — sort of an IM where others are free to listen. You may be talking with two or three people, but you never know when a stranger at the “next table” will join in. Or, you may see a friend talking @ someone you don’t know, so you follow that person just to hear the other half of the conversation.
This doesn’t describe Twitter 2010, and I miss it because many of those strangers became my friends. Now, when even the most mundane tweeters have hundreds of followers, there’s less conversation and more broadcasting (or perhaps “microcasting” would be a better word).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we roll back the clock. I’m not like those Facebook users demanding the return of the “Old Facebook” (whichever version of Facebook that user considered the old one). Twitter has evolved and there is no return, but it has shown me a side of disruptive technology I’d never thought about — how it affects my normal cycle of nostalgia.
Though I miss the old Twitter, I’m really just lost in the nostalgia of its early days, before we had to share the Twittersphere with everyone else. And let’s be honest, those demanding the Old Facebook back were simply going through the same thing, missing the “good old days.” They just happened to mistake nostalgia for moral outrage.*
As technology goes, I’m used to being disrupted. I know something new will be there when I wake up tomorrow morning and that it will be outdated by the end of the day. I adapted to the increased speed of data and the continual connection to email, RSS, Tweets, SMS, Facebook, and the few people who insist on actually calling me at the most inconvenient times and places. The realization that I’m becoming nostalgic for the simpler days of three-years past, however, freaks me out.
My completely non-scientific research shows that the pre-digital speed of nostalgia is two decades:
- When did Happy Days let us forget about McCarthyism and romanticize the ’50s? In the ’70s.
- When did ’80s clothing come back into style? During the ’00s.
- When did I begin to miss grunge? This year.
- When did the Reagan presidency take on a Utopian feel? OK. That never happened, but after the W years, things like the Iran Contra Scandal seem pretty timid.
I never had any patience when Baby Boomers or members of the Silent Generation tried to turn back the clock on our sense of morality, so I certainly had no tolerance when a bunch of Millennials (the generation that should be most acclimated to rapid change) tried to turn back the clock on Facebook. Time doesn’t move backwards. But I do sympathize with their longing for the good old days, even if those days weren’t that old.
My nostalgia for music, clothes, my wasted youth, old girlfriends, and vinyl as the dominant form of music distribution all took two decades. Longing for the early days of Twitter only took three years. That’s a 667% increase in the speed of nostalgia since Twitter launched in 1996.
Disruptive technology destroys as much as it builds. Friendster and MySpace have given way to Facebook. Anyone remember when Netscape almost beat Internet Explorer in the Browser Wars? (Anyone even remember the Netscape browser?) And we all saw how suing their customers helped the music industry fend off digital downloads and return it to a state of prosperity. Business has always been an adapt or die world — Woolworth anyone? — but the speed of that evolution has gone from decades and years to months and even weeks.
As someone who used BinHex, I’ll admit that I sometimes get tired simply thinking about what it’s going to take to keep up with my industry over the next couple of decades. But none of that scares me; it just makes me want to take a nap. The thought that digital nostalgia might have a Moore’s Law of its own, though, terrifies me. The day is coming when dinnertime will be when we get all teary and start reminiscing about lunch.
I am, of course, being a bit facetious, but it does make me start to wonder. The term “disruptive technology” is most frequently used in terms of business, but it does apply equally to culture. It is human to look back fondly on the way things used to be, but now culture, like business, is changing at the speed of technology. As things move into the rearview mirror faster than ever before, they quickly become idealized and hard not to long for.
Whether it’s my own longing for the old Twitter or calls to rollback Facebook to earlier versions, we’re still subject to that human longing for things as they once were. There are still days when I long for anything handwritten to appear in my mailbox.
In 2005, I had a girlfriend who would actually write me three- to five-page letters. We broke up because we simply weren’t going any place as a couple. (Despite now living in different cities, we’re still friends.) We made the right decision. But every once in a while, I think of those letters and for just a few minutes, I forget why we broke up, miss her, and wish another one was on its way.
* My intolerance for those whining that they’re Facebook has been made impure should in no way infer that I support Facebook’s lack of concern with user privacy.