Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and aren’t sure who Deepinder Goyal is.
He sent this tweet out the other day:
… and I have questions. Lots of ’em.
This wouldn’t have been possible twenty years ago: a businessman raising a question about a government decision on a public, online forum, and getting a response from the authorities on that forum. You might say newspapers and television channels, but they weren’t public forums – you could read and view, but you couldn’t do much else besides. Does that make the world today a better place – that it is very easy and cheap to raise questions and expect answers? More importantly, is the opportunity cost worth it? That is, anybody can raise questions and comment online.1 Still worth it? I say yes, but your mileage may vary.
This would have been possible ten years ago. Deepinder Goyal could have tweeted out this question, but it is unlikely that the Mumbai Police would have responded. For one thing, they only joined Twitter in December 2015. For another, the pressure on them to respond wouldn’t have been quite as much ten years ago. Twitter (and other social networks) have become village squares. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Deepinder Goyal is likelier to get a response than I am because he is way more popular. This isn’t a criticism of the Mumbai Police, to be clear. I’m just stating a thumb rule that I think makes sense: the more followers you have, the likelier it is that you will get a response. What are the incentives for the average Twitter user? What are the optimal strategies? What are the optimal strategies given everybody else’s optimal strategies? With what consequences?
Likes, retweets and replies are effectively a currency we get to spend on Twitter (and other social networks likewise have their own currency).
These are certainly a unit of account, because the value of a tweet at least partially lies in how viral it has become. (“Holy shit, this blew up over night! Check out my soundcloud!”)
They are also a medium of exchange (you retweet my tweet, I’ll retweet yours – although the terms of trade are in some ways a function of the point above)
They are a store of value too. Try complaining about stuff on Twitter (fridge not working, internet down, flight ticket reimbursement etc. etc.) if you want to understand how this works out in practice.
How should we spend this currency that we have? How much of it do we have? How should we spend it, and what are we optimizing for? What should we be optimizing for? Why?
If public authorities can be held to account on online forums, does that make them less accountable in offline forums? Does the substitution effect dominate the income effect? With what consequences?
You only need to see the responses to this tweet to figure that out, for example.[↩]
Seems like such a mundane tweet, unless you know who Sylvia Plath was, of course. The entire account is just “Everything Sylvia Plath ate, according to her journals, her letters, her poems, The Bell Jar, and other miscellany” It has been lovingly curated.
So who was Sylvia Plath?
Sylvia Plath was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century. By the time she took her life at the age of 30, Plath already had a following in the literary community. In the ensuing years her work attracted the attention of a multitude of readers, who saw in her singular verse an attempt to catalogue despair, violent emotion, and obsession with death. In the New York Times Book Review, Joyce Carol Oates described Plath as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English.” Intensely autobiographical, Plath’s poems explore her own mental anguish, her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes, her unresolved conflicts with her parents, and her own vision of herself.
Trivia enthusiasts might have guessed already, but Nipper of course is the terrier-mix in this logo:
This tweet was the excuse to go searching for arbit stuff this week:
As the replies to the tweet make clear, this video was shot after the logo had been finalized. But why should that stop us from learning more about Nipper?
Across the long and rich history of Albany, Nipper ranks as the top dog. The twenty-eight-foot tall, four-ton steel and fiberglass canine statue anchored atop a warehouse on North Broadway has captured the hearts and minds of young and old alike for three generations. Nipper was a real-life dog in nineteenth-century England who was painted by the dog owner’s brother, Francis Barraud. He depicted the curious dog listening to a gramophone and titled it “His Master’s Voice.” It became an internationally recognized logo for several audio recording companies, including RCA.
I had referred to Patrick Collison’s “Yes, and” rather than “No, But” approach to Twitter earlier this week.
In a world in which there was a “Yes, and” Society, and a Pune chapter for this hypothetical (but much needed) society, I’d have voted for Navin Kabra as Lifetime President. Today’s twitter thread of choice is one of many reasons why:
Recommended pairing: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. The whole book is a delightful read, but I have the pages where he speaks about America’s fascination with the atomic bomb in mind.
I hope to write a longform essay myself about this topic, but this was fascinating on multiple levels:
Please read the entire thread, and the threads in almost all of the tweets that make up the first thread (if you see what I mean). Anything that can tie together a microwave dinner, urbanization, and Robert Pirsig is, as they say, self-recommending.