In Defense of Muting

Inspired by an exchange Zac Cichy and I had on Twitter earlier today, and further prompted when Zac made another series of very pointed remarks earlier this evening, I decided now was as good a time as any to step away from the Apple sphere and talk about Twitter for a little bit.

According to the archive Twitter so generously now provides1, I joined the social network and made my first post on June 18th of 2008. I did so then as part of — I’m dead serious — a job, so after a brief stint consisting of that single tweet and a brief perusal of the service’s main features, I left Twitter until 2011. If memory serves, I came back after hearing Dan and John reference it to close every episode of Hypercritical up to that point. It stands to reason, after all: three years later and I began my triumphant return by retweeting Hypercritical #13 going live.

As I took this casual stroll down memory lane, searching for these incredibly important dates, I couldn’t help but notice a few gems. Take this one from Horace Dediu, for example: “Samsung has 20x more designers than Apple and yet cannot design.” Ouch. Or one from Matt Haughey: “The world is much louder to 7-9 year old boys, requiring them to shout at all times, even indoors #completelytruefacts”. I cracked up laughing at that one. How about this throwback to the days of “teeerrrrpppp” on Back to Work? "@hotdogsladies @danbenjamin someone mentioned @ttscoff and my wife just said teeerrp from the other room. So great.” Even way back in 2012 Back to Work had superfans like Todd Kendall.

We also had tweets like this one from Alpesh Shah: “What I see in my mind when @marcoarment tells @danbenjamin he is thinking of going back to TextMate http://bit.ly/RLW7qK”. Ah, the days of Build & Analyze. Perhaps I’m romanticizing it, but what a great show. And then, of course, we had Jim Dalrymple: “I’m going to charge people $20,000 to read the site. Then I’ll fuck off with your money. / I shall call it a startup.” Politically correct, as always. Plus there was the occasional off-the-wall one: “In the quest to min/max my day, I’ve learned the hard way you should never blow your nose while using mouthwash.” Yikes. And these were all from September of 2012 alone; who knows what I would find if I put a little more time and effort into combing through this archive. Gruesome personal hygiene mishaps aside though, Twitter was a great place back in the day. “Still is a great place”, I ought to say: nothing has changed, really. Sure, Twitter clamped down on third-party developers, the dick bar came and went, but neither the way I use Twitter nor the enjoyment I receive from scrolling through that timeline every day has changed.

Up until a few months ago, for the vast majority of the last six years, I primarily used Twitter as a content consumption platform rather than a medium in which to create anything, much less something of any demonstrable value. Even today, I still primarily hire Twitter to provide me with new and interesting thoughts, opinions, and articles. In a way, I see and use Twitter as the microblogging platform it set out to become. Rather than following the writers I find interesting with RSS though, I use the convenient “Follow” button next to each of their “home pages”, and I then get all their subsequent “posts” inserted into a single, easily-managed list. Nice. Compare that with the way I use RSS, and there are a number of similarities: whenever I find an interesting writer I add their blog to Reeder, ensuring that I will see every one of their future articles until such a time when they pivot to a different topic no longer of any interest to me, or my own interests shift and I decide to start following other topics. As has been the case more often than not, the latter rather than the former motivates me to unsubscribe. On Twitter, however, I have one more option: muting.

Say tomorrow, Jim Dalrymple alternated posting links to sites and articles he likes and finds interesting with in-depth posts about Speedos. Or, to use an example perhaps less likely to come true some day, say he decides to start talking about programming in Scala in addition to all the other topics he covers regularly. I would still have a great deal of interest in everything else Jim wrote about, so despite being totally uninterested in Scala I would stay subscribed to The Loop. Now suppose that fifty-fifty split went to 25/75 in favor of the Scala articles, and I would have even less interest in following Jim anymore despite liking his past work. Finally, imagine a scenario in which Jim went on to go an entire day without writing a single thing about anything but Scala; what’s more, he does this regularly. That “Unsubscribe” button would look pretty attractive right about then, and before long I would undoubtedly hit it. Unfortunate, for sure, but unavoidable: Jim’s interests had shifted outside of my own, and we parted ways; no hard feelings. Were that same course of events to take place on Twitter, however, I would much rather opt for a mute filter blocking “Scala” than completely unsubscribing from Jim altogether. He still writes interesting articles on occasion, after all; I would like to still see those, sans the incessant Scala talk.

So my reasoning went last week (two weeks ago?) when Beats Music launched, and Zac Cichy talked about nothing else for what seemed like quite some time. Instead of the thoughts on specific topics I had started following him to hear more of, Zac’s interests had pivoted to another realm — and that was fine: it is his prerogative to do so, and his only. As a result of this shift though, our interests fell out of alignment for the majority of the subjects Zac tweeted about. Had this change of pace occurred on Zac’s blog, I would have eventually unsubscribed and used that newfound time not spent scrolling through articles about Beats Music to do something productive and ultimately beneficial to me and my life somehow. Given that it took place on Twitter, however, meant that I had the option of selecting that one topic I no longer wished to hear about, completely remove it from my Twittersphere, and continue to follow Zac’s work regarding every other topic he chose to focus on.

Apparently, that was the wrong thing to do. I don’t intend to start a flame war with Zac over this, nor do I really even want to argue about it much. Rather, it is my hope that maybe, if he ever sees this article, he will understand where I came from and why I did what I did rather than passive-aggressively condemn my actions hours after the fact.

If one of my readers decided to start blocking the monthly Cabin Porn roundups I post, I say more power to them: I’m sorry those articles don’t appeal to them, but they do to me, and so I will not stop posting them. No one should have to like every single thing another person says or does: that’s too great a burden to place upon a single creative individual, and far too fine a filter for anyone to apply when in search of interesting work. For everything I create and the ten people that like it, I know 100 won’t. If those 100 still like what I do enough to allow me the privilege of occupying their valuable time in exchange for the occasional article they find interesting at the expense of not seeing the work of mine they don’t consider particularly interesting, I’m okay with that; they wouldn’t have paid it any attention anyways. What’s the point in getting worked up about it?

Seriously, I love this feature; before Twitter announced it I lived in perpetual fear of the day I would reach 3,200 posts, meaning that with each successive tweet I would push one off the other end and slowly lose those informative recounts of my early days on Twitter to time. Now, though, I have no such fear: I can tweet, retweet, and favorite to my heart’s content.