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Elitist Elites and Non-Elite Elitists

This morning I tweeted a string of thoughts on political elitism. I’m replicating those tidbits here so that I can 1) easily relocate them later and 2) share them with non-Twitterites. Feel free to read the originals in their native habitat.

Helpful background: Slate Star Codex’s “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup” (long but worth it) and “Staying Classy” (also long and also worth it).

If you’re not familiar with the cadence of Twitter conversations, the following may seem choppy or disjointed. I didn’t edit much. Other people’s interjections are included as block quotes.

It’s easy to be an elitist when you’re part of the elite. Is that tautological?

Example of a non-elite elitist: high school dropout who thinks people with college degrees should be in charge.

As far as I know, non-elite elitists don’t exist, or there are very few of them. [This assertion gets walked back momentarily.]

However, you could argue that this position, when held by random schmucks, is non-elite elitism: “Donald Trump should run things because he’s a successful businessman” or “Hillary Clinton has lots of foreign policy experience”

And random unimpressive people hold positions along those lines, as noted here:

“I dunno, does not appear to match observations unambiguously. Plenty shit-eating basement dwellers dreaming of elitist shit” — @okayultra

Even non-elite elitists seem to always follow cultural lines. “The people I identify with should be in charge.”

Important to remember: “the people I identify with should be in charge” is different from “people like me should run things”

Like Sam says, there are different elites for Red Tribe versus Blue Tribe:

“this is pretty common, they just define ‘elite’ in non-educational terms — religious leaders, rich people, etc” — Sam Bhagwat

There are arguably even different elites for different sub-segments of each tribe. Progressives’ idols are not neoliberals’ idols.

“Also subtribes — grey, red-grey, blue-grey, etc. (Technocratic elites)” — @orthonormalist

So I’d amend my original tweet like this: “It’s easy to be an elitist with respect to elites that align with your culture and ideology.”

“society is dominated by elites and always will be. Only question is which ones they are” — Adam Elkus

“every time a barbarian horde deposed an emperor a new class of elites was born” — Adam Elkus

Insightful responses from Facebook friends:

elitism Facebook comments

Making Stuff versus Looking at Stuff

“I guess the true problem here [is] the sharp contrast between platforms for people who make stuff and platforms for people who look at stuff. (Most of us are some blend of both, of course — all the more reason that the separation sucks.) Twitter is made for looking and sharing, so it’s used by everyone but sucks for creators; something like Flickr is made for making, so it has a lot of relevant tools but isn’t very heavily frequented. The result is that work gets clumsily cross-posted all over the place, and it’s left to individual creators to come up with their own ad-hoc rituals for disseminating new work.” — Eevee

Critiquing Twitter’s New Followers Notification

I’m joining the grand tradition of ragging on Twitter for its weird and bad design choices! Let’s zoom in on a particular feature that I dislike. Here’s a notification that Twitter presents to me every day, from which I derive zero delight:

People who recently followed me on Twitter. If I clicked into the details here, I would find that 90% of these people use spammy hashtags in their profiles.
Brett Shavers is legit, but 90% of these people use spammy hashtags in their profiles.

It is good that Twitter collapses distinct follow events into one notification. Unfortunately, I still feel negative about the experience. Being followed on social media has the potential to generate joy — hooray, people are paying attention to me! — but the reality is closer to getting an unsolicited sales call.

What if Twitter defaulted to not notifying me of new followers? That would keep my focus on conversations — where my focus naturally wants to be anyway — instead of urging me to grind my user stats upward. There’s no reason why Twitter must deliver a notification when someone follows you. What if you had to manually look at your list of followers to check on this? People would still do it, of course, but it wouldn’t be a behavior encouraged by the platform’s design.

Vintage spam. Photo by GM.
Vintage spam. Photo by GM.

Getting rid of the “people followed you!” notification might also cut down on the amount of #marketing and bot accounts that insta-follow me based on keywords in my tweets. From their perspective, the utility of following me would be lessened because Twitter’s design wouldn’t assist them in shoving their messages in front of my eyeballs. On the other hand, the change might encourage those accounts to proactively tweet at me, which would be horrible. I think it’s at least worth A/B testing to see what the actual behavior is.

Of course, changing this notification feature would be treating the symptom rather than the sickness. Well… sometimes you gotta do that. Eliminating the problem altogether would involve fundamentally changing how Twitter works, which I don’t want. Public broadcast systems naturally attract spam, but you can mitigate the effect on genuine users.

The Barnacles Forum Is Worth Your Time

Barnacles is a clone of the Hacker News clone Lobsters, but Barnacles is aimed at bootstrapping entrepreneurs instead of general software devs. It’s a lot like Hacker News, actually, but maintained for small-scale internet businesspeople instead of enterprise employees. Barnacles is pretty low-volume compared to a place like /r/Entrepreneur, but that means it’s more thoughtful. So far I’m enjoying interacting with the frequent contributors, and the links that rise to the top usually feature concrete techniques that you can readapt to your own business.

Barnacles on a rock. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

Most social venues yield what you put in. My personal Twitter account is enjoyable as well as promotional because Twitter is a platform that perfectly fits how I want to interact with strangers (through ironic jokes). I spend a lot of time on there, quoting the articles I read and commenting on other people’s thoughts. I do that on Facebook too, but it’s more of an afterthought. Barnacles provides something in between — I can post a link without extensive commentary, but if it’s not valuable, I’m not using the forum correctly.

I also self-promote via Barnacles. For instance, I’ll post a link to this article. When you make sure to post links to useful articles and generally provide value to others, they don’t mind a little bit of self-promotion.

“If you’re truly talented, then your work becomes your way of doing good in the world; if you’re not, it’s a self-indulgence, even an embarrassment.” — Kathryn Chetkovich

I think a lot more people are “truly talented” than we typically acknowledge. Marketing is still hard, but when we band together, we build up our collective knowledge and do a better job.

“Software is a completely new type of good in that it is both infinitely differentiable yet infinitely copyable; this means that any piece of software is both completely unique yet has unlimited supply, leading to a theoretical price of $0.” — Ben Thompson

Barnacles is a place where new entrepreneurs collaborate on raising that theoretical price from zero to something more tolerable like $100 per download or $15 per month. Even though software is trivial to copy in a technical sense, it’s very possible to convince customers to pay a premium if you deliver value that they need. Sell convenience!

Saying Goodbye Was A Good Introduction: David Carr & Media Twitter

We’re approaching the first anniversary of David Carr’s death. Carr was the New York Times media critic, a former drug addict and newspaper editor who was adored by most (possibly all) reporters and media pundits. I have never seen anyone say a bad word about him. Considering how much time his cohort spends on Twitter, a platform not known for its users’ niceness or ubiquity of opinion, that’s impressive.

When Carr died I had just started becoming interested in journalism as a discipline and economic phenomenon. I had no idea who he was. It was bizarre to see, as Ben Thompson put it, “a nearly unending stream of expressions of grief mixed with personal anecdotes of a figure so clearly beloved.” Bizarre not because I found the outpouring unbelievable — I didn’t — but because I had just started following a bunch of tech and media analysts. It was the first topic that I watched everyone converge upon. The next was probably some Gawker-related scandal.

In a way, although it was tragic, David Carr’s passing was a wonderful introduction to a normally contentious community. I got to see everybody at their best, united in affection and gratitude for someone’s ideas and mentorship. Admittedly I enjoy the everyday arguments about ethics and money, which involve no shortage of sniping and ad hominems, but I’m glad that I know all these @handles can be kind too.

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