Yesterday I had a conversation with Christian Darnton. He approached me and asked whether I also felt that the entire feed on Twitter, or X as it is now called, became extremely low quality. Or in his words, whether it became a “garbage dump” that feels like “parasites trying to attack your brain”.
It resonated with me as I felt the same. While I am spending more time on X, I also feel as if the time I spend on the platforms is less and less worth it. To a point where I should really consider whether I should even use it more than a few minutes each day.
But why does it feel that the quality of the content on X feels mostly so low value?
I believe we reached a point in content creation where people do not write, record videos or podcasts because they want to, but because they have to. They try to get engagement, get your attention to amass not only the number of followers, a stupid metric on a social platform, but also to participate in the new monetization programs X and closely thereafter TikTok introduced.
People smell the chance to get rich quick. They are seduced to earn 10k a month by posting memes or re-posting stupid content on X.
X bribes people to chase money, fame. But as Christian noted, “it’s a rat race”. With all the way to get rich with attention (content), everyone should ask themselves the question: “How much value am I really adding to society?”.
He continued: “I want to talk to interesting people. I love people that are interesting. I don’t care how much money you have. I’m interested in interesting people.”
It is a valid point. Most attention on the internet is not used in. a productive way at all. It is at best a zero-sum game. Getting attention through controversies, charisma, or pure sexiness is easy. I understand, we live in an attention economy. But isn’t it a fair question to ask how many young people would be of so much more value to the world, when instead of becoming an influencer, they’d actually build a product, or they actually solved hard issues.
Out of experience, Christian said that your time is limited and when you focus on content it takes a lot of time out of your day, including mental energy
So without an economy of attention, how many more people would be valuable to the world, especially young people? Instead of creating just another podcast on productivity, how can we benefit humanity on a larger scale?
I don’t want to badmouth the potential of social media and the internet. Instead, I want everyone to think about how we can design social platforms in a way that is net-positive.
For me, I like essays. You write them because you have something to say, and you want to say it. You just write it. Without any intention of gaining fame or riches. There is no schedule. You don’t write it daily, not monthly. There is no target, no sequence, no goal. You write when you have not only the inspiration but also the urge to share it with the world – because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t sleep well.
I think a great example for this is Paul Graham. Over the past 20 years or so, Paul Graham wrote essays because he feels he has to say something. Not because he set himself a goal for 500,000 followers on Twitter (Twitter didn’t even exist when he started writing his essays). Not because he wanted to get rich by doing so. He wrote because he felt he has something really valuable and unique to say. Over time, it became the most popular blog on startups, and as a byproduct he now has well over 1 Million followers on X.
This is why I believe long-format content without a schedule is the healthiest form of content on the internet. This is not only true for essays or newsletters. Even YouTube videos: you only record and publish a video when feel that you really have something to say. Not to become famous or rich.
For many, content creation is now a job. The opposite of what I believe to be a healthy form of content. Instead of working for traditional media, you are now working for an algorithm. The more content is mass-produced out of wrong incentives, the more time is wasted on the internet, the more human potential is destroyed.
Again, the ideal is the Paul-Graham-Style: you post content when you feel you really have something to say about a certain topic, but you don’t just post it, you let 5 friends proof it, so you know it’s really worth the time of your reader, listener, or viewer.
While there is a large market for podcasts and videos, I truly believe the basis for each spoken word should be a written word. When you really sit down and write, you think much more deeply about a certain topic. By prioritizing written words over spoken words, people will think much more deeply about what they have to say. They do more research, they proofread it, they ask other people for their opinions, they edit, and re-edit the essay, before it is finally published. The output is therefore always more valuable than an improvised conversation on a podcast.
In podcast, it is the opposite, it is all freestyle. If a question is asked or a certain topic raised, you have to say something – within a second or two. The contrast is drastic.
The remaining question is then: how can we create also meaningful and valuable discussions on the internet?
When essays are the basis, then essays should be the basis for replies, discussions, and debates as well. If you disagree with a standpoint strongly enough, you sit down, and write yourself an essay or a short article, as a reply.
X makes it too easy to reply “haha, you’re stupid” – which adds zero value to anything.
By replying yourself with an essay, you think deeply about the topic. And if it’s not worth the time to write an essay, then maybe your opinion is not worth much to anyone at all.
Reading and writing essays and books is – how Christian described it – “an antonym to the constant hedonism which is so prevalent on social media.”