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Elon and the Twitter quitters

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You’ve never heard of him, but Mike was one of Twitter’s best-case scenarios.

Mike — a high school teacher in Ontario, Canada, who has asked me not to use his last name — signed up for Twitter in 2007, shortly after it launched. He used it as a portal into a world he could never access any other way: It let him communicate with famous people he admired, and sometimes they responded.

“I used it to ask [writer] Neil Gaiman a question, and he answered, and I thought it was amazing,” he told me. He did the same thing with director Ava DuVernay, and ended up getting invited to a screening of her movie Selma, and got to meet her in real life.

And now Mike’s not on Twitter anymore. He left after the 2016 presidential election, after concluding that the service wasn’t good for society — or his own psyche.

“I was spending too much time on it,” he says. “And it was just a constant provocation of anxiety. What is it adding to my life to be getting minute-by-minute updates about all the horrors of the world, and all the stupid things people are saying constantly?”

Except … Mike is still on Twitter, sort of. That’s how he found me when I asked Twitter users to talk about their experience of quitting the service: He doesn’t tweet or log into his account. But he takes lots of peeks, even though it doesn’t make him happy, and even though he uses a productivity app to try to stop himself from looking. “I lurk pretty heavily,” he admits.

All of which is to say that, although we talk about Twitter using shorthand — hellsite, bad business, thing that was supposed to help democracy flourish but didn’t — Twitter isn’t a monolith. It’s used by 217 million people, and each of them has a different, and oftentimes complicated and conflicted, relationship with the service. And we don’t know how they’re going to react if Elon Musk ends up buying Twitter for $44 billion.

What we can do, though, is look backward and see if Twitter’s history has any clues about the future. Which seems possible, since the few clues Musk has dropped about his Twitter plans suggest he wants to revert to an earlier iteration of Twitter — one with fewer rules and more lax enforcement of abuse and misinformation.

That was the Twitter that lots of Twitter users got sick of — and announced so publicly. Maybe you recall comedian Leslie Jones declaring that she was leaving the service in the summer of 2016 after being swamped with racist attacks coordinated by an alt-right troll whose name you may have already forgotten. But weeks later, after Twitter permanently banned her antagonist, she was back,

Or writer Lindy West, who explained in a 2017 essay in the Guardian why she was ditching the platform after five years:

“I talk back and I am “feeding the trolls”. I say nothing and the harassment escalates. I report threats and I am a “censor”. I use mass-blocking tools to curb abuse and I am abused further for blocking “unfairly”,” she wrote. “I have to conclude, after half a decade of troubleshooting, that it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.”

I checked in with West this week to see how her Twitter-free life was going, four years later. Like Mike, she talked about it as a former addict might: “In retrospect, it absolutely destroyed my mental health. The idea of waking up in the morning and looking at the phone on my bedstand and thinking, “What’s going to be there?” — and sometimes it was the worst thing in the world — I don’t miss that,” she said.

At least as important: The upside that Twitter was supposed to offer her — attention and admiration from an audience she wanted to reach with her writing — turned out to be a mirage. “Nothing happened to my career after I left Twitter,” she said. “There was absolutely no discernible effect, except that my mental health was better.” (And yes, West acknowledges that someone who writes for the Guardian and the New York Times will find it easier to leave Twitter than someone who’s hoping to use Twitter to help them get jobs writing for the Guardian and the New York Times.)

But it’s not as though West doesn’t want attention or doesn’t like social media. She’s got a substantial following on Instagram, where she says people are much nicer than they were on Twitter. Plus a substack, of course.

You almost always find that ambivalence — sometimes about Twitter, sometimes about all of the internet — when you talk to Twitter quitters. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman announced that he was bailing in 2016, citing continued, coordinated anti-Semitic abuse.

But two years later, he was back. The main reason, Weisman said, was Twitter had spent time and effort figuring out how to remove some of its most awfully behaved users: “It’s not the cesspool that it once was,” he says. “The steps that Twitter made were in good faith and they should be rewarded for that.”

But Weisman also feels he should be on Twitter — partly so he can mainline news, and partly so he can promote his and his colleagues’ work. And then, in his next breath, he casts doubt on that motivation: Twitter, he argues, may be a good place to promote yourself. But to get people to read your work? Not so much.

“I can see a tweet with enormous numbers of mentions and retweets or whatever — and then I click on the statistics about how many people actually read the story and its infinitesimal. It’s nothing,” he says. “People delude themselves about the power of Twitter to promote your story. It’s delusional.”

And yes, Twitter is also used by people who aren’t in media and don’t have big public profiles. Those people can be conflicted about it, too.

Derek Powazek is a former web designer who used to live in California’s Bay Area. He was an early Twitter fan — he thinks he may have been user number 4,000. Now he’s a hemp farmer in rural Oregon, and values the connections Twitter has allowed him to make and sustain. It has been particularly helpful to find like-minded people online, he says, when there aren’t that many living near him in the real world.

“On its best day, Twitter is like a form of telepathy,” he says. “You know what your friends and people you admire are thinking about that day, as if by magic.”

But Powazek talks about Twitter as an addictive product, too — one he’s tried to get off multiple times, including right now: “It’s like quitting a drug. I’m going through it now — I literally have withdrawals.”

The question for Powazek and everyone else who has used and even loved Twitter, gotten sick of it, and then quit (at least temporarily): If Elon Musk owns Twitter, will he bring it backward and make it even harder to love?

We don’t know, obviously, and it’s likely that Musk doesn’t, either: His well-documented shoot-first decision-making style means that anything is on the table. And his initial commentary and tweets about his intentions suggest that he hasn’t given his $44 billion purchase-to-be terribly deep thought beyond a general sense that there should be less moderation on the service.

It’s possible we’ll learn more in the near future: Musk has had to outline at least a gesture of his vision to banks who’ve agreed to lend him money for his purchase, and I’ve been told he has been doing the same recently to prospective investors. Some of this will become public via reporting, and Musk may choose to share some of it himself.

But we won’t know how any of this pans out until Musk actually owns the thing and then starts operating it. And then we’ll have to ask a couple hundred million people how they think things are going before we can really draw any conclusions.

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Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, says it will offer 10% faster CPU performance, 10% faster GPU clocks, and have up to 30% better power efficiency (Sean Hollister/The Verge)

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Sean Hollister / The Verge:

Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, says it will offer 10% faster CPU performance, 10% faster GPU clocks, and have up to 30% better power efficiency  —  Bragging rights (and battery life?) for gaming phones  —  Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 set the stage for the biggest Android smartphones …

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Geoff Keighley teases what’s to come at Summer Game Fest

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Summer Game Fest is around the corner, and media entrepreneur Geoff Keighley hints at a month of news starting on June 9.

“First couple of weeks of June are going to be a good time for gamers as always,” Keighley said.

The host of the Game Awards and Summer Game Fest said people might look back at June as an exciting start to the year’s game release news, which has been on the quieter side when it comes to big titles. When asked whether that means people can expect major game announcements, Keighley demurred.

“June is definitely a good time for people to ramp up, get people excited about things coming in the future. So yes, there will be some good announcements. They’ll be good, meaningful updates on games,” Keighley said, adding that, for example, in 2021, the Summer Game Fest showed off gameplay of “Elden Ring,” a previously announced game that still drew a lot of interest. “Will you get everything you want? No. But I think there’ll be some good stuff this year.”

The 2022 gaming news event is mostly digital, though it will feature an in-person component. Imax movie theaters will air the Summer Game Fest in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom starting on June 9, live from Los Angeles. Viewers can tune into the exact same show on Twitch. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)

While individual game companies will do their own events, as they have in past years, Keighley said he plans to organize things so that they don’t heavily overlap. In another major gaming showcase, Xbox will hold its live-streamed event on June 12.

The Game Awards: How Geoff Keighley helped create The Oscars for gaming

In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Keighley said he has been in conversations with several Ukrainian studios whose game titles — such as GSC Game World’s “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” — have been impacted.

“There have been a number of teams, honestly, that we were talking [with] about content for our show, that are in Ukraine, and they’ve had to relocate and can’t finish their trailer, can’t finish their game, because they’re in the middle of a situation,” Keighley said. “We’re conscious of those games and actively trying to think about what’s the right way to recognize some of those teams and the hardships that they’ve been through.”

Keighley made headlines in 2020, when he announced he was skipping E3 for the first time in 25 years, saying the event needed to evolve.

This year, Summer Game Fest will take place in the backdrop of another canceled E3, just as it did in 2020.

“You’ll find no bigger fan than me of what E3 represented to the industry. And I went to it for 25 years,” Keighley said. “I still think E3 needs to figure out its place in this new digital, global landscape. Game companies have figured out there are lots of great ways to program directly to fans. With Summer Game Fest, we’re very cognizant of that; we’re not just trying to be an E3 replacement. We’re doing something very different and approaching it as a free, digital-first celebration of games. The great thing is we can build it from the ground into something completely new. And we don’t have the baggage and legacy of trying to sell booze to people or hotel rooms.”

From 2021: For years, E3 has been gaming’s biggest event. Is that still true?

Keighley told The Post last December that the other event he hosts, the Game Awards, would take a “thoughtful, measured” approach toward non-fungible tokens (NFTs). For this year’s Summer Game Fest, Keighley similarly said he had no plans to have anything NFT or blockchain-related.

“Some people are like, ‘Oh Geoff, I see you following an NFT account on Twitter.’ And it’s like, I’m interested to learn about that stuff. But I’ve yet to see anything that really crosses over to content that would be accretive to the experience. Look, if I see a game or experience that I think is really going to be compelling and interesting and leverages those technologies in a meaningful way, we’ll of course look at it,” Keighley said.

As for whether Activision Blizzard, a company facing multiple lawsuits and government investigations, will be present at Summer Game Fest, Keighley said the situation was evolving. Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In the back of our minds, obviously, is the zeitgeist of what’s going on at both of these companies but also, in the community,” he said. “Everyone’s opinions continue to evolve among all these topics, so it’s hard to put a pin in something and say, ‘Hey, this is exactly how we’re going to treat this throughout the entire year.’ ”

Another hotly discussed industry topic is unionization. When asked whether organizing labor would impact Summer Game Fest, Keighley said, “Trying to make our show is ultimately to support creators of games and let them showcase their work. I hope we empower game creators, through our shows, to reach audiences and feel like they can reach those audiences directly.”

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Why I Prefer an eReader to a Real Book

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Okay, I’m really doing this. Ahem. I prefer eReaders to real books. Now, before you report me to your local library for crimes against literature, let me explain. Maybe you’ll hear a new reason to give eReaders a chance.

This is a pretty touchy subject among readers. People who prefer physical books are often very passionate about that. It feels like people who like eReaders are the ones who have to defend their position. So allow me to defend my position.

RELATED: How to Borrow eBooks from a Library on a Kindle for Free

Temporary Is Okay

kindle in case on canvas bag with phone and sunglasses

First, let me start by saying I am not anti-physical books. I love real books. I love looking at cover art and I love the feel of a physical book in my hands. I think eReaders and books can peacefully co-exist.

My perspective on the place for eReaders vs real books is similar to how I view other forms of media. I might see a movie on Netflix that looks interesting and only watch it once. I don’t need to own a physical copy of it. Some things can be temporary.

Now, if there’s a movie or an album of music that’s important to me, then I want the physical copy. That’s the same philosophy I have toward books. There are so many books that I’ve read once and haven’t thought much about since. Owning the physical copy would just be adding clutter to my home.

Important, meaningful books are the ones I want to have in my possession forever. For everything else, the temporary feeling of an eBook makes an eReader the perfect option.

RELATED: How to Delete Books and Documents from Your Kindle Library

Streaming Books

There are very literal “streaming” services for books—such as Amazon Prime Reading—but even the general experience of an eReader is similar in a lot of ways to how we use streaming services.

Streaming services are great for browsing and easily switching between media. One day you’re in the mood for comedy, the next it’s drama. When you finally find something to get into, you can easily jump right into it every day until you’ve finished it.

That’s what I like about eReaders. I can easily browse through my library and decide what I’m in the mood to read. If a book doesn’t grab my attention quickly enough, I can easily switch to something else. I don’t have to bring a stack of books to my bed.

Physical media is a much more deliberate experience. Choosing a Blu-ray and putting it on is a commitment. Taking one book to the couch is a commitment. eReaders give you flexibility.

RELATED: How to Download Free eBooks with Amazon Prime

More Books, Less Weight

That flexibility also comes with some real-world benefits. Books are heavy, there’s no getting around that. If you want to take multiple books somewhere, you’re going to be carrying a lot of weight around.

The average eReader—such as the Kindle Paperwhite—can hold around 1,000 books per gigabyte of storage. That’s a lot. You can essentially go on vacation with your entire library of books in a device that weighs less than 8 ounces.

It’s really hard to overstate just how amazing that is. People love phones and streaming services for this same reason when it comes to music. It’s awesome to have all your music with you all the time. So what’s wrong with doing the same with your books?

Best eReader Overall

Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition improves on the previous generation with more storage space, USB-C charging, and an adjustable warm light.

Can We All Get Along?

There are a lot of things to get passionate about in life, especially when it comes to technology. iPhone vs Android. Windows vs Mac. Overused fonts. How to say GIF. I don’t think the eReader vs. real books debate needs to be one of them.

Nothing is ever going to replace physical books. Streaming music services are extremely popular, yet music is still being released on CDs and vinyl records. Movies still come out on Bluray and DVD. eReaders have been around for a long time and real books are still here.

An eReader is a handy device that every avid reader should consider. You don’t have to stop reading physical books, but you’ll appreciate the convenience in many situations.

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