I have been on Twitter since 2009. It was a very different place in those days. There was no retweet button, but retweets existed, in the form of copy-and-pasting somebody’s tweet with the words “RT @[their username]” beforehand. You couldn’t upload pictures, either; you’d have to upload them to TweetPic and include a link. The pace was slower, the numbers smaller; nobody you knew from real life was on there, so it had an air of unreality about it. Well, nobody if you were, like me, thirteen.
Sometimes I think about growing up Extremely Online and what it’s done to my brain. It has, for the most part, been a positive thing: it’s brought me friends and opportunities, and allowed me to stay connected to others even as my health began (and then continued) to fail. Twitter alone helped me find Author Mentor Match, which brought me my mentor Rory Power and my friendship with fellow AMM mentees; it helped me find my agent via DVPit; it connected me with other debut authors. It is the reason I have a community of writer friends. It has also given me other opportunities: it’s because of Twitter that I appeared on Motherfoclóir; it’s through Twitter that most people discover my blog or my YouTube videos; it’s alerted me to conferences and calls for papers and academic opportunities that have worked out for me. All of this happened in adulthood, but the groundwork was laid by my adolescence online. I joined Twitter because it was where the writers and publishing people seemed to be, way back in the day, and it’s probably the only reason I know anything much about publishing.
But growing up online also has its downsides. As an adult, I’ve been taking steps to recover some of my privacy, but it remains true that nothing online is ever truly deleted, and I lived a lot of my adolescence in the public eye. I came out online, twice, writing lengthy posts about my identity. I shared so many of the deeply personal moments of my adolescence and early adulthood with total strangers, and gave the world my vulnerability to do with as it pleased. I can only be grateful that I was such a spectacularly boring teenager, said public eye was largely uninterested in me and my audience remained small, else this could be a very different post.
But the internet in 2009 was a different place to the internet in 2023, and I fear for the teenagers who grow up online these days, with their real names and faces attached to so much of what they do. In my day (I say, feeling thirty years older all of a sudden), the internet felt like a separate world, somewhere to escape from school and ‘normal’ life; now, it feels like an extension of it.
Anyway, Twitter is dying.
I suppose that’s what this post is about, really. Twitter is dying. Elon Musk has catastrophically polluted the garden we were playing in – poisoned the water cooler where we’d been gathering for a decade and a half – peed in the swimming pool, etc etc. Was it perfect before him? Of course not. Twitter’s had its toxicity for years, and for years I’ve told myself, I need to get off this website, but I never really considered leaving. Until now, with friends leaving in droves and trolls taking over the space left behind. Until the threat of AI being trained on everything I’ve ever posted (which, yeah, was probably already happening to some extent, but it’s worse to know about it, ain’t it?). Until the loss of basic features, the unreliability of others, the general sense that the platform’s days are numbered…
Look. I don’t want to flee this sinking ship. But I also don’t particularly see the value in going down with it. I always thought I’d stay until the bitter end, but, I mean, what am I trying to prove, at this point? Yes, there’s FOMO – I don’t want to leave until everybody else does, because I don’t want to be left out. I don’t want to leave until my friends have all migrated to new platforms for group chats. Bluesky is starting to feel like a viable competitor in some regards, but without DMs it’s never going to fulfil the specific function that has kept me on Twitter this long, and while it remains invite-only, there will always be people watching from the outside, feeling excluded.
I tried Mastodon, but struggled to find any sense of community or conversation there. I will not be trying Threads due to privacy concerns. I remain active on Tumblr, as I have been for over a decade. I’m still (slightly reluctantly) on Instagram, rarely posting other than to my Story, which has become my go-to platform for inane observations. I am fracturing into dozens of social media-shaped pieces, and none of them is quite doing for me what I want them to do.
Anyway. If you’re on Twitter, or were on Twitter, you know this first-hand. If you’re not, or weren’t, it’s likely you don’t care. This wasn’t intended to be an opinion column about the decline and fall of everybody’s love-to-hate social media platform, but I fear it’s turned into one.
What I’m getting at, in the end, is that this feels like a time of transitions and decisions. More for me than for many, I suspect, since I’m leaving my job and starting a PhD and coming to the end of work on a trilogy I’ve been writing since I was 18 and thinking about my next writing/publishing projects – my life is on the verge of changing significantly. And as such, when I think about what I want to do with social media and the internet going forward, my decisions are coloured by these life changes. Am I trying to be an author online, or an academic? On what platforms can I most effectively be both? Am I looking for professional connections, for friends, for readers, for support? What do I want from any of this?
I come back, as I always do when I’m growing dissatisfied with the modern internet, to this blog. The place where I lived my overly confessional adolescence, although that archive has been consigned to oblivion these days. The comment sections where I used to have lengthy conversations with internet friends, now generally quieter. The work involved in maintaining a network of independent blogs: having to seek people out, read their work, comment on it. It’s a higher level of effort than the internet friendships that social media offered us, which is why it’s decreased in popularity, but we’ve lost something, with the decline in Weird Niche Blogs Written By Weird Niche People.
(And, on a sensory level, I do not think the internet has been improved by everything being fast-moving and ad-ridden and image-heavy and video-focused. Give me a nice simple text-based website any time. Does my blog look outdated these days? Yes, and I keep it that way on purpose; I’m tired of everything taking half my data allowance just to open a single page.)
But I’ve got myself stuck in a rut of 3k semi-academic blog posts, and I don’t have the stamina to churn those out on a regular basis. I need to do something a bit different, experiment a bit more, figure out what I want this site to be. (Do I say that every year? Probably.)
With that in mind:
It’s September now, and the events of The Butterfly Assassin run from 17th September to 5th December. (The days of the week will not, alas, match up until 2029.) I cannot, in the year after publication, take a Dracula Daily approach and actually send out chapters of the book according to their dates, because of copyright and so on, but I was thinking of doing a kind of ‘readalong’ in real time. I would write blog posts commenting on individual chapters (chatting about the symbolism, the writing process, the past iterations of that chapter…), while you would read or reread the chapters, and share your observations in the comment section.
It could be fun, right? It could be a dialogue, a chance to make this blog into more of a two-way process. It would be an insight into my writing process and approach to the book, such as I’ve sometimes shared on social media in small increments, but one where the archive would stick around, and you could read it back whenever you liked, and we could talk about this.
I don’t know if this will work. I had originally thought of this as something to do on Twitter, just a handful of short tweets about each chapter, but I’m not sure I’ll still be on the site come December, if it’s even still functioning. Moreover, the algorithm and the way the site works means that spoilery tweets could easily be shown to those who didn’t choose to see them, which wouldn’t be ideal. I want this to be an opt-in situation, with the bonus of not requiring membership to a specific site. You can even forward email subscriptions or send links to friends.
Maybe this will fail spectacularly and embarrassingly (which is to say, fizzle out immediately without a single comment); perhaps it’s too early in this book’s life cycle to do something like this, and I should wait until I have more readers clamouring for bonus information. But I don’t know how else to talk about my writing on here, and I would like to try it. The posts would be shorter than my usual essays, with a view to encouraging more interaction in the comments, but might involve excerpts from previous drafts and other similar behind-the-scenes info that could be quite fun.
Shall we try it? See what happens? The glory of an experiment like this is that it doesn’t really matter if it crashes and burns, because it’s my site to experiment with, and I can do what I like. I’d need to have written most of the posts in advance, because some of those chapters fall on consecutive days and there’s no way I’d be organised enough to keep up, but I can do that.
Once I’m in, though, I think I’m all-in; I don’t think I can start the book and not finish it. So this is a commitment. It’s not that I couldn’t write other blog posts during that 2.5 months, but I can’t imagine having the time or energy to do many of them. I would be taking a leap of faith by starting, and committed to following through on it regardless of how well it was working.
And this won’t work without you, or some of you, anyway. None of this has ever worked without you, but this more than most would need your help. Your participation. I know that some of you have already read The Butterfly Assassin; maybe some of you even started reading this blog because of it. Others might have been waiting for the motivation to pick it up, and I’m here to say: this is that sign. Now’s the time! We can read it together! You can ask me what I meant by XYZ because the Internet is the death of Death of the Author, for better or worse!
And – and this is crucial – you can talk to each other. That’s something we’ve lost, in this internet era. Back in the day, blog readers would start conversations in the comments, make new friends from posting on other people’s posts, add to each other’s points and commentary. Sometimes, people would show up months later to add to a conversation, and start it going again. I don’t see that these days. It’s far more limited: the commenter’s conversation with the post’s author. Why don’t we change that?
But the majority of this blog’s readers still get here via Twitter referrals, and the majority of comments I receive happen on other social media sites, rather than on the posts themselves. For many purposes, this is fine, but for conversations between readers and an ongoing record of that discussion, it’s a barrier. So to make this work, we need to change that. Email subscriptions, WordPress notifications… they’re a relic but a useful one, in this era of change. And that comment section down below this post… let’s test its capacity, shall we? See if we can get some conversations started.
If this whole project sounds like something you would be interested in, please leave me a comment to let me know that you’re there and reading. If you want to warn me away from it, because of Problem I Haven’t Thought Of, that’s also a great reason to leave a comment. And if there’s something else you want me to do with this blog that I’m not doing… well, you can see where this is going, can’t you? Comments! Comments for everyone!
Otherwise, you know, this is going to be wildly embarrassing for me, and… well. Don’t do that to me, lads. Please.
Obviously, step one in this project working would be for you to buy The Butterfly Assassin, or request/borrow it from your library. I love libraries. Love to see my books in them.