“I saw the internet create and destroy a bizarro version of myself,” says Quinn Norton in this op-ed about her recent lightning-speed hiring and firing at the New York Times.
Her article is a key piece of writing that helps us understand how internet culture is evolving in 2018. I’m not going to get into whether Norton is a homophobic nazi sympathiser or just a misunderstood internet sociologist, but the story is typical of the way online culture evolves faster than most of us can keep up with.
It’s not exactly news that social media has amplified and accelerated our sense of outrage. But the speed at which disputes like this have real-world results has caught up with the theatrical spectacle of social media spats. Tom Phillips’ satirical swansong at BuzzFeed, The 29 Stages Of A Twitterstorm In 2018
, illustrated cleverly how even the smallest mistake can now escalate into an international culture war in the space of a day.
This means war
What this means for the future of really important disputes – actual wars, for example – remains to be seen. Will future wars be fought on purely ideological terms by Twitter bots while we sleep? Will we even understand what’s happened?
Okay, it probably won’t come to that, but the way we as a society decide what’s right or wrong is accelerating at a disorientating pace, and it shows no sign of slowing.
The important thing about Quinn Norton’s piece here is it reminds us of the human impact of the online outrage engine.
What must such an episode do for someone’s sense of identity when they are judged and sentenced in a court of public opinion in the space of a few hours, without any time for reflection? And imagine such a person wasn’t as reflective and eloquent as Norton.
I fear many more of us will find out what it feels like in the coming years.