I didn’t want to write this, you don’t want to read it, but here we are…
I used to play a football manager game in the 90s (gaming was all downhill after Championship Manager 98), and once I learned the best players to sign, and how to keep rebooting until I won a game, I could get to the stage where Southend were winning the Champions League. There’s nowhere else to go after this triumph, and so my designs turned dark. As a Spurs fan I took a childish pleasure in taking over Arsenal and doing all I could to ruin them before getting the sack. I would sell the best players (as cheaply as possible), sign terrible players, put them out of position and field the weakest team. Relegation was my goal.
I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories that Musk is deliberately trying to ruin Twitter (for Putin or something?), but seeing his catastrophic takeover definitely makes him a contender for the Liz Truss award for the most catastrophic decisions in a short period of time (current holder: Liz Truss). Like many others I have rebooted my Mastodon account (this is my main one, or a Wales one if you prefer Cardiff/Ice hockey bants). I’m not sure I’ll stay, or if it will replace Twitter as the main social media platform, but it’s probably not a bad thing to have a rethink every now and then anyway.
It is, of course, absolutely hilarious to see Musk make such an idiot of himself on such a public stage, but it is no surprise. I was watching Ron Howard’s entertaining account of the the Thai football team that was trapped in a cave in 2018, and it brought back to mind the deluded intervention of Musk in that event. If you recall, 12 boys were trapped in a cave system in Thailand when it flooded. A team of experts assembled to try and rescue them. Musk piped up saying he had designed a submarine that could get them out, he sent it and a team of Tesla engineers to Thailand. The actual experts who had done this work before said it would not help. Musk then called the lead diver a ‘pedo-guy’ on Twitter and got sued (but apparently it’s ok to call someone that if you’re a billionaire). In this sordid little cameo we have a model for how Musk operates, a Template of Musk if you will. It goes something like: Overestimate his own solution, dismiss expertise, cause chaos and distraction, abuse those who disagree with him, and then storm off. And it has played out exactly so far with Twitter, we now just awaiting the storming phase.
And while Musk failure schadenfreude is to be relished, I feel really sorry for the people who have carefully constructed a business through the network they’ve created on Twitter: comedians, small retail, consultants, community projects, etc. Twitter isn’t just a slightly annoying place you doomscroll through while on the loo for these people, it’s vital to their operation. Mastodon is a long way off being a replacement for many of these. When I was thinking about it from my perspective I can use Facebook, Instagram and Mastodon for social connection, but what I’ll miss is more of the broadcast function. How will everyone know I’ve written a blog post about Twitter if I can’t post it on Twitter? (for now, I’ll still post it on Twitter).
In 25 Years of Ed Tech, I wrote about how large internet corporations want to become infrastructure:
Achieving infrastructure-like status is the primary goal for Internet giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. For instance, for a significant number of users, Facebook is viewed as the entirety of the Internet. Reporting on surveys in Indonesia and Nigeria, Farrell (2015) stated that “large numbers of first-time adopters come online via Facebook’s proprietary network, rather than via the open web” (para. 8). Similarly, Amazon has the goal of becoming the sole global retailer, and Google and Apple contest the battle to be the sole technology provider in people’s lives, embedding their platforms and technology in their home, car, phone, and entertainment systems. Such a monopoly means that any provider who desires access to the markets they control must abide by the rules determined by these companies, whether that is in what type of content they permit, the data they have access to, or the revenue they require. In addition, they are unlikely to permit any company that acts as a competitor to flourish within their domain. So, while these corporations have inveigled their way to infrastructure status, we should remember that providers of physical infrastructure systems such as water, roads, and power have responsibilities and accountability placed upon them. This is relevant to ed tech, because it highlights the responsibility in mandating the use of such systems and thus increasing their infrastructure-like status and stresses the importance of developing a critical approach to technology in all subject areas.
As much as this is a business failure (that business schools will teach for years), it is also a legislative failure. We have failed to create the appropriate models of governance that prevent internet giants from realising digital infrastructure status, with all the related economic benefits, without the responsibility and appropriate regulation of behaviour. If we accept that such governance shouldn’t exist (that was always one of the attractions of the internet after all) then we should also be more circumspect about allowing any one platform to become dominant and so vital to so many people.