I love social media, but I worry about its current flaws and limitations. I agree with Jaron Lanier’s criticism, in his important and scary book You Are Not a Gadget, that it limits us to “multiple-choice identities,” reducing the possibilities of the human. Like many, I fret about my personal information being stored on the servers of a for-profit company, one with a mercurial (and sometimes vaguely threatening) attitude regarding the very idea of privacy. As a citizen of a democracy, I worry about the ways in which the means by which we all talk to each other is changing. When I read that the post office is losing money, but that social-media giants are making money hand over first, I get sad. The post office is obligated to serve every single one of us; a for-profit corporation has no such obligation. And I worry about how we trust our hard drives so much, when “little of the digital age will remain beyond what’s written on paper,” as Tom Simonite and Michael Le Page wrote in New Scientist (“Digital Doomsday: the End of Knowledge”).
In the fall of 2011, with all these concerns in the back of my head, I started this memoir project. I began writing daily “status updates” in accord with three of the basic principles of social media: news about me that’s 1) frequent, 2) short, and 3) shared. But here, I took principles 1) and 2) and doubled down on the structural restrictions: for a year, I wrote one “status update” per day that was precisely 420 characters long, no more, no less.
-- Thomas Israel Hopkins
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