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The Shitposting Edition
On Twitter, detachment, and the future of content
There’s a set of writers and newsletters that I’ve drawn quite a bit of inspiration from over the years and Drew Austin’s (DA) Kneeling Bus is one of them. It sits at the intersection of technology and culture and consistently offers up angles and ideas that never would have crossed my mind but seem obvious in retrospect. He’s a fun Twitter follow (more on that) and a contributor at Wired. - Noah (NRB)
Drew here. I don’t like the word "shitposting,” for reasons I’ll explain below. Regardless of how I feel, though, everyone seems to be shitposting these days (including me). Usage of the term has grown steadily since it emerged around 2015; now, VCs and other people with serious professional reputations proudly align themselves with a form of content that is decidedly un-serious.
The definition of shitposting is elusive, and seems to be continuously evolving. It’s tempting to simply say that “we know it when we see it,” but surely we can do better. The Urban Dictionary says shitposting is “ironically posting something which to the average person looks just like a cringy or weird or stereotypical post conforming to a norm, but is intended to mock, insult, or amuse.” A lower-ranked entry defines the shitpost as “a post that contributes nothing of value toward a discussion.” According to Wikipedia, it’s an aggressively bad or trollish post meant to derail a discourse. Jonathan Libov defines a shitpost as “a joke that, taken at face value, inverts your actual opinion.” We’re getting closer.
Why is this interesting?
I’ll venture a more precise definition: Shitposting is posting that is completely detached from one’s real thoughts and beliefs, in the interest of being amusing. It may invert those real beliefs, or it may happen to align with them, but the point is that it doesn’t matter at all—shitposting is completely decoupled from them. In its proper form, shitposting reveals nothing about the shitposter. It’s trolling without the bad intentions.
Here’s why I don’t like the word: because to me, shitposting is just “posting.” I’ve been on Twitter long enough to remember when it was the platform you used to announce what you ate for lunch. The feed wasn’t algorithmic back then, and hardly anything ever went viral. Early on, Weird Twitter emerged, a cohort of proto-shitposters who seemed like the first users to actually understand how the site was meant to be used. @Horse_ebooks may have been the greatest shitposter ever if not for one critical problem: it wasn’t a human (until, somehow, it became one).
This is all ancient Twitter history. There was no such thing as shitposting back then. But in the decade that followed, Twitter became more important and users became increasingly self-aware—almost certainly too self-aware. Twitter wasn’t just a place for jokes and mundane observations anymore, but also for serious activities like networking, following the news, and broadcasting one’s own earnest takes. Hence the notion of “shitposting”: what you do on Twitter when you’re not being productive by advancing your career or becoming informed.
Today, shitposting is an aspirational ideal for people who recognize what’s been lost: a momentary respite from Twitter’s LinkedIn-ification. But the word itself also affirms that excessive seriousness by implying deviance from the site’s supposedly correct usage. Today, people in tech claim that shitposting is good for your career—and this is why they shitpost!—which means that shitposting, when acknowledged as such, is not cool.
Nevertheless, you need to understand shitposting, even if you don’t like it. Twitter’s most important user, Elon Musk, is the quintessential shitposter (although he has never tweeted the word himself, which paradoxically makes him a better shitposter). It will increasingly define our collective experience of the internet. Everything is becoming more like shitposting.
Shitposting is a digital way of being—perhaps a way of gaining followers, or a career strategy, or just a form of amusement. But its greatest benefit is psychological. The Zen-like detachment that makes shitposting possible is an ideal posture for protecting oneself from the worst aspects of Twitter and the internet more broadly: cringe earnestness, bad faith arguments, unexpected anger. The best shitposters attain the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia, or imperturbability, which cannot be achieved by avoidance (logging off) but only by finding a better way to approach what is unavoidable, as the internet increasingly is. In other words, the best shitposters don’t care.
More importantly, the best shitposters don’t shitpost. They just post. (DA)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Drew (DA)
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