Illustration by Timothy R. Butler

X Doesn't Mark the Spot

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 9:42 PM

Twitter has changed its name to “X.” The way that change reverberated from newsrooms to dining rooms was revealing. It shows how dangerously dependent our society has become on this one, privately owned soapbox.

Ordinarily, if a company rebrands, it causes that company to have to spend money on changing its materials to match. Changing from Twitter to X will require millions of dollars in new business cards, signage on physical locations, web sites, promotional t-shirts and who knows what else for businesses from large to small.

Look at our footer here at OFB: it has the instantly recognizable bird logo there to visit our Twitter page. Should that be changed to an “X”? Would anyone even know what we were linking to if we were to change it now?

Look on the packaging at your grocery store — plenty of those packages will have the same. Sheesh, the package of flower seeds I bought this week even has social media logos on the back.

No wonder there’s rebranding consternation.

Twitter, er, X is perfectly in its rights to change the brand name. Elon Musk as owner can rename it “Everyone stinks but me” if he wants. Bully for him.

Try as media types and Twitterati (Xerati?) might suggest otherwise, Musk is not the villain. Nor is the new “X” logo the twenty-first century swastika as one once sensible, now unhinged tech journalist I grew up reading years ago now muses. But neither is Musk a closely trusted friend with whom we should become overly dependent.

If we centralize our communication, our business, our shopping, our entertainment on Twitter or one of a few other mega providers, we are but pawns for their profits or, in Musk’s case, his amusement. The name change, and all Twitter’s other foibles, shout out a warning to decentralize.

I’ve written again and again that we need to move to a more decentralized internet. Recently, I suggested my hopefulness over Meta’s Threads launch since it might encourage growth of the decentralized Fediverse, something more akin to the early Internet than the centralized-to-a-few place Meta itself has fostered over the last 15 years. At the same time, I suggested users would be wise to join and encourage the growth of Mastodon and wait for Threads to connect to it (as promised) rather than giving Meta more power.

Likewise, at the recommendation of my friend and colleague Dennis E. Powell, I’ve likewise jumped on the Signal bandwagon, moving my one-on-one and group messages increasingly away from services like Meta’s (Facebook) Messenger and toward that non-profit, partially decentralized alternative.

Most companies don’t move as erratically as X, but no one expected Twitter to become so unpredictable either. Nor is predictability always good and noble. What Meta and Google and the like make up for in predictability, is predictability in doing what is bad for users.

Even self-titled “Earth’s most customer-centric company,” Amazon, is growing predictable in the wrong ways. Long the foe of independent bookstores and small businesses that it rolled over, as it has increasingly centralized our purchasing and the delivery thereof, has started being like other centralized tyrants.

Despite faster delivery times, Amazon misses promised delivery schedules with some regularity now. Customer service is far more likely than before not to “make things right.” The company sells increasingly vast selections of quasi-counterfeit junk while arbitrarily cracking down on quality sellers it grows angry at, like RavPower.

(RavPower got caught offering gift cards for Amazon reviews, though unlike many of its competitors, it didn’t require positive reviews and its products were well liked here at OFB and at other publications. While absolute junk alternatives stay on Amazon’s pages, RavPower is banished from the kingdom, a hollow shell of the up-and-coming, but too dependent on Amazon, accessory maker it once was. Even when centralized powers seek to do good — like fighting fraudulent reviews — everyone can come out worse for it.)

Centralization is convenient, but almost always dangerous.

Ditch Gmail, make Facebook and Twitter a secondary place you post while encouraging friends and families to the Fediverse, tend a personal web site or blog, focus as much (or more) effort on your business or organization’s web site as you do socials, pick messaging options — like Signal — that aren’t controlled by a company that’s only interest in providing it to you is to figure out how to show you ads. Sail other rivers for your shopping beyond Amazon.

If we grant a few titans all our loyalty, we shouldn’t be surprised when they have little motivation to serve us well. We are to blame, because we are the ones that eagerly empower them.

Thankfully, alternatives remain for now. I shop Amazon, but not only Amazon. I tweet, but also toot on Mastodon. I use many of Apple’s cloud services, but back up elsewhere.

In other words, I decentralize. Not because Musk (or a specific other tech mogul) is evil, but because it’s the wise thing to do.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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