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The Twittering Machine

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  299 ratings  ·  46 reviews
In surrealist artist Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine, the bird-song of a diabolical machine acts as bait to lure humankind into a pit of damnation. Leading political writer and broadcaster Richard Seymour, author of Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics argues that this is a chilling metaphor for our relationship with social media.

Former social media executive
Paperback, 250 pages
Published August 29th 2019 by The Indigo Press
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  299 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More like about 3.5. I’m of two minds here, and trying to be fair to this actually rather good book and avoid faulting it for ultimately failing to be something it doesn’t actually set out to be:

On the one hand, this is an excellent account of how we got into the predicament we’re in online, with so many of us vainly and desperately shouting into, and listening for congratulatory echoes from, the great void of social media—what Seymour, borrowing a phrase from Paul Klee, calls the “Twittering Ma
Completely escaping the influence social media use is not really possible or necessarily desirable for most people today. What we should do however is use these platforms thoughtfully and with full understanding of their biases and the imperatives of their creators. What tech companies seek is engagement, nothing more and nothing less. It doesn't really matter if people are using their platforms out of rage, depression, or joy – all that matters is that they use them. Studies show that negative ...more
David M
What we call addictions are misplaced devotions; we love the wrong things.

We keep {our smartphone} close, charged at all times. It is as though, one day, it’s going to bring us the message we’ve been waiting for.

Not alarmist but deeply melancholy, this book is the best thing I’ve yet read on the subject.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love the ideas under this book, which the author describes as an essay. The clever approach to references gives confidence that the foundations on which the conclusions are based can be verified, but the text is not littered with footnote markers.

Key points for me:

The twittering machine (social media and more generally digital communications between people) has been consciously constructed as an addictive time sink.

The whole three ring circus - celebrities, influencers, presidents, trolls, fak
Ivar Dale
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mind-expanding stuff. Makes you want to quit social media.
Ryan Denson
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: other-nonfiction
Utilizing the titular metaphor based on Paul Klee's painting, The Twittering Machine (1922), Seymour delves into many harmful aspects of modern social media. This well-written essay looks a considerably wide range of internet phenomena from the celebrity culture of Instagram influencers to psychological and sociological consequences of online trolling to the social media algorithms that have aided the alt-right.

The underlying focus though is the highly addictive nature of modern internet platfo
Edmund King
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Richard Seymour claims to have written this book in a state of "monastic isolation." That might suggest a certain disconnect between the relentlessly social nature of the "Twittering Machine" and the standpoint of the author himself. However, Seymour's larger point is that the logic of social media lends itself to singularities. Twitter dogpiles and community blog flamewars alienate people and dissolve solidarities and movements. Engagement or "time on device" leads to depression (that most indi ...more
Sep 04, 2019 rated it liked it
I dunno. Some interesting stuff here about, say, how the thing you’re addicted to is not the explanation for the addiction, and about how you slide into a certain kind of relationship with a technology. But I found the prose a bit ‘guffy’ - too many ‘in a sense’s and ‘if x is a y, then maybe z’. Not to my ‘concretist’ tastes, I guess.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant essay on what we are really doing when we scroll through social media feeds. Seymour gets into the philosophical side of the proliferation of 'writing' through smartphone technology, and even 'writing' our data as we scroll and scroll, and the creative/metaphysical nature of words. Social media and the data behemoth is described as the 'twittering machine' that we feed our lives into, with its constant need to consume our time and attention as its fuel. It is designed to be addictive ...more
Sarah  :)
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
I think I've read too much on the subject, but I wanted something more out of this. It's by far the most readable of Verso's books, but I think it could have actually benefited from being slightly longer.
Too much time is spent on the symptoms of social media. I know it makes you an addict, I know it's destructive. I wanted to know why. The end provides some insight into this, but it's not entirely enough. Why is social media like this? How can we improve it? Is it possible that it can be improv
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-other
A horrible and amazing read.
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Maybe 3.5. Quite interesting; occasionally a little shrill :)
Review by Cristina D'Amico:

Once upon a time, the left was briefly but strongly enamoured of the radical potential of social media. This author counts herself among the enchanted -- the opportunity for collective organizing and political movement seemed immense. Yet nearly a decade after the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, social media has little to show for itself in terms of its ability to facilitate material change. Even more unsettling, those groups that have tended to fare best in the on
Oct 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Twittering Machine is ambitious in its scope, attempting to develop a language for describing what is happening in our world with social media. It treads alot of familiar ground, referencing ideas from Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and recent research on social media, happiness and addiction. The Twittering Machine is the name of a 1922 painting by Paul Klee, where a small row of birds on a mechanical axle lure victims to the fiery pit below them. A metaphoric image of ...more
Jazzy J Morris
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it
The Twittering Machine is made of us. Our actions write the internet, using actual language and coded data. Algorithms read and use our writing to feed us with more content. Always more. As Seymour explains, "We write to the machine, it collects and aggregates our desires and fantasies, segments them by market and demographics and sells them back to us as a commodity experience."

One of the fundamental problems of the internet is that it's designed to commodify attention rather than edify or conn
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: technocrit
All Technology is neither good nor bad; nor neutral

 Paul Klee Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine)
Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine) by Paul Klee, 1922.

Twitter as Lacan's 'Modern Calculating Machine' - a machine "far more dangerous than the atom bomb" because it can defeat any opponent by calculating, with sufficient data, the unconscious axioms that govern a person's behaviour. We write to the machine, it collects and aggreagates our desires and fantasies, segments them by market and demographic and sells them back to us as a c
Jul 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Extremely disappointing. I am not sure if this even qualifies as a book or would it be better described as a bibliography, so often does Seymour start a sentence with "in the words of ....". The book is a directory of people who have discussed the issues of data, society and social media better than Seymour has and much of his analysis are tired, milquetoast takes read in the voice of a very annoying first year philosophy student. Using the word hegemony or ontology frequently does not elevate t ...more
Mayank Shandilya
Mar 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I chanced upon this book by the virtue of the Book: Targeted by Brittany Kaiser and I didn't expect the book to be the revelation it was. It absolutely blew me away.

For Gamblers, the only temporal rhythm that matters is the sequence of encounters with destiny, the run of luck. For drug users, what matters is the rhythm of the high, whether it is the stationary effect of opium or the build, crescendo and crash of alcohol. The Experience of platform users, on the other hand, is time information an
Theresa Claire Barton
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
We're lucky to be alive to witness doddering psychoanalysts grasping the spirit of the times and finally focusing their interpretive compulsion on the text that is the internet. Richard lays the internet on a couch and starts at the beginning. What is this so-called fake news? Why is it that the more outlandish the news, the more completely readers give themselves over to sadist fantasies; checking pizzerias for Hillary Clinton sex trafficking tunnels, patrolling the streets of Louisville for an ...more
Farooq Chaudhry
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
There is an abundance of books analyzing the impacts of social media from a myriad of perspectives, not limited to political, social, technological, economical, and judicial. The Twittering Machine is unique in that it succinctly synthesizes information from the aforementioned perspectives and asks the question: what does our usage say about us? If the harms are so well documented and well known, why do we keep coming back? It reads like a series of somewhat discrete, yet related lectures in its ...more
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cybernetics
Richard Seymour should be most at home in the political economy side of this thing, but it was actually the existential and more speculative parts where his voice shined for me. The chapter on addiction was a kind of literary near-death experience, meaning both terrifying but also enlivening (making me want to do something about the addiction to spend "time on screen", and as the book convincingly shows, most of us by now are addicts). There's something of a bibliographic tone to the book, that ...more
Don Dealga
Beautifully written book. However, it is as another Goodreads contributor stated: "a melancholy book" or as Seymour more starky describes his own work: "a horror story". It is also salutary. Lucid observations and perceptive analysis take it above some of the usual social media moral panic literature. Seymour's leitmotif is "writing". We are writing more than ever in this digital era, yet the question is posed - "what are we writing ourselves into?" While Seymour does not claim to provide answer ...more
Steve Bowbrick
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Sceptical left-wing take on destructive power of social media platforms.

Central premise is that the whole computer era makes writers of us all - writing continuously, as a form of unpaid labour, on social media sites we don't own or control and that aim to control us.

Seymour doesn't buy the reductive perspective that the tech is in some way IN CONTROL now, the tech defeatists perspective. Also rejects the simplistic idea of 'tech addiction'. Uses some psychoanalysis here.

Inspiring, radical, opt
Dec 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
There were moments when I really was impressed, but there were others when it got too much or imply got too abstract and theoretical (even if I like abstract and theoretical when it's needed). Hesitated between 3 and 4 stars, but eventually came down to three because to me eventually the content was too uneven between personal argumentation in a discourse that was too restricted to the English radical english far left. I see myself as radical far left too, but it's the discourse from England tha ...more
Oct 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Seymour strings together a series of observations about our digital anxiety and addiction. He waxes poetic and invokes the spectre of stochastic terror and narcissistic death to illustrate how well read he is more than to advance a coherent argument. Entrancing prose that devolves into an exercise in scripturient excess
Fraser Watt
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I'm mad that this was SO good, as the tone throughout was so pompous and self important that I would very easily have hated a worse book. Incredibly insightful and serious, and for the most part avoids cod-Banksy "what if phones but too much" stuff. By far the best book on the subject of social media. Incredible!!! ...more
Dhruv Saggar
Apr 03, 2020 rated it liked it
This was an OK book, but I really thought it should have been better. There were some really interesting portions surrounding our use of the internet, online celebrity, trolling and lies and there were some other sections that didn't seem to add much. ...more
Guillaume Morissette
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"A feed filled with topless mirror shots, gym photos, new hair, and so on, might be seen as a peculiar form of idolatry. But it is less a tribute to the user than to the power that the machine has over the user.” ...more
Eliza Pillsbury
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and terrifying, if a little over my head. The book is about a problem; do not expect a solution. The revelation is that I am absolutely a neo-Luddite, but the irony does not escape me that I'm posting this book review on a social industry platform. ...more
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Northern Irish Marxist writer and broadcaster, activist and owner of the blog Lenin's Tomb.

Seymour is a former member of the Socialist Workers Party.

He is currently working on a PhD. in sociology.

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“We prefer the machine when human relationships have become disappointing.” 0 likes
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