How the Retweet Ruined Twitter, the German Spy that Changed History, and Dresden Today
Let’s start things off this morning with a couple of mildly contrarian takes. First, there’s Ross Douthat writing about the Swedish film Midsommar. It has thinly drawn characters, stilted dialogue, and a derivative plot. It’s fantastic: “I found Midsommar utterly transfixing, darkly comic, ravishing, and appropriately terrifying; despite a two-hour-and-20-minute running time, I was never inclined to wish that it were shorter, happy to put myself under the same strange Scandinavian spell as the one that seals the major characters to their fate.”
Isn’t it too bad that Christopher Hitchens isn’t alive today? What would he make of our crazy world? Maybe less than you’d think, Will Lloyd writes: “Hitchens passed away near the peak of his celebrity, if not his powers. His memoir Hitch-22 (2010) was lumpy, uneven, mildly irritating but bestselling nevertheless. His last collection of journalism Arguably (2011) was massive but not quite massive enough to hide all the instances where Hitchens was happy to quote himself without embarrassment. The man of letters was becoming a heavy, even boring writer – the man of lead. As Michael Wolff noted in 2013, in one of the first major pieces on Hitchens after his death that didn’t take the form of an encomium: ‘Much of the work was repetitive and boilerplate, the same subjects recast for different outlets. The myriad essays to be pontifical, full of moral dudgeon and high virtue and not a lot of surprises.’ Writing became less important to Hitchens as his career progressed. What mattered more, especially once the planes struck the towers, was being on the right side of history.”
In other news: Young people in Britain are abandoning TV: “While the average person aged 65 and over watches 33 minutes of TV news a day, this falls to just two minutes among people aged 16-24, according the media regulator’s annual news consumption report.” Good for them.
The German spy that changed history: “When Klaus Fuchs started passing atomic secrets to the KGB, he changed the course of world events. Forget about Philby and the Cambridge Five, that preening group of loudmouths that still dominate our national history of Soviet treachery. In his own quiet, devastating way, Fuchs proved more significant than all of them put together.”
The $60 gadget that’s changing electronic music.
Sean Keeley visits Dresden and discovers “that the consensus about Germany’s past is cracking. Perhaps it was never a real consensus to begin with. And perhaps what follows will be healthy enough—a normal political pushback against overreach, a benign recovery of localism and historical tradition in places like Saxony that feel ‘left behind’ by Berlin. The east-west divide still needs bridging, and national shame cannot be the only sentiment that binds Germany in perpetuity. Yet if the future of Dresden does not look like Hermenau’s vision, it may look darker.”
Essay of the Day:
At Buzzfeed, Alex Kantrowitz writes about Chris Wetherell, the developer who invented the retweet button. He regrets it:
“Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. And he regrets what he did to this day.
“‘We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon,’ Wetherell recalled thinking as he watched the first Twitter mob use the tool he created. ‘That’s what I think we actually did.’
“Wetherell, a veteran tech developer, led the Twitter team that built the retweet button in 2009. The button is now a fundamental feature of the platform, and has been for a decade — to the point of innocuousness. But as Wetherell, now cofounder of a yet-unannounced startup, made clear in a candid interview, it’s time to fix it. Because social media is broken. And the retweet is a big reason why.”
Photo: Nampan Floating Market
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.