Is Future You funny and sharp? It could be. Instead of thinking up a witty retort 20 minutes after the event, Future You might now be able to insert this wisecrack into a past conversation courtesy of Twitter.
This week, the social media app announced it was working on an edit function to enable users to tweak their lame tweets or typos in the quest to create the perfect bon mot.
The tech group denied the project was a response to Elon Musk’s disclosure of a 9.2 per cent stake in Twitter and the revelation of his new seat on its board. Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s vice-president of consumer product, said the company had been trying since 2021 to figure out how to include an editing function, as it had been “the most requested Twitter feature for many years”.
One could argue that combating trolling and abuse might be a better use of the company’s efforts. I’m still waiting for a reply to my complaint about the misogynistic slur I received the other week. One report found that roughly one abusive or problematic tweet is sent to women every 30 seconds.
Usually editing is a good idea. The proliferation of rambling newsletters on platforms such as Substack has reinforced the need for it. However, Twitter’s virtue is that it is a forum for quick debate. Introducing edits would only make this a ponderous affair.
It would be yet another tool in crafting the ideal digital identity. Instagram already allows users to edit words as well as filter any blemishes. Plastic surgeons tell of having to manage the expectations of customers trying to match their curated image. One said: “I get patients who [are] saying, ‘Do whatever you need to do to make me look like this.’ And it’s like, ‘Great, let me crack open your head, take out your teeth and reposition your bones’.”
The life edit is a rich theme of fiction. In the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, written by Charlie Kaufman, two ex-lovers obliterate painful memories of their relationship. A doctor instructs Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey, “We want to empty your life of Clementine. And after the mapping is done, our technicians will do the erasing in your home tonight . . . When you awake in the morning, you’ll find yourself in your own bed as if nothing had happened . . . a new life awaiting you.”
Recently, Severance, a drama series by Apple TV, starring Adam Scott, depicts employees of a mysterious corporation undergoing a surgical procedure on their memories to stop them thinking about their outside lives while at work.
Twitter may not go this far but it could allow you to give your past a makeover. Perhaps you got caught up in the Dishy Rishi mania when the UK chancellor was dishing out furlough cash? Now you’re having second thoughts after being disappointed by his Spring Statement, and discovering his wife’s non-domicile status. Why not scroll back and make out you were down on Sunak before it was cool? The edit button would give everyone 20-20 hindsight.
Social media is already a mad frenzy of narcissism. Do we really need yet more excuses for time-wasting and self-absorption? Bad spellers eager for the opportunity to amend their mistakes can already delete and redo their tweets, or link to correct spellings.
Unless Twitter tracks the changes, or gives only a short window for edits, there is also the potential for abuse and scams. As others have pointed out, anodyne tweets about babies and kittens that rack up the Retweets and Likes could be rewritten to promote a conspiracy theory, say, or a fraudulent scheme. Ultimately highlighting an edit only serves to draw attention to the error that you made in the first place.
If Twitter introduces an edit button, it will add friction to a medium that is meant to eliminate it, and signal a shift from hyper speedy to slightly less speedy publishing. In which case it seems delightfully retro. Future You might resemble Old You.