5 min read.Updated: 09 May 2022, 01:03 AM ISTManu Joseph
What Elon Musk would need as CEO for Twitter isn’t a fan but a kind of person he is unlikely to have met
Dear Elon, I hear that you are looking for a new chief executive officer for Twitter. I would like to apply for the job. I am a novelist who has prevailed despite some handicaps. To be precise, I am somewhat like you perhaps—a privileged heterosexual male with no traumas. It is common for such a person to thrive in tech, but not in the arts. I have also become a screenwriter because of my realization of a great secret: that most literate people can’t read. They don’t have a talent for reading. You may presume at this stage that I am asserting my qualification for the job as a ‘storyteller’. No, Elon. Only amateur writers describe themselves as ‘storytellers’. In any case I don’t think you should hire a ‘storyteller’ because you do that sort of telling very well.
As I tell my readers once every six months (because people forget what I tell them), there are only four kinds of people. The actor, the fan, the builder and the philosopher. You are an actor. A builder, too. But fundamentally, an actor. And actor is a blank canvas on whom people can project what they wish to see. Actors tend to hire fans. Most billionaires hire fans. The fan is an admirer of success and an imitator of successful people. Fans may be the most hired people in the world. Indian CEOs who are ubiquitous in the Valley have the bearing of fans. In any office, fans rise because they are unthreatening. You, Elon, are an actor-builder who is likely to hire a fan. What you need, though, is a philosopher.
You may think you know Indians because America is filled with them, but they are a bit different from people like me. I have never studied in the West, or even lived there for more than 180 days at a stretch. It is impossible for the West to colonize me. As a result, I can see Western morality for what it really is—it is a way of speaking and not a way of being. I sense that you see it, too, as you too come from another place.
You come from South Africa, a country of stark inequality. I am certain that your family and friends often said the right things. But they never really transformed the lives of the poor majority. So, somewhere in your head you might know that morality is a way of speaking.
This means I can see your fight for “free speech" emerges from a culture that cannot do anything without first couching a plan in morals. But why waste time on morals when you can be honest, when you have a more intelligent and logical reason to make Twitter a neutral platform: Twitter can be consistent only if it is not human.
As CEO, I would draw your attention to how Western morality has made Twitter expensive. Not as a company, the one that you are in the middle of buying. You are, of course, paying more than what people who would never be able to buy it, like columnists, say is its fair price. But then, how else can one buy something that is not for sale? When I say Twitter is expensive, I mean it as a platform to advertise on. Generally, it is much more expensive than Facebook.
About 15 years ago, an Indian billionaire told me why The New York Times was doomed: Because good journalism, by its very nature, is negative, and no one wants to advertise on an unhappy page. Twitter, in general perception, is an unhappy space. This makes it less attractive for advertisers than, say, Instagram, but what makes Twitter expensive on top of being unattractive is the moral campaign against Facebook and social media in general by the vanquished Western liberal establishment. The consecration of privacy, the denial that the anonymous data of your boring life is a public resource, the promotion of the myth that Russians interfered with American elections and other hyper-moral campaigns have forced social media platforms to make themselves inefficient as advertising vehicles.
To solve this problem, you need to be generous to Facebook. I know that you are among the people who have defamed it. If it was in preparation for buying Twitter, well done, but you are hurting yourself by going all sanctimonious on it. I must confess that of all American billionaires, I like Mark Zuckerberg the most, and one I have no doubt at all is good in a banal way, which is the only way we can be good.
You must not underestimate the power of leftish lament.
Increasingly, tech people are behaving like writers. Most writers, and other types of artists, have a sense of failure—because they are in reality entrepreneurs and they are bitter because they have not succeeded as well as some of their peers. As more smart people in tech quit being salaried executives and attempt to be entrepreneurs, we have a world that was never so bitter. We must learn from artists what bitterness does. Not better art, but the opposite of art—activism. Whine and lament, which used to be the preserve of artists, have now entered the soul of tech. They will amplify any news that diminishes a successful company or person. All this may not bother you as an individual, but makes Twitter expensive.
A soulless robotic all-knowing social media platform is the only way a person who is not picked by the old corrupt establishment can transmit ideas to the world. And Twitter should find ways to make itself affordable to the small guy.
Look, Elon, jobs have always come to me without my seeking them. This is only the second time in my life I am applying for a job. The first was when Pope Benedict XVI resigned and I applied for his job. (I am Roman Catholic and celibate on most days.) The Vatican didn’t get back, and I hope you don’t make the same mistake.
Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series, ‘Decoupled’