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The insanity incentive
Everybody responds to incentives
One of the loudest times of the year in goat ownership is when we start weaning kids. As soon as I walk outside, goat screams pierce the mountain air. It's a good time of the season to do a lot of baking for the neighbors so they don't call the sheriff. Yelling goats are loud, distinctive, and uniquely annoying.
As soon as they're big enough, we separate the kids from the mamas overnight so they get used to 12 hours away from each other. After about a week of that, they're apart full-time. Everyone knows it's weaning season because the babies randomly scream for their moms, and the mamas, in turn, scream for their babies to come and relieve the pressure from their udders. It's utter chaos (to coin a phrase.)
This time is also when we pin down "stand training" for those first-time mama goats new to the milking routine. They learn to stand quietly while being milked, eating their grain treats. The first few weeks of training invariably result in flying buckets and splattered milk. As often as not, I'll emerge from the milking shed covered in a sheen of fresh goat milk courtesy of another one kicking the bucket (literally).
Every animal on the farm (including the humans) responds to incentives. Milk stand training involves providing grain to a goat standing nicely, then removing it as soon as she gets stompy and kicky. An early stand training session means giving treats every time I touch her udder to desensitize the area and ensuring that every goat's favorite place in the world is on the milk stand. It's all a lot easier when goats run straight through the door and hop right up on the stand, ready for milk time.
As people, we, too, respond to the incentives around us.
Twitter (now X) recently debuted a new program offering their "content creators" a share of ad revenue. I guess it makes sense that if Tweeters drive more traffic to the site, there are more eyeballs on the ads, making more money. Twitter isn't the first platform to try to create incentives to increase use (and, thus, ad revenue). Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube have offered financial incentives to creators as well.
The Tweeters (Xers?) who qualified for their pilot payout program had to meet a high engagement bar to be eligible. As someone unabashedly trying to figure out how to make content creation my whole job someday without sacrificing what's left of my soul after a career in politics, I looked back at my tweets to see which had the kind of engagement I could build on. I would be happy to join the ranks of paid Tweeting Xers if it doesn’t mean engaging in ways harmful to me.
I noticed a trend in my timeline that many decry in social media - my most engaged tweets are mostly political and primarily fueled by outrage. Although my Twitter account has morphed over the years from a political one to one about goats, chickens, and vignettes about my kids, I still occasionally engage in politics.
It’s not that I don’t still care about political issues anymore, but feeling my blood pressure increase as I fought with virtual strangers about the fleeting political issue du jour made it obvious the cost of such engagement outweighed the benefits.
Has my Twitter changed someone's mind about their political beliefs? Unlikely. But have I spent years in virtual combat that mostly amounted to further "othering" the others to gain the accolades of "my" people? Probably.
In a world of ever-decreasing attention spans, he who drives instant emotion drives engagement. The most visceral threads to pull are outrage and disgust - and they work. By extension, it's then the most outrageous that gets rewarded with the most eyeballs. We've created a vicious cycle of one-note fury tornadoes.
For me, the outrage fatigue has set in and migrated into a kind of resigned exhaustion. The sugar high of more likes and the adrenaline rush of fighting with a stranger each leaves a wicked hangover.
So, will I ever be one of those accounts that gets a Twitter notification that I made five figures in a Twitter fight? Probably not.
I'll just keep Tweeting about chickens, goats, and children. Occasionally I won't be able to resist the urge to pop off on something political, too. But, the first step of changing behavior is understanding the incentives that created it in the first place. I'll put my grain treats toward the outcomes I want to create - milk for them and more subdued but joyful content from me.