Mohamed El-Erian is one of, if not the most, prominent economic commentators in the world.
With his recent book “The Only Game in Town,” El-Erian expertly captures the conventional wisdom that permeates markets today: Central banks are the only thing that matters.
But the thing about this book is that there isn’t a whole lot in there that hadn’t been said before, either by El-Erian or others.
The success of the book, rather, is in re-using things we had been hearing and digesting but hadn’t seen in one place, or hadn’t been told enough times to fully internalize.
What does this have to do with Twitter? Well, a way of describing El-Erian’s book is to say that it is one long self-quoted tweet. A self-retweet. A thing that had already been said. A clear collection of what we knew, reminding us that we already knew it.
Unfortunately, it took Twitter more than a decade to make self-quoting, or self-retweeting, possible — or rather, to make this easy. There were always ways to highlight things you’d said or tweeted before, but this function should have been an integral part of the user experience from the start.
The genius of Twitter was that it forced users to write succinctly and it organised the world in rigidly linear time. In the last decade, the service has made real a world of endless information better than any other.
But by lacking the ability to easily self-quote, Twitter failed to capture a timeless truth about human communication: It is, really, all about me. There are few things people like more than having their own priors confirmed, and a self-quoted tweet is fulfilling this desire in a pure way.
Twitter understood we only wanted to hear from other people for a finite amount of time.
But the company didn’t see that the other side of this is that we wanted to hear from ourselves even more.
The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” We, as communicators, as social animals, understand that the best way to advance our arguments or narratives is to draw from the past. And the most vividly recalled past is that which we create ourselves.
There is of course no experience any one human has at which they are not the absolute center. And it is the necessary self-centeredness of the human experience that makes what we do seem more important to ourselves than those things done or said in the outside world.
The self-quoted tweet, then, is perhaps the purest and most reliable form of communication.
It is you saying, “See, I was right.” Or you saying, “See, I was wrong.” It is you saying, “See, this is the point I was trying to make.” It is someone saying, most simply, that they exist.
The self-quoted tweet is communication distilled into our simplest understanding of the world: this has all happened before, it will all happen again, and I will live forever.
On Monday morning, El-Erian was in the news. In an interview on Bloomberg TV, he said the US bond market rally hasn’t reflected US fundamentals, but instead was following trends in Europe. At a breakfast attended by Business Insider later on Monday, El-Erian reiterated that the bond market is reacting to Europe, not US fundamentals.
These were comments given to the media within two hours of each other. They were materially the same.
But this is not a knock on El-Erian at all, merely an observation of how we most effectively communicate with other people: say the same thing again and again and again.
This proclivity for self-repeating is not particularly unique to El-Erian. Many in the economic, political, sports, and other commentary fields have long known that the best way to make your point is to keep making that same point over and over.
Local examples in the economic analysis field include DoubleLine Capital’s Jeff Gundlach — known in some circles as the “bond king” — who, while always compelling in his rhetoric, tends to make more or less the same case about the economy for months at a time. Tom Lee, a noted stock market bull who now runs FundStrat, is almost always making arguments about why stocks should go up.
This is not to pick on either Gundlach or Lee as there are dozens of economic commentators (see: Edwards, Albert), who also make the same argument over and over.
Legendary financial journalist Jason Zweig has said, “My job is to write the exact same thing between 50 and 100 times a year in such a way that neither my editors nor my readers will ever think I am repeating myself.”
But in this quote, I think Zweig is speaking to his ability to write well rather than his ability to unearth some new piece of knowledge that was as-yet-unknown to humanity. It is not that Zweig doesn’t want to repeat himself, but that his profession as a writer demands he repeat himself in interesting ways that don’t seem repetitive. The information, it is understood, will be something we already knew.
El-Erian, Gundlach, and Lee, while clear writers and speakers, are not necessarily trying to get readers or listeners to think they are saying anything different. They are instead quite clearly saying the same thing, over and over.
These three esteemed commentators are trying to remind their clients of their currently-held investing theme, and repeating yourself is simply the most effective way to get your message across.
Repeating yourself is a way to make indelible in the minds of an audience what your point really is. (“We’re going to build a wall.”) And self-quoting your own tweet is the easiest way to execute this strategy. I have tweeted, therefore I have been.
If the core fear of human life is the fear of death, then the biblically-enshrined belief that we are but part of an ever-repeating history makes our self-repetition an integral part of the eternal pursuit of immortality.
I have tweeted. I will tweet again. I will tweet forever.