Review: Extremely Hardcore

Twitter—as a company, as a business, as a social network—has always taken on outsized importance relative to its stature. Perhaps it’s because it’s the social network of journalists, but it has more books written about its 15 years of existence than companies with 10× the market cap or 10× more users. Granted, this volume of literature may also simply be due to Twitter’s history of, and ongoing, corporate dysfunction.

Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to tech industry drama. In the case of Twitter, I had already read about its early years of dysfunction via Hatching Twitter; this latest book Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter thus feels like a sequel, describing the period between Jack Dorsey stepping down as the CEO, and Elon Musk buying the company and running it for a full year and change, up to the end of 2023.

Admittedly, this book feels like a bit of déjà vu. From a publishing standpoint, this is a quick turnaround in including the most recent events in the Twitter saga. But in the age of online journalism—and fittingly, the speed of tweets—it’s old news summarized and repackaged into a lengthier narrative. Hell, the Verge commemorated the anniversary of Elon’s takeover only a few months ago with a special feature; the author penned its introduction.

To Extremely Hardcore‘s credit, there is some investigative journalism here, in the form of in-depth interviews with insiders, woven into the chapters as we follow them through the storyline. Unfortunately, as the author was unable to get any of the decision-makers on record, the perspectives are from employees on the ground, piecing together narratives from publicly available information along with partial recollections of pivotal events. Whereas something like Hit Refresh—written by the CEO of Microsoft—provides direct insights into how things went down in boardrooms, this is closer to something like Chaos Monkeys or Uncanny Valley, recollections from sources that are interesting primarily due to their proximity to more important people.

As to the actual story of Twitter1, the book frames its narrative in the same way that it was first covered when the news broke: with incredulity, plenty of schadenfreude, and disdain for Elon and his set of principal actors. It’s not completely the author’s fault; they tried to get contrasting commentary from those folks, just without much success. Then again, it’s also hard to see how anyone portrayed on the negative side of this story would agree to get on record, when the chances of influencing the established narrative are slim to none.

For those who haven’t followed the minutiae of this tech sitcom, the title Extremely Hardcore references an email that Elon sent to his employees in the early days of the buyout, where he specified that only employees who were dedicated to the cause should stay onboard, that long hours and intensity will be the norm—in direct contrast to the laid-back culture of previous management. It’s at once an accurate representation of the subsequent state of affairs, and yet totally alienates the employee base, which then served the purpose of encouraging them to resign to further reduce headcount. Maybe you can argue that it’s kind of a 4D chess move—executed with precisely the level of tech-bro hubris that aligns with the ongoing tech backlash.

  1. Of course, it’s been rebranded to X; it’s been interesting to see how many Twitter power users refused to call it by that name initially, only to have that resistance fade over time.

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