Before 11/8/2016, Twitter was the place I went to escape daily life. Never for long stretches, but in small doses several times an hour, all day long, and late into the night. Because like all modern beings I have a phone welded to my hand, Twitter could go to bed with me at night and wake with me in the morning.
Eventually Twitter formed a habit that was kind of like smoking (disclaimer: I’m not a smoker). Any time I idled for more than a minute or two (in the elevator, waiting for a virtual box to spin up, at a red light), I was tempted to check Twitter. I could slow my brain about twenty seconds and then…tweet tweet
As long as politics/news/commentary/snark was a positive distraction from Where I Was and What I Was Doing, this was all acceptable. Pleasurable, even.
If you have a vice you should at least enjoy it.
But after 11/8 the real-life/Twitter relationship was inverted. My money/work/family/health issues are chicken scratch compared to HOLY SHIT DID YOU NOTICE WHAT THEY’RE DOING NOW. Now I’d rather watch paint dry than get bummed out by that.
(I also have re-dedicated some effort to consuming media through wider-but-slower pipes e.g. newspapers, magazines, radio & long-form websites.)
But like a two-pack-a-day addict I still had an itchy Twitter finger any time I actually had to watch paint dry. Even when I didn’t want to check twitter.
There’s also a split between my IRL circles and my Twitter circles. For most social media (esp. Facebook) I have a pretty strict “would I associate with this person IRL” policy. Not so on Twitter. I like my relationships there but have met only a handful of Tweeple in meatspace.
Aaaand Twitter has splintered my attention span. I used to be Long Attention Span Dude. I went to experimental jam rock concerts WITHOUT drugs. I read Moby-Dick in a single (sleepless, weekend-long) pull. I drove across Wyoming at night in a truck without dashboard lights or music. I rode my bike solo down the Oregon coast: seven days without beer, books, TV, Internet, or human conversation.
I haven’t read a grownup book for two+ years. I can’t keep my mind on it for more than a few pages.
Finally, I behave worse on Twitter than anywhere else. Coarser language, going off half-cocked, ganging up on people I disagree with…and trolling. I’ve been online for 23 years, and Twitter is the only place I’ve ever trolled. I have several anonymous Twitter sock puppets — a thing I don’t usually do.
And then of course there are the other trolls, and Twitter’s profound inability to stop them becoming President of the United States. As Lindy West said:
I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business.
(I also have not-entirely-unrelated reasons for reducing my social media footprint generally. Shortest version: nowadays data thieves have support from nation-states. The less of my life I put out there, the better. I’ma save that thought for another TinyLetter.)
TO SUM, Twitter:
- Forms a habit for me
- Makes me feel panicky and depressed
- Has ephemeral social relationships
- Has shattered my attention span
- Provides an outlet for my bad behavior
- Is the preferred home for some deeply unlovely people.
But to bring it all back: smoking is great as long as its fun. When you have to hammer a nail in bed because you woke up coughing: TIME TO QUIT.
(Ironically, this essay began life as a Tweetstorm.)