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Thinking about leaving Twitter

Regardless of what happens after the Elon Musk acquisition (if it even still goes through!), I’ve been thinking a lot about the effect social media - and particular, Twitter - has had on me, and how to change my relationship to it.

Alongside the sentiments of a lot of power users, I think I need to either leave Twitter permanently or significantly downgrade my involvement. Here’s why:

I don’t think it’s healthy (for me) to be this connected.

It’s a newsfeed on steroids: a dopamine rush of everything that could possibly be happening. It’s not just a backchannel to life, it’s a backchannel to everybody’s life, including their ids. If something important has happened, it’s there, instantly. If something unimportant has happened, it’s there, instantly. It’s all there, all of the time.

It’s good to be informed. But when it turns into an addiction - as it has for me, partially because of my own personality traits and partially because of the platform’s design - being informed can turn into a cognitive load that clouds other tasks.

A timeboxed learning activity - reading a book, checking out my feeds, skimming a newspaper, listening to a podcast, etc - is unambiguously healthy. An activity you feel compelled to do hundreds of times a day, like a smoker, is not. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s like this for everyone; I’m certainly saying it’s like this for me.

The reality Twitter connects me to is heightened.

Social media’s tendency to amplify extremely emotive events and content is well-documented.

Twitter famously has a “main character”, the dunkee of the day, who can vary from a noxious politician to someone unaware of their relative wealth and privilege. I’m not railing against “cancel culture” here - typically, these people deserve some (or quite a bit of) scorn. But I’m not sure I need or want to see the pile-ons, and I worry that the energy devoted to the main character actually hides the activity some of the worst actors in society, who go about their toxic days virtually undetected.

I have no interest in tone policing the internet, and there’s a lot of excellent work that’s come out of Twitter organizing: I think MeToo and Black Lives Matter are two very clear forces for good that started as hashtags to gather like minds. I want to see those communities, know about their work, and see how I can help. These days, I feel like I can better do that by reading articles, joining communities, and taking a more analytical approach.

It’s not necessarily a better approach for everyone. But for me: if I don’t control my inputs, I feel overloaded and my ability to make sound judgments is impaired.

In a world where content moderation is scaled back and far-right-wing accounts are reinstated, I can’t imagine any of this will get better.

The FOMO of not being on Twitter is bullshit.

I’m afraid of leaving Twitter for two reasons: because I might miss something from someone, and because someone might miss something from me. In other words, I feel like I need to be on the platform to stay informed for the good of myself, and to let people know about the work I’m doing for the good of my career.

The most informative page on Twitter for me is Twitter Blue’s Top Articles, which is a lot like the Nuzzl service it bought a few years a go: a list of the top links people I’m following (and the people they’re following) have posted.

The most fun is, of course, the main stream. But I’m finding that I can connect with most people in other, calmer ways: notably through their blogs and newsletters. I love the people I follow on Twitter, and I have no qualms about adding them to my subscriptions. I want to read everyone’s long-form thoughts - and even their short-form thoughts, when they’ve been posted with just enough friction to prevent them from being a firehose of id.

Do I think people would miss me? Not as such, but I do think my website would have fewer readers to begin with. Twitter is easily my single biggest referrer today. This is another argument for downgrading my involvement rather than disappearing entirely, but I’m hopeful that this dynamic will change. I’d love for there to be a new way to discover people to read and interact with. But also, I suspect that if I focus on a different approach, I’ll find communities elsewhere.

Discourse on Twitter tends to follow a power law because its circles of influence follow a power law. So my suspicion is that smaller communities will also be more interesting: more radical, perhaps, and certainly more different from one another.

Social media platforms have done a lot of work to make themselves feel like (and maybe be?) the place to see and be seen. I have to wonder if that’s akin to cigarette companies associating their product with being cool. Cigarettes are a lucrative product; so are social media boosts that help you be seen by more people.

I want to concentrate again.

Maybe this is all this post had to say: I hate the feeling of being distracted. Social media pushes me to the right of the Yerkes-Dodson graph, impeding my cognitive performance and getting in the way of the things I want to do. It’s a genuine addiction: something to be kicked.

I’ve found it noticeable that when I take time away from social, my concentration span regrows. I also just have more time to spend thinking about other things. In a world where I have increasing commitments, finding ways to make the way I use my time more impactful feels important for me. I’m raising a child; I’m doing a job I love; I’m writing a book. I’m not sure that leaves much time for getting angry on the internet.

Which brings me to, finally:

Social media is not the internet.

There’s so much more out there. The web remains a sea of interconnected ideas, across a kaleidoscope of forms and sources. Spending most of my time on just a handful of billion dollar sites squanders the possibilities and runs contrary to my values. There’s so much to be said for diversifying inputs, but there are only so many hours. It makes sense to economize.


Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

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