Why Quit Twitter?

I’ve left Twitter, deleting as much of my history¹ as I could as I went out the door. Why?

There’s a million reasons, I think, but fundamentally it’s this: I need more space in my life. I find that I often fill the empty space in my life with dopamine-seeking ephemeral activity, and I think that’s unhealthy for me. One of the biggest things I’ve spent idle time on in the last decade or so² has been social media, and since I left Facebook some time ago, that’s meant Twitter³.

It’s this itch I can scratch all day long. Heading up to the bathroom? Why not check Twitter before I head back to the basement office? Done the crossword but water still boiling for coffee? How about a few minutes on Twitter? Walking by where the phone is charging? Why not check Twitter? Reading, watching a movie/baseball game/TV show/cutscene? How about Twitter?

And the minutes just add up. I find I’ll look up from my phone and ten or fifteen minutes have just disappeared. Just gone, forever. It’s the unthoughtful way this happens that bothers me — I know I’m always going to lose some time in my life to just being idle in one form or another, but Twitter takes me out of the world in a way that I find really not good for my self. I spend that time and I might find a link to an article (that I’ll probably skim) or get enraged over something (that I’ll not do anything useful about) or go down a rabbit hole of looking at the account of someone who’s just followed me or who has been retweeted or “liked” into my timeline and it just… never ends, and nearly all of it is entirely forgettable to me. I can’t really remember much of anything that happens on Twitter, and that might be argument enough for me.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just running out of minutes to spend this way. This has been coming for a long time but I’ve noticed I just feel lighter without my phone in the last few months. I went to a film festival this past June with a friend and decided that although I was certainly going to bring my phone, I’d just leave it in the safe and use it when I was in my room. Part of that was that I’d be in screenings mostly anyway, of course, but part of it was that I just didn’t want to miss out on time with my friend, who I see far too infrequently4. On occasion she’d dip into a store and I’d just take a break from shopping and wait outside, and little moments would happen in my life that wouldn’t have happened if I was looking at my phone, little things I’d notice or moments of small connection with another person, just eyes meeting or a friendly word exchanged, even a nod.

I ended up feeling more present than I have felt in some time. On the drive up there I had started getting myself ready for this lack of phone time, and when I stopped in a diner for lunch I had left it in my pocket. While I waited for my sandwich, I listened to5 an old woman who related a story from when she was a waitress probably fifty years earlier. It was a delightful story that I won’t repeat here because I’m going to use it somewhere else some day. If I had been looking at my phone, I’d have missed it entirely… and it has stuck with me in a way that nothing on Twitter ever seems to. I go into the Twitter fugue, and I come out of the Twitter fugue, and I don’t know that I am enriched by that.

That week started me thinking about my relationship with my phone and being online generally, which was not the first time I’d thought about it. Someone had said to me on Twitter a little bit ago that being on Twitter was itself conversation, when I mentioned that I hadn’t talked to anyone for days. That really struck me, because I feel like Twitter is not remotely like conversation at all. There’s so much missing! Tone of voice, all those subtle facial queues, the rhythm, the gaps. That’s so much richer. Twitter is not conversation, and please do not impoverish conversation by saying that it is.

So, I’m leaving Twitter. There are things I’m sure I’ll miss, and there are other reasons I’m leaving, but this is probably the root of it all. Mostly what I think I’ll miss hasn’t been there for quite a while, and that was the smaller sense of community from when I started out on it. But that hasn’t been there for a long time, and no amount of curation of my experience will get that back. I like blogging better, and my early Twitter experience really just grew out of blogging. I don’t know if anyone will be reading, but you can find me here.

Here’s a quote from T. S. Eliot that I jotted down in my notebook earlier this year. It seems somehow apropos. It’s from Choruses from the Rock:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

¹Turns out, I deleted about nine thousand tweets, but apparently it won’t retrieve them back beyond a certain point. I used TweetDelete and it was kind of fun to watch 3200 disappear at a time. (back)

²Eleven years, according to Twitter, which notified me while I was on the break during which I considered this change that I’d had my “Twitterversary,” which is not a real thing. This is kind of an insidious thing that corporations do, to adopt the trappings of richer relationships or events. Twitterversary. Egads. Reason enough to leave, really. (back)

³I gave Instagram a brief trial period of maybe six weeks or so earlier this year, then remembered it had been acquired by Facebook, and struggled for a bit with that. Facebook has been shown to be damaging to a free society, and so I won’t be a part of it. I also had a mastodon account I used for about ten minutes, and Peach? Remember Peach? I never did figure out what that one was for. (back)

4There was actually another thing that happened while I was at the film festival. I had seen a movie star on the street outside my hotel on the way in and had tweeted it. And I learned that people have Twitter searches on movie stars, which makes sense in retrospect but was not something I had previously considered, as I’ve literally never used Twitter that way myself. And so there was suddenly a bit of a kerfuffle in my mentions about it and I deleted the tweet to stop the madness as quickly as I could. What a weird world we live in. What a strange world we decided to build. (back)

5Okay, okay, I was eavesdropping. But eavesdropping is a total pleasure sometimes, and one I will not deny myself and you can’t make me. (back)

10 thoughts on “Why Quit Twitter?”

  1. I’m (currently) in the middle of reducing time wasted on social media (haven’t deleted yet) but I’ve removed it from my phone and most situations. It truly became apparent to me how much I relied on it simply to waste time without having to think about how I *wanted* to spend my time once I deleted Twitter from my phone.

    I found myself opening my phone and just rapidly shuffling between different screens and apps, and I knew I was looking for Twitter just to scroll through. I’ve taken to carrying around a sketchbook and a novel to fill those moments when I used to reach for Twitter, and I feel much better about it. I’ve found that focusing on the world around me, or drawing, or reading, has helped me feel more present (as you put it) in a way that Twitter never did, and it’s a welcoming (almost nostalgic?) feeling.

    1. Agreed! I am trying to be more thoughtful and less reactive about what I spend my time on. I’m not perfect for sure, but in particular Twitter’s environment is not great for me for a lot of reasons, and I just couldn’t leave it alone without really cutting the cord altogether. I still own the account, but it’ll just sit there for the time being.

      I do always carry a notebook as well, and generally something I’m reading, too. I also have returned to the blogging because there was a moment from 2005 – 2008 or so where that was how I engaged and met a lot of people in games via the Internet, and I liked that.

  2. I made a conscious decision to keep my phone mostly a phone. No mail, no facebook, no games. Something about seeing people just pulling their phones out after 4 seconds of boredom just felt sad, but I could see that I’d have that same problem if I let myself. At one point, my phone died and I decided to just go without one for the following year. It was an easy transition, given how I use my phone, but it felt oddly liberating anyhow. But I went back mostly so I could text the family from the road, etc. (I recommend Ting if you have very little phone activity, btw.)

    Generally, social media feels like a swim in a boundless ocean, and you’re always infinitely far from shore. My sense of ‘accomplishment’ in that environment disappears, and yet I can get sucked in if I let myself. Whenever there’s a nearby ‘event’ like the Sonoma wildfires, I can’t stop refreshing the feed, so I can tell I’m susceptible to that need. Gotta just keep my distance.

    1. Yeah, I’m trying to get away from what I am terming “phonanism.” I do like to have it for podcasts when I’m out and about in the car, and although I could probably achieve that with a dedicated device, I’m somewhat loath to have to manage it (it’s nice just to have them download). I don’t use my phone a ton, and will probably consider a far more minimal device should this one require replacing at some point. It’s nice to have maps apps and such when I’m not near home, but that just takes a bit more planning usually.

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