Starting in 🇦🇺 on 3/21 and moving across the 🌍, we thank you for 10 incredible years.
— Twitter (@Twitter) March 20, 2016
It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday so what better day to stop prevaricating over a blog post about me breaking up with Twitter that’s been brewing for about 6 weeks and finally get it out into the world?
This is my truth, tell me yours
Before anyone gets all het up and huffy, I’m not here to tell you Twitter’s rubbish and you should leave. I’m not here to preach on why you don’t get Twitter. Just because I have my reasons for disengaging with it, it doesn’t mean I think my reasons are anything other than personal or that others should follow suit. And I certainly don’t claim any superiority over those who continue to engage fully with Twitter. Everyone has their own reality and if mine doesn’t match yours, that’s fine, especially when it comes to something trivial like Twitter or Facebook. And yes, I see Twitter as trivial. Yeah, yeah, force for good, and all that. Not in my world, and me staying on or off Twitter doesn’t make any difference to that.
I need to start by thanking Jon Ronson. Muscle memory meant I nearly wrote @jonronson just then; given that this post is about why I’m not really on Twitter so much nowadays, that would have been ironic. I was looking for a reason to leave Twitter and, like anyone too cowardly to make a decision, I found validation through someone else.
A few months ago I started reading Jon Ronson’s books as part of my bedtime routine, in an effort to build a new habit to replace staring into my iPhone all night which I was pretty sure was bad for my health – in my head I started calling Twitter ‘The Sleep Thief’. (Here’s a tip: if you go to Amazon you can get three of Jon Ronson’s books – Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Psychopath Test – in one bargainous volume.) The thing I like about Ronson’s writing is he can make a topic enjoyable and easy to read without compromising its seriousness. The other thing I like is how he really is an incredibly masterful story teller, stringing together lots of different related stories into a coherent whole. And the other other thing I like (apart from how he’s obviously much more articulate than me and wouldn’t dream of using ‘other other’) is how he’s self-critical and not ashamed to call himself out if he does something wrong or thinks in an unfair way.
Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, is a compilation of stories about public shaming that comes together as a history of how out of control public shaming on Twitter has become. I’m not going to say too much as I don’t want to spoil the book but after reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, every time I see a Twitter pile-on I feel more like an outsider watching an angry mob from a safe distance with horror and, frankly, find myself feeling ever so slightly morally superior and smug when I don’t join in.
Who the fuck do I think I am to be above all that?
The final trigger/excuse was when Stephen Fry was hounded off Twitter after he made a comment while presenting the Baftas. It wasn’t that I was a massive fan of his on Twitter; it was more that it fitted Jon Ronson’s narrative and Stephen Fry, in his blog post explaining why he’d left Twitter, made a good point:
But Stephen, these foul people are a minority! Indeed they are. But I would contend that just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it. 99.9% of the water may be excrement free, but that doesn’t help. With Twitter, for me at least, the tipping point has been reached and the pollution of the service is now just too much.
Of course there was lots of reaction in the media to the furore – far more than it deserved, looking back at it. Alice Arnold’s piece, I felt missed the point: “The up side is that you have a right to reply; Fry was able to tell us all that he knew the person he had insulted. If it weren’t for Twitter we would be left to think he had been uncharacteristically mean to a stranger.” Yes, but the fact is lots of people either didn’t see the explanation or chose to ignore it and so the pile-on continued. I did like the payoff line from Arnold: “In the meantime there is a simple solution. No need to leave Twitter – just don’t turn on the app.” And so I decided not to turn on the app. In fact, I deleted the app from all my devices. I added extra inconvenience by turning on the setting that meant I had to get a verification code via text message whenever I wanted to sign in to Twitter to provide another bit of friction.
I didn’t flounce off – my ego isn’t that big and I wasn’t trying to make a public point – but I did leave a hint with this tweet:
And you’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t found the time to open up your mind and watch the world spinning gently out of time
Apart from feeling uncomfortable about my alienation from what Twitter was becoming, I also had a strong awareness that I was spending too much time on Twitter. Actually, let’s be straight: I was becoming addicted. Far from being a filler for otherwise empty time, social media was becoming the main event and taking over, stopping me from being able to fully concentrate on anything else. I could observe myself in bed switching between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, searching for that interesting update yet couldn’t stop myself even as my eyelids were drooping.
Another warning sign: the measure of how good a tv programme became whether I was so engrossed that I wasn’t tweeting during it. (The underrated BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell being the last example of such a programme, in case you’re interested.)
And, of course, I found myself living life thinking about how I would tweet about certain moments.
Since distancing myself from Twitter, I’ve experienced the glorious feeling of boredom. My evenings feel long again, with time enough to do more constructive things than spouting crap into the ether like bringing my piano playing back up to scratch or learning the guitar all over again or reading a novel or even going to bed at a time that guarantees I’ll have at least eight hours sleep. I’m sure my health has benefitted from that last point, if nothing else. (He says while nursing a snotty nose at the time of writing.)
This is not my beautiful house
Brands on social media. It smacks of those people who come round selling you roses when you’re in a pub having what was up till then a pleasant evening. (Do they still do that? It’s been a while since that’s happened to me, to be fair.) Anyway, I hold my hand up on this one: I was definitely part of the problem last year, when it unexpectedly became part of my job and I fought a losing battle trying to maintain some semblance of authenticity against a tsunami of marketing bullshit. No doubt the experience of what was by far the worst year of my working life has contributed to my negative view of social media.
And when the moment arrived, he just found he had nothing to say…
And so to the fundamental reason why I’ve become disenchanted with social media. I just don’t feel I have much to say. If I did say something that went beyond my usual reach and was seen by enough people to make a difference, I suspect a noticeable number of responses to me would be negative and cause me to do a Stephen Fry. The fact is, I’m an introvert and while Twitter was seen as a great place for introverts – interact with people without actually having to meet them! – in the end, when I look at it, it looks to me like a place for extraverts now: a Venn diagram of circle jerks made up of people seeking validation from other people for their views, witticisms, aphorisms, stolen jokes and so on.
No one noticed when I disappeared from Twitter and that’s A Good Thing. It proved my point and set me free from any sense of obligation that comes with being missed.
I’m coming home but just for a short while…
I haven’t quite left Twitter. I don’t want to delete my account (though I might make it private) and I’m feeling I’m in a happier place having redefined my relationship with it. But I am going to switch to broadcast mode and return to this blog as the main repository of my stupid thoughts and ideas and ramblings, pushing out links to Twitter and Facebook, when I remember and feel like it.
You can tell me I’m doing Twitter and Facebook wrong all you like but honestly I don’t give a shit. Now that is freedom, my friend.