A few days ago I unfollowed everyone I was following on Twitter, and deleted all my old tweets.
If I was following you: It wasn’t personal. Although, unless you were using one of those narcissism and anxiety-stoking unfollow bots, you probably haven’t actually noticed.
I wasn’t following a huge number of people, as these things go. From memory, it was only about 350 people. So why bother?
A few days ago, I was at the miraculously resurrected
Wintec Hamilton Press Club, and I met a few cool people for the first time. Many of them said, “Oh, I follow you on Twitter!”
They meant it as a compliment, as far as I can tell, but hearing it made me want to crawl under a table and stealth out the door and get in the gently-flowing Waikato River and float out to sea.
I don’t like who I am on Twitter very much, a lot of the time. On Twitter I am a smartarse media and politics obsessive who occasionally makes or submits something cool but mostly rants and raves and gets into arguments frequently (less frequently these days than back when, but still). Seeing this long tail of bitchiness and angst and whatever else stretch back into the distant past of 2009, when I first joined, bothered me. I don’t feel like who I am on Twitter is a very good reflection of me. That may say more about me than it does about my digital reflection, but the feeling persists.
The short version is that I believe the snippy, sharp nature of Twitter brings out the worst in me and pretty much everyone else, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve said I didn’t like myself on the platform, but I liked everyone else even less. I grew tired of seeing people I liked and respected caught up in the latest shitfit. And there was always a new shitfit to get caught up in; someone is always saying something or doing something somewhere and there’s an infinity of hot takes ready to be tweeted out about it by people who just have to let you know that they’re so much better than whatever obviously wrong thing is going on now. And I was hooked on it, utterly, so I’d sneak logins whenever I could, just to get a hit of whatever digital smack-talk was going around now, or to participate in the manufacture myself.
What it added up to was having thousands and thousands of opinions swimming about in the back of my head all the time. Ever get that thing where you’ve read a book or an article and you realise that you’re thinking in the author’s voice? That, but the Twitter version. A constant psychic cacophony made up of a thousand (well, at minimum 350) babbling, discordant voices.
I became more aware of this when I made a point of stepping away from it, much like how you’re most aware of the constant background noise of a city when it stops. Once I could step back and see the whole of the thing, I loathed it. Why would I voluntarily submit myself to this? I’ve had anxiety my whole life, and Twitter was fuelling that fire. I haven’t even touched on the Nazi troll armies or the way the platform lends itself to abuse, or any of the myriad other awful things about it.
Do I think Twitter is bad now? No, not intrinsically, which is why I haven’t left. I’ve had great conversations there and even made lasting friends. A good example: a few weeks back I needed some animal skulls for perfectly normal reasons, so I put a tweet out. Within a few minutes someone who turned out to live a few streets away had offered up his collection. That was cool. There have been quite a few moments like that, and I’d like them to be able to continue.
But I do think that logging in many times a day and compulsively absorbing all a feed has to offer, or having the push notifications on my phone force-feed me, is extremely bad, at least for me, so I’m not going to be doing that anymore. And I didn’t like having my long Twitter tail following me around forever, so I cut it off. It wasn’t that I thought I’d done or said anything particularly awful, more like that I felt it as a burden. So I put it down and left it behind. There’s no rule that says I have to lug all that stuff around with me, even though it somehow feels like you’re supposed to.
Now it’s done, it does feel like a load has been lifted. If I visit or log in out of habit, that urge to scroll and consume is gone, because there’s nothing new to see. Nor is there anything to react to. I had 1700-odd followers before I quit, most of whom I think were actual real human people (and wondering if the people who are interested in you are real or not is one of those unique things about living in the future that I feel like we’ve gotten used to absurdly fast) and I don’t feel anything like the urge to perform to them that I used to. That’s what it was, if I’m honest about it; wanting to signal some virtues, to have the people I like like me back and to have them see me take on the ones I don’t like. A sad digital knight-errant on a hopelessly banal crusade, tilting at every windmill in sight, hoping for applause from an invisible crowd.
I’m not quitting, though. I’m selfish; I want what’s good about Twitter (and Facebook, and all the others) without offering my brainspace up to the bad. I’m going to keep making stuff and putting it out there, but hopefully with a new emphasis on creating instead of consuming. The new rule is I’ll only be on there when I’m looking for or asking something specific, or when I’ve got something new to show. And if anyone wants to talk – actually talk, not just dumbly react to the latest whatever, or shout at each other across across the void – feel free to @ me.
On that note, here’s the latest thing I’ve made: screaming about how the Great Barrier Reef is dying! Hopefully funny, ideally depressing as hell. Check it out here: