By this phase of the pandemic, I’ve stopped counting the doomed self-improvement projects that were supposed to productively fill time that would otherwise be spent leaving the house.
The shortlist includes: artisanal bread making, strenuous exercising, ambitious gardening followed by a related phase of apocalypse-bunker food canning, the DIY recording of embarrassing music and a resumption of that Great American Novel I keep meaning to write. It’s all lasted about as long as you’d expect.
However, I can point to one achievement that stuck and which has made my life undeniably better. I quit Twitter.
Several months ago, I removed the cursed app from my phone, and have managed to abstain from logging in with any other device. And it’s great. Five stars. Would recommend.
Like most people who are journalists or journalism-adjacent, I was an early adopter when the micro-messaging social network took off in the late ‘00s. It was a great way to keep up with developing stories, cultivate sources and, most importantly, procrastinate on deadline. Hard to find a downside — at first, anyway.
The back half of the 2010s revealed what every type of interactive technology costs us in exchange for their convenience and connectivity. Amazon: capitalism as a race to the bottom. Apple: horrifying labor practices. Google: knows everything about you. Facebook: undermines democracy. TikTok: I think you go to jail if you use it past age 30?
It’s hard to identify Twitter’s primary fatal flaw, because there are so many. It’s an interminable time/attention-suck. It has amplified online hate speech and paranoid conspiracy theories. Everyone who uses it seems to hate it. A certain lame-duck White House occupant has deployed it to drive about half the nation utterly insane.
I didn’t have a specific breaking point, although one time out of habit I did start typing the Twitter URL into a tab that was already open to Twitter.
What did me in was the doomscrolling. This is a 2020 term — it could really only be a 2020 term — for thumbing mindlessly through social media apps and absorbing the nonstop bad news until despair overtakes you.
To start and end every day in that agitated condition can make normal things difficult, such as having relationships and maintaining mental health.
So this summer I just deleted the app, set my phone on the nightstand and went about my day. The first few hours were weird, realizing I was no longer privy to what everyone online was arguing about, and that suddenly, random anonymous people no longer cared what I thought.
And then? Life continued. My lungs filled with air. The sunshine hit my face. I still procrastinated, but instead of reaching for the black mirror and endlessly refreshing in pursuit of such dopamine-upping vanity metrics as likes and retweets, I read books and articles. The news wasn’t much better, but my brain was.
I’m not alone. Media sites are full of similar first-person accounts from writers who had to wean themselves away from Twitter. In July, the Poynter Institute published a lengthy story about a growing number of journalists who have abandoned the platform for various reasons, including harassment, misinformation and Twitter’s outsized influence on what news gets covered.
This is part of a larger trend, as user growth has stagnated for years relative to other social media. A recent Reuters report found that use of Instagram for news had doubled in the last two years and is likely to soon surpass Twitter as a primary source for all age groups of news consumers, as it already has for younger readers.
Earlier this week, I needed to retrieve something from my Twitter account, so I recovered the password and nervously logged back in for the first time since June. What did I miss? Did something I’d written go viral without my knowing? Did I get canceled and not realize it?
And ... nothing. Not a single new notification or DM. I didn’t miss Twitter, and it definitely didn’t miss me. It won’t miss you, either. Give it a shot.