Twitter is horrible. Everyone already knows this. 1 2 3
But, Twitter can also be good, sometimes, after a fashion.
Throughout the pandemic, I have personally found Twitter to be a helpful tool for self-regulation. The little hits of dopamine on demand throughout the day have allowed me to suppress and modulate some truly unpleasant intrusive thoughts, during times when I have had neither the executive function nor sufficient continuous uninterrupted time allocated to focus on other, more useful things. Twitter has allowed me to anesthetize the internal doom-sayer during the absolutely most mind-shatteringly stressful period of my — and, presumably, most living humans’ — entire life.
Like any anesthetic, however, there comes a point where administering additional doses is more harmful than beneficial, even if the pain it’s suppressing is still there. It’s time for me to take a break, and it seems like it would be wise to take one long enough for new habits to form.
To that end, I’ll be taking the entirety of June off from Twitter; depending on
how that goes, I might see you back there on
2021-07-01, or, should I find
the fortitude in the meanwhile, never.
The “I’m taking a break from social media” genre of post is certainly a bit self-indulgent4, so it behooves me to say why I’m bothering to post about this rather than just, you know, doing it.
There are three reasons:
Changing times: I’m naturally distractable so I tend to keep an eye on my social media usage. I periodically look at how much time I’m spending, the benefits I’m getting, and the problems it’s causing. For most of the pandemic I could point to at least one or two useful actions per week that I’d taken because of something I’d learned on Twitter. Sometimes I’d learn about risk modeling or health precautions, emerging understanding of impacts of isolation on mental health, and ways to participate to address the exhausting, non-stop political upheaval of 2020/2021. But now I’m mostly just agonizing over the lack of any useful guidance for parents with young children who cannot yet get vaccinated for COVID-19 at this late stage of the crisis, and getting directionlessly more angry about the state of the world. The benefits have slowly evaporated over the last few weeks but the costs remain.5
Accountability: simply deleting the app, logging out of the website, etc, is clearly not enough to stay away, so an audience who can notice me posting and say “stop posting” should hopefully be enough to keep me honest. Please do note that I will still be allowing certain automated systems to post on my behalf, though. This post, for example, and any other posts I put on my blog, will show up in my Twitter feed automatically, I don’t post those manually.
A gentle prompt for others: maybe you’re having similar issues. Maybe you’d like to join me. During the pandemic I’ve found that many types of unpleasant mental states that I’ve described are more relatable than usual. Some so much so that they’ve got whole articles about jargon to describe them, like “disenfranchised stress”6 and “vicarious trauma”7. Feel free to ignore this: I’m not saying you should join me. Just that if you’ve already been thinking you should, you can take this as a challenge to do the same.
In the meanwhile, I’ll try to do some longer-form writing, particularly writing that isn’t about social media.
If you’d like to get in touch, I won’t be replying to DMs, so feel free to
send me an email directly. If you want to interact in
real time, I am still on IRC, as
irc.libera.chat. Feel free to drop by
“Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.”, by Cal Newport in the New York Times ↩
“I’m Taking a Social Media Break”, by Caren Lissner for McSweeny’s Internet Tendency ↩
This is a personal thing, everyone’s timeline is different, so if you’re having a great time, you don’t have to email me. Mazel tov. ↩
“White-Collar Workers Hit the Pandemic Wall”, by Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. in Psychology Today ↩
“Vicarious Trauma, Mirror Neurons, and COVID-19”, by Maureen O'Reilly-Landry Ph.D. in Psychology Today ↩