I've tried to make Twitter work for me, I really did. As 2020 progresses on, and seemingly gets worse every month, I've found the platform to be less and less usable for what I wanted to use it for. I frequently caught myself just lurking around, watching everyone online slowly going crazy, and I felt like it was making me crazy too. I've tried Digital Minimalism tricks:
- I didn't have the app nor was I logged in on the phone.
- I curated an extensive list of muted words in an attempt to filter out politics.
- I periodically blocked the domain on my laptop to force myself not to visit it out of habit.
- Instead of following accounts to get a single batch of AI-controlled feed, I've started to organize who I follow into thematically sensible private lists, and I've bookmarked the lists instead of the main feed.
That last point is an interesting experiment to make. Say you found someone who posts interesting programming stuff, so you add them to a programming list with all other tech nerds, great! Problem is, people are not one-dimensional robots, they aren't just interested in one thing and one thing only. For every Twitter account that is strictly professional and only tweets about one particular theme or topic there are thousands that will just say what's on their mind, and why shouldn't they?
But this is 2020. Say it's the evening after work, and you want to check up with the programming news, you open up your carefully moderated programming list, and 20 seconds in one of the people you follow has just commented on some event in America, maybe Trump said or did something, maybe there were some riots and someone got hurt or worse, or basically anything happening in Portland. None of those events are particularly relevant to my life (read Amusing Ourselves to Death to understand why), but it was enough of a hook for me to dig, and here I was going down some random rabbit hole of outrage.
I, like many people, have obsessive tendencies. It's a thing I have to take into account in order to balance my life and work all the time. When balanced it's almost a super power, I can stay focused on tasks for extended periods of time, I can work on complex problems and crunch until they are solved, I'll often think about problems in bed before I fall asleep and wake up with solutions the next morning, or even the middle of the night. All of that is okay, I like that about myself. But the same brain patterns that help me be a better programmer are easily hijacked by public outrage, and in that, I believe, I'm also not alone.
Thing is, large scale societal problems, especially those in other countries, aren't something I can submit a PR for and have it fixed. So I'll be spinning my wheels going nowhere. It has made my sleep worse, I felt tired all the time despite having little to show for it, which I then compensated with more coffee, resulting in even less sleep and so on. Not to be catastrophic, I was still, by most accounts, a functional adult, but I knew that the way I felt was way off the baseline I was accustomed to.
Then I watched The Social Dilemma. I want to say the documentary was eye opening, but it really was nothing I already didn't know. I've read books with similar themes before, and heck, I'd already purged my Facebook account years earlier, reducing the platform to a glorified IM to stay in touch with some old friends. While Social Dilemma didn't show me anything new, it served well as a timely reminder. Why exactly am I wasting time on Twitter? I decided, then and there (mid-September), to make a small step, and announced I'd be leaving Twitter at the end of the month on, well, Twitter, and then blocked the domain on my laptop.
For two weeks nobody tried to talk me out of it, in fact the only responses I got were encouraging. Needless to say, I started sleeping better, I switched to decaf coffee, I physically felt better. It also gave me pause. Having seen the headline that 80% of all tweets are from 10% of the accounts, I was curious to check how many people actually use Twitter to begin with. Turns out that even in the US it's ~25% of the general population, and declining.
If you spend any relevant part of your life staring at a Twitter feed, you expose yourself to be bombarded by, mostly, the opinions of some ~2.5% of all people (the 10% of the 25%). Here is a crude thought experiment: think back to your high school years and think of the one most annoying person in your class, then imagine picking that person from every class and every school and put them all together in a huge public square so they can shout at each other ad infinitum. You have just created a rough mental picture of what Twitter really is. Why should anyone else care about what happens on that square?
If you talk to friends, you might discover that different people find different internet platforms more or less addictive, or have them more or less under control. For me, Facebook hasn't been a problem in years, and I'm perfectly fine browsing r/rust once a week without feeling the need to check it every 30 minutes. I have friends who use Twitter and have, by their own admission, a relatively healthy relationship with how they use it, and that's great. I've tried to find a way that works for me, but I couldn't find one. So, as of yesterday, I've turned my account into protected mode, and with the help of some scripts unfollowed everyone and removed all the followers I had. It was a bit of a hassle, but I figured it's better to keep the handle and have it serve as a road sign.
My brain is, once again, my own.