I quit Twitter the other day. It has nothing (really!) to do with Elon and everything to do with how social technology seems designed to fracture, divide and capture attention at the cost of well-being and personal (and group) performance. Moderation was not working for me. Teetotaling is the only viable option and an obvious one.
The problem is I’ve always been a fan of technology and an early adopter to boot. My stance on innovation for the longest time has been that it is an overwhelmingly positive force for society. At times, even when tech fails us, it can provide positive knock-on effects that result in future benefits. My love of and belief in the power of tech is why I chose to join Microsoft instead of taking an offer to work on Wall Street fresh out of college. I saw tech as a force for good in the world, unlike what I saw happening in finance back in the 90s!
This stance meant embracing tech for most of my life, including those products and services I didn’t personally enjoy, for the sake of learning to use it and adapting my mind to build up healthy boundaries around it. Be it video games or smartphones or social media, I aspired to walk the “middle path” of moderation and temperance. Enjoying the technologies but standing guard over my mind to avoid tumbling into a psychological ditch, left overwhelmed and wasting hours with nothing left to show for it. For a while I put up a good fight. Times have changed.
My life vs. social media
Increasingly, it’s become clear to me that I need to be even more discerning regarding what technologies I allow into my life. Not all tech is good or even innovative. Far too much of it is regressive when it comes to its effect on personal well-being and societal advancement. For such addictive tech, as many social media apps tend to be – a moderate approach doesn’t work. It’s like consuming a little bit of poison or committing a little bit of a crime; there comes the point where it is just better to eliminate it all rather than walk the knife’s edge of managing a bite-sized and minimum effective dose. Sometimes the most effective dose of a harmful substance is zero. At least this is my experience.
So after joining the platform way back in 2008, I quit Twitter. I did the same to Facebook and Instagram a few years ago and realized that my life worked out just fine in the ensuing months with the nice benefit of more freedom of time and space in my mind for fresh thoughts (or no thoughts!). Quitting Facebook was hard. It was important to my business (clients would often be introduced to me through my network there) and a convenient way to keep up with friends and family. It had real utility but was also occupying too much space in my mind. Eventually I got over it.
I figure it is the right time to ditch Twitter now. I rely on it for news and connection to some folks in my tech-oriented professional network. It is useful and informative, and somewhat helpful as a way for potential clients to find out about me, but as this blog will share, it is time to let go of it. So I did and life has moved on. I’m still breathing and the sky hasn’t crashed down on me (yet!).
You may be thinking about making such a move or more generally assessing your relationship with social media. So I wrote this blog to explain my rationale. All I can say is you have to come to terms with your choice and do what makes sense for you. You might have a great relationship with Twitter (and social media overall). It might be a way for you to connect with family, stay in touch with friends and learn about the world. Your business might depend on it! All factors to consider.
Personally, I found it a nice way to get product support issues addressed and a handy way to connect with current (and future) clients as a Coach. I also did gain from some genuinely unique insights that were shared on the platform, particularly related to health, fitness and technology. However, the general ledger of pros and cons were majorly lopsided. So, I declared Twitter bankruptcy and deleted my account.
Factors that made my quitting Twitter obvious:
My Twitter feed was presenting me with a very warped view of reality. Problems that seemed severe in the Twitterverse were in stark contrast to the big issues that played out in mainstream media and more importantly, in conversations with friends and family or through deep dives into long-form articles and books. Which should I trust?
Worse, my view on the state of the world and perspectives on many important issues were being skewed to be overly negative, cynical and skeptical as a result of reading shallow and trigger-happy takes by people who either appear uninformed (but opinionated) or unable to clearly articulate their ideas. Writing well is hard, and the micro-blogging that Twitter requires is especially challenging for people who don’t know how to write! Even for those who Tweet thoughtful takes on matters, it struck me that I was mostly consuming the more popular and viral content, not the most well-researched or factual content.
As a result, it seemed that those who were good at hacking the Twitter algorithm or had built a large following got more play in my mind, not the people who were experts on various issues. My worldview seemed negatively and inexorably biased the longer I dwelled inside this app. I failed miserably at fixing this issue for any lengthy period of time.
Grandstanding, boasting and image cultivation was turning my network into a hall of fun-house mirrors. Far too often, I witnessed people – many whom I have personal and professional relationships with – behaving in ways that were either redundant (habitually tweeting out breaking news with cold or uninformed takes) or in bad taste (boasting about their income) or perturbing (getting into a spat with a troll over trivial issues) or flat-out terrifying (spreading conspiracies).
I’m 100% certain that these people would never say those things in front of a live audience, but here they were doing exactly that in virtual form. Overall, I often came away from a Twitter session feeling sad for people with such brilliant minds behaving in this way, some of whom I consider friends or people I deeply respect in real life.
The platform is designed to fuel discord. It is ironic, that the most engagement I ever had on a Tweet (by several orders of magnitude) was what I considered an innocent comment on a tweet about Silicon Valley companies cutting back on certain workplace benefits in recent months. My comment felt opinionated but not controversial, so I made it and then spent the rest of the day with my family, never once checking the app.
The next day I was shocked at what happened. The majority of the Tweets in reply (over 60 comments) were so vile (and some doxxing) that I had no choice but to delete it. It was obvious that a majority of people were taking the worst-possible interpretation of my tweet and blowing it out of proportion.
It’s clear that social media platforms are not designed to promote understanding and connection; they are designed to promote reactivity through fear and outrage. I never had a huge following or much engagement with my content on Twitter, but I found that the more popular content I shared or created was often the most polarizing. It also doesn’t appear that anyone was convinced by what I had to say. In a nutshell, it doesn’t make sense to be part of a platform whose design values discord over understanding.
Time is precious. Perhaps I’m just getting old or maybe it’s that I’m now a father to a young child or even more to the point – maybe it’s about having lost family due to old age over the past several years – but the opportunity cost of a lost hour (or ten!) is far too high to ignore. I found Twitter too often taking a prominent place in my daily routine. I no longer see it ok for an app to capture my time and attention for free and in return, offer a confusing and perverted experience of the world in return.
Alternatives to quitting
You might wonder why I didn’t try steeling my nerves against the effects of Twitter. Well, I’m not strong enough to do that, and I’m not convinced that anyone else is either. I even tried rebuilding the list of people I follow while muting others, focusing on endurance sports and coaching, two innocuous subjects I care about. I also tried only using Twitter on my desktop computer, only posting content but not reading any, and other hacks. All failed. The same problems persisted. Noise ensued. Trolls appeared. Conflict raged. The signal was lost. My attention was captured without much left to show for it.
Lastly, I know that using sustained willpower to uphold an artificial boundary is a losing battle in the long term. Better to rip the band-aid off and that is something I can do. I can cut the cord to Twitter and move on with my life. So I did. For now, a few weeks post-Twitter, life is the same as before, with a few extra minutes gained back each day to live more fully and clearly. I also feel less bothered by the world and more engaged in it, a paradoxical feeling but a signal that I’m on the right track.
Will I ever go back?
I have learned never to say never about things. So perhaps if social apps clean up their act, or I have a change in heart and mind, I will rejoin. However, if my experience with Facebook and Instagram is any measure, I will be staying happily off the platforms for the foreseeable future and enjoy the enhanced presence, peace and creativity that comes from a mind that is less tossed about by the opinions of others and the whims of the algorithms fighting for my attention.
As for LinkedIn….well, love it or hate I, it doesn’t have the same negative grip on my mind – or society so it seems – as the other platforms. I am still happily engaged there in a healthy way and intend to remain so.