I’m going away for a bit.
Not forever – I hope! – and only from Twitter, but for a decent chunk of time; enough to actually attain awayness. Because if I had to characterise the last 18 months or so, it would be by the opposite of that – the feeling, the burning need, to be absolutely, completely, fixatedly 100% present online for everything. A new opening, a scandal, a scandal about a new opening – every scintilla of it deconstructed in real-time by me and my friends and people who I had never met in real life but considered friends all the same.
Several times in the last year or so, Lizzy has joked – in sort of a haha I’m joking but this is actually pretty fucking weird way – that she is really my second wife; Twitter being my first. And it is true that most mornings the first thing I’d do is open the app and start mechanically scrolling; it is true that at dinner with her (not just her, with anyone), I could almost feel the phone in my pocket burning through the fabric of my jeans with its urgent promise of notifications, jokes, validation.
That’s what it gets you addicted to – the feeling of being seen, acknowledged, understood. Which is weird, because it’s not like I don’t get this from my incredibly loving family and my incredibly loving wife and my incredibly, inexplicably patient friends. But it’s also not that weird, because it’s not like that armful of people can offer you the same amount of validation – accessible with just a single well-crafted tweet – as the follower count whose steady rise you watch like a hedge funder tracking the stock that will make his fortune.
And it’s in the validation and the crafting and the followers and the sense that all of it has real-world consequences that it starts to subtly warp you, to make real life subservient to the tweets you can make out of it. At any rate, this is what happened in my case, which, I think we can all agree, is a profoundly fucked place to end up at – and that’s before you layer over the fact that writing with the potential for virality in mind slowly extrudes you from yourself, exaggerates the most strident parts, attenuates away the capacity for nuance. Verbs change as part of this process, or did in my case: state becomes shout; ask becomes tell. And whilst for some people the result is the sort of clear truth-telling that certain discourses need, I don’t particularly like where it has got me. I have always been drawn to the idea of strong opinions, softly held – of asking pertinent questions of even our most safely ensconced convictions. I’m not sure I’ve been doing that recently; in truth, I think I’ve become a bit of a dick, puffed up on dozens of follows from Peruvian restaurants (where do they keep coming from?!) and the occasional bump from someone I admire.
I’d like to get back to writing thoughtfully, and I don’t think I can do that with the world shouting jokes and obscenities and factoids and statistics and well actuallys and news bulletins and LOOK AT THIS FREAKING POMERANIAN at me every time I open an app on my phone.
It has struck me – and I do not mean, in saying this, to diminish the significance of other, far more harmful addictions – that for me it has become a genuine addiction. (I also don’t want to suggest, by the way, that I have discovered the secret to enlightenment and actually living your life, man and that all of you weird basement-dwellers still logging on are idiots who have not seen the light. This is something I am doing, for me). The fact that Twitter is addictive shouldn’t be surprising – we have all heard the horror-stories about how products like it are purpose-crafted to drive engagement, interaction, repeat visits. But it is striking (and maybe even interesting, and worth exploring?) that this is the only social network that has got to me in this way; that I can go weeks at a stretch without checking in on Instagram, and have barely glanced at Facebook for a couple of years now, yet there’s something in me that Twitter latched onto half a decade ago and has not let go since.
Fortunately, Twitter now lives in an app I’ve deleted from my phone and on a web browser I don’t have to open. I probably still will, of course, but I hope to start out doing so infrequently and make it even more so. I will miss the jokes, the misfit spirit, the sense of being right there as every single event unfolds, the sense of community, the ability to dip – at a moment’s notice – into a network of people who love the same things I love and care about the same stuff that I do. But there’s plenty of other things I won’t miss at all.
So, like, goodbye, I guess? This bit feels weird. I mean, it’s not like I’m physically going anywhere, and I’m sure I’ll still be on my Grade A bullshit on Instagram. Maybe it’s Twitter ITSELF I’m saying goodbye to? Weird, weird, weird. SO weird.
Anyway. Bye. A reminder: my email address is email@example.com. I’d love to see you, in person, soon.