Some not-so-bright morning
Earlier this month, I deactivated my Twitter account. I did it on a whim, in the early hours of the feast day of my patron saint. I was at church, alone, distressed over the state of our country and civil society in particular.
It dawned on me that I needed out.
Taking out one’s phone in church is not generally considered to be a reverent act, yet doing so to delete Twitter seemed excusable. I bypassed the self-imposed time limit on my browser (I had gotten rid of the app a while back), scrolled down the list of settings, and was warned that my account would be deleted in 30 days if I didn’t log in again. I hit the button. It was October 1st.
Earlier this week, my calendar app reminded me that I had just a few days left before my profile would autodestruct. Should an account I spent years building fall into oblivion?
The truth is, it already had. In a conversation with a Twitter-savvy colleague the next day, I brought up the fact that I was no longer on the platform. He went, “really? I didn’t notice.” If I needed any further confirmation that I was making the right choice, this was it.
My brain off Twitter
I have made lots of changes in my life in 2020, many of them early into the pandemic. I started taking long daily walks, making my own meals, and reading regularly. All of these take discipline. I might fail at one or all of them one day, but I’ll try again the next day.
Deactivating Twitter, on the other hand, took 10 seconds. I couldn’t really say that “it seemed to be a good idea at the time.” I was afraid that it would turn out to be the worst decision of the year.
Almost immediately, however, I experienced a new level of lightheartedness. Coworkers commented on my cheerful mood out of the blue. As silly as it may sound, I frequently caught myself smiling for no reason. No other changes in my life could explain this shift — I’d been mostly stuck at home for months, like most everyone else.
It wasn’t just my mood that improved. I started having creative ideas for how to solve problems and use my time profitably. My attention span increased. I started expressing more nuanced perspectives and forming my own judgments when presented with news reports and policy ideas. That’s a little scary upon reflection: most of my judgments in my Twitter days stemmed from the loudest voices on my feed.
What comes after Twitter?
Deep down, most of us know that Twitter is bad for the soul. At the very least, everyone senses that we would be in a better place without it. You probably don’t need to be convinced that the Twitter-less life is worth living; you may, however, be entertaining certain fears about what might ensue if you went through with it. I have been there, I have done that, and I will do my best to show you why there is no reason to fret, and that deleting Twitter could be a huge gift to yourself — and to the world (no offense).
Objection #1: I will miss out on important news.
Key word: important. No, you will not miss out on important news. Twitter is replete with small incidents blown out of proportion because a nobody’s hot take got picked up by someone with an outsized following. If something is truly news-worthy, at least a few reliable outlets will write about it; finding out which ones is part of the fun. Off Twitter, you are not spoon-fed the latest controversies. Instead, you get to catch the type of news you’re interested in and curate your news sources so that you read a wide variety of perspectives. I’m still learning how to do that well, but it’s been a great experience so far. A couple of weeks back, a friend brought up his RSS feed in passing, and I finally gave that seemingly-outdated technology a try. I’ve found it to be a nifty little tool so far, and I have a feeling I’ll keep it around.
Objection #2: I will lose my Twitter friends.
Are they really your friends? If so, you can connect with them over email or even LinkedIn before you jump off. If they are interesting experts from which you wish to continue to hear, find a way to follow their writings directly from the source. And if they just provide you with hot takes that keep you in a constant state of “righteous anger” or make you feel like you’re “in the know,” then, good riddance.
Objection #3: I won’t have an outlet to share my work and thoughts.
When there’s a will, there’s a way. I trust you’ll find something that works for you. As for me, I created a weekly newsletter (called A Healthy Dose of Healthcare News — check it out!) so that I can keep sharing content with my fellow healthcare policy people. Aside from allowing me to write more eloquently and without worrying about the character cap, writing a weekly article helps me be more organized, thorough, and efficient. Besides, writing in the form of Substack articles instead of tweets has the benefit of making content easy to reference and archive. My reach may be smaller, but it is more targeted. I feel far more accomplished writing about healthcare here than on Twitter, that’s for sure.
Objection #4: It will hurt my career.
This is probably top of mind — it certainly was for me. But as I mentioned earlier, my colleague didn’t notice my Twitter persona was gone, nor did hardly anyone else. Those that did connected with me on LinkedIn. To be sure, I don’t know what long-term impact it will have on my career, and I will never know for sure. What I do know is that I’m happier, more productive, and more fun to be around now than I was a month ago. At the risk of making too bold a statement, I’d rather be happy like this than successful in the eyes of the world and miserable inside.
The seen and the unseen
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” or so the saying goes. Twitter gives you the impression of being part of the solution, and a handful of your most committed followers regularly assure you that you are that indeed. It is mostly an illusion. Twitter excels at making one feel important, heard, appreciated, even. The platform plays a huge role in national and global politics, and it does play a role in influencing your followers’ thoughts — those for whom the algorithm doesn’t filter out your tweets, anyway.
But all this time, energy, and especially attention don’t need to be spent on Twitter. We can make those hours count in more ways that I could ever list here. We certainly don’t have to subject our already fast-decaying brains to the vagaries of a forty-something-year-old, mononymous chap from Silicon Valley who won’t dress appropriately to meet with our nation’s top elected officials. We can, and should, be leaders — not followers — and ignore the haters.
So, come on out! It’s beautiful outside. Real birds are chirping.