I closed my Twitter account about a month ago.
I did it for a couple of reasons, one of which I suspect must be very common.
The first was that what I was tweeting had drifted into an unfortunate territory. I found there was a risk for me in the way in that Twitter works, a dangerous confluence of immediacy, brevity and superficial community. I’d become one of those tiresome characters who feels the need to chip into conversations at a dinner party with what he thinks are witticisms, but are actually inanities. It was just too easy to say something off the cuff, which would be OK but for the fact that it’s being shared with the world, and so rather than the mild contempt of a few fellow diners you find you have a large group of people thinking you’re a twat. And because it’s often ostensibly a ‘direct’ conversation (even when you’re not DMing) you get lulled into thinking that it’s a private conversation, when it obviously is entirely public.
And worse than the inanities, I’d become snide. Twitter was all a bit insular, lots of advertising people talking to advertising people (with the grandstanding and one-upping that goes along with it) making comments that wouldn’t be at all outlandish when shared between a few friends with the context considered, but that were quite childish when shared with the world-at-large with the context removed.
Part of the problem is that Twitter has no nuance. When I make a throwaway comment to friend, experience informs meaning – there’s a tone of voice, a nod and a wink, an understanding of what I really mean, or, more importantly, the tone with which I mean it. But there’s none of that when a tweet or a post is read. It’s cold and literal.
None of this would be such a problem if not for the way in which Social Media has changed our attitude towards opinion. To state the obvious, one of the benefits of Social Media is its ability to let people share opinion. But one of the increasingly apparent downsides is the concomitant capacity for those opinions to be judged. We have a mechanism that encourages people to share opinions, quickly and widely – at a basic level encouraging people to say what they’re thinking without really thinking about what they’re saying. But then that same system fuels the judgement of what they say, treating them no longer as throwaway comments but as considered opinion.
You see it in how social media channels fuel controversy. There’s a momentum that drives people to share their view. The community finds an issue and lights a fire under it. But once the views start coming out there’s a parallel momentum to judge the validity of those views. At the risk of sounding ridiculously dramatic, it’s a subtle form of entrapment – Social Media facilitates the crime then casts the judgement.
I also started to get this sense of a different world. I found myself believing that a different set of rules applied, that the world of social media was creating something new, a place in which things were done quite differently. And this was beautifully self-reinforcing. I’d find myself mocking the people who ‘don’t get social media’ convincing myself that because there were people I could judge not to get it, that that must mean that there were different rules.
I thought I was fine because I had a basic principle I operated by. I’d puff out my chest and proudly say that I’d never post or tweet anything that I wouldn’t be prepared to say to someone’s face. Which was true, but missed the rather obvious point that I wasn’t saying it to their face. I was really saying it behind their back, but in a very public way. And the problem came when someone else said it to their face for me.
I don’t know who originally said it, but I’ve always loved the description of hotel rooms existing on an entirely different moral plane – the idea that things get done in hotel rooms that just wouldn’t be contemplated anywhere else, by people who know better. I guess I worry that Twitter’s a bit the same. It just has a dynamic to it that seems to draw a different line around acceptable commentary. (Tim Burrowes at Mumbrella does a lovely job of describing this phenomenon here. As one of the comments says, ‘I will endeavour to read this post at least once every three months’.)
The second reason I closed my Twitter account was that it just got so time consuming (I’m guessing this is quite common?). I realise that this is a failing of mine, not Twitter’s, but I was just never that good at being able to duck in and duck out. Once I started to make a few interesting connections via Twitter (and I did make some really interesting connections) I started to worry about the connections I was missing out on. So it all got a bit frantic, and I spent too much time on Twitter when I should have been spending time on the guitar, too much time on the keyboard when I should have been on the fret board (sorry).
So I’ve had a month off. I’ve recalibrated. I’m giving Twitter another go. And I’m trying very hard not to be concerned about what I missed out on during that month.