Off twitter & toward quiet

I’m going to really, really quit twitter this week.

I’m working to reframe the habits around my use of my computer, my keyboard and the internet. Now: I sit down, positioning my fingers on the home row and go through the little mental list of distractions I can type into my address bar. Chief among them has been twitter, everyone’s favorite hell site. I’m working to break that habit of opening up that site and exposing myself to a game of Russian roulette where perhaps only one chamber has the empty space of an interesting thread or link to an article I wouldn’t have found in my normal browsing and a second has a funny joke.

It is chiefly those other four chambers I’m looking to avoid: the tweets full of frustrated screams, FUD, arguments, Very Online drama and general information about the declining state of the planet, democracy, COVID, or any other injustice or event. Most of these things succeed in making me feel bad and put information into my head about which I can do very little.

Twitter has been a place, especially since in-built retweets and recommended tweets, where I no longer have even the illusion of control over the things the site might give me. I’m no longer willing to pull the trigger over and over again for the occasional interesting tidbit or joke.

It’ll be worth thinking about how to rework the discovery of interesting things as the most useful part of being on twitter. How do you mix structure and serendipity in the way that Good Twitter managed to do? One of the most important things was filtering that through individual people, which online magazines and blogs still reliably do, especially when pinned to RSS.

Direct replacements to twitter, especially Mastodon, or a retreat to the bombed-out shell that is tumblr might get you some of the Good Twitter. Also, since the early days of twitter, I think iMessage/text group chats and Instagram stories have soaked up nearly all my demand for the personal parts of “social” networks. Email newsletters gets at some of the holes left by the deaths of RSS and the removal of twitter’s more parasocial elements.

Finally, it’s worth finishing this post with a quote, at length, from Robin Sloan. His thinking about social networks and work on the Spring ’83 protocol helped me stumble across some thought provoking way of framing contemporary life on the web: (Emphasis mine)

The problem is that even when patience “wins”, it loses, because patience retreats, while compulsion compounds. As an example: I’ve broken many of these twitchy compulsions for myself, and I’m much better off for it — and yet, I’m aware that my nirvana of patient, non-twitchy media consumption doesn’t have any gravity. As far as you’re concerned, it doesn’t exist! I’m off reading a book somewhere, sure, but everybody else is still tweeting, and the tweets, they call out to you … 

So, the partisans of patience need some new tricks. We need ways of taking up space — asserting our existence — on screens, without conceding an inch to the twitchosphere. Obviously, email provides one of these ways, which is great; it’s likely you’re reading this newsletter because of an email. I just think there ought to be more than one (1) crusty digital distribution channel we can depend on.

This is totally doable; these new tricks need only to be invented. Perhaps repurposed!

This gets at something I’ve been thinking about a lot: doing things quietly, but not silently. Having a space for some writing that means I’ve been thinking about the things I’m reading and doing so in thoughts measured in words, not characters.

So, here’s to more of this blogging and group chats and emails, whose resurgence deserves more thought.