A couple of weeks ago, a #WomenBoycottTwitter hashtag showed up on my timeline. It appeared on a Thursday, encouraging people to stay off of Twitter the next day; I haven’t been feeling great about my Twitter usage all year, so I figured I’d use that as an excuse to take a day off and see what it felt like. And I did indeed succeed in staying off of Twitter that day: my reflexes had me still launching Tweetbot every once in a while, but I always exited immediately. So y’all didn’t get to hear the play-by-play of me somehow managing to lose my right AirPod in the grass in a tiny nearby park; and when I checked on the past day of Twitter the next morning, my feed was significantly blacker than normal, with some pretty reasonable critiques of #WomenBoycottTwitter. (Though those critiques left me in the clear: everybody agreed that it would be fine to have fewer white guys on Twitter.)

The boycott was really just an excuse for me rather than a well-thought-out moral conviction: like I said, I haven’t been feeling great about my Twitter usage all year, because it’s been eating into my life more than I’m comfortable. Mostly, of course, it’s because of the shit show that our current president is (and that our current congress is): it is not unusual to have a week go by where, every single day, even multiple times a day, there’s a breaking news story that would be the biggest political news story for a month in normal times. So I have this horrible combination of needing to feel caught up with the extraordinarily fast pace of news while knowing that whatever I learn about will make me feel worse.

The news cycle is the main reason why Twitter feels different in 2017 than in previous years, but it also feels like there’s been a volume increase. Part of that is related to the news cycle: there are various issues that are important this year in ways that they weren’t important to me in years past, so I’m following people who are experts in, say, health care or international relations. But also the Twitter essay has exploded this year, which means that there are interesting people who are posting a lot. Right now I’m only following 244 people on Twitter, which is the lowest my following count has been in years, but it sure doesn’t feel like my timeline is bare.


Also (and this one isn’t new to 2017): Twitter is a pretty nasty place. I mean, it’s not nasty for me personally, but it’s a vehicle for serious harassment, in ways that very much directly affect people’s lives, and a lot of that happens in directions that reinforces existing inequalities instead of being random. So: is Twitter a space where I want to spend my time?

Partly, Twitter is just reinforcing existing dominance patterns: I don’t have an option to spend my time in a world where, say, white supremacy or patriarchy isn’t a dominant force. But social media platforms make their own choices about how they want to react to this, what actions they want to take in response; Twitter’s choices have (tautologically) led to it being the sort of space it is. I’m sure this is a hard problem to solve without throwing away the (real and significant!) benefits that Twitter brings, but still, I’m not sure that it’s a place where I want to spend my time.


So: how to respond to all of this? I can wish that we had a different president, but wishing won’t get me very far. I can wish that people wrote blog posts instead of Twitter essays; again, wishing won’t get me very far. And I can wish that Twitter were less of a harassment shit show; not much I can do about that, either.

Ultimately, I have to figure out how and where I want to spend my time; and, once I’ve made that decision, figure out what changes in habits I need to establish to lead to my desired outcomes.


The easy answer is to say that I should give up on Twitter entirely. And that’s definitely in the potential solution space, but it’s not obvious to me that it’s the right choice. I really do have friends that I interact with via Twitter; I’m not entirely sure what I would lose by stopping those interactions, but I’m pretty sure I would lose something. (And, incidentally: there is very little chance that I will switch over to Facebook as a primary posting vehicle, that one isn’t in the solution space.)

And I really do learn things from people I follow on Twitter, too: over and over, Twitter has helped me learn about programming, about politics, about ways of thinking that are important to me. Having said that, if I switched time from, say, reading Twitter to reading books, I would also be learning something, so Twitter is potentially a loss from a learning point of view as well as a gain, but you can certainly make a case that some amount of Twitter usage is a net positive for my learning.

I don’t, however, see any real benefit in the need to keep up to date with politics on an hour-by-hour level. I don’t want to be disconnected from the horrors that are going on in our government, but learning about those horrors at 3pm versus 6pm versus a day later probably brings no concrete benefit. (And I can imagine stretching out the time scale further: unless I’m going to join a protest tomorrow or call my Senator or something, then being a week behind seems okay? Though there is some benefit in being aware of the magnitude of those horrors, and catching up with the daily helps with that.)


When I analyze the situation that way, it seems pretty clear that, at the very least, I’m checking in on Twitter too frequently. And it’s still possible that leaving Twitter entirely would be best for me; that, however, is less clear. So I should start an experiment with significantly less frequent Twitter usage: see if I can validate the hypothesis that that will improve my life, and see if I can get more information about whether quitting Twitter entirely would be a net positive or a net negative.

Of course, it’s easy to say that I’ll check in on Twitter less, but it’s harder to actually do it. (That’s actually one advantage to the idea that I should leave Twitter: deactivating my account would be an easy way to enforce that.) I think probably the best step for me is to have a goal to not check Twitter on my phone: that way, I won’t check on it while at work, while commuting, while walking Widget, which carves out large amounts of Twitter-free spaces. (I already don’t check it on my computer: so, the goal would be to only check it on my iPad.)

The downside of that, of course, is that, when I’m home, I have much better things to do than to check Twitter! So it would probably be better for me to, say, only check Twitter while commuting instead of only checking it at home. But that would require willpower to enforce, which is hard; whereas not checking it on my phone just requires deleting Tweetbot. (I can even leave the main Twitter client installed so that I can still post: I won’t be tempted to use it to actually read Twitter, because I’m a “complete timeline” sort of person.) And, hopefully, if I’m only checking Twitter a few times a day, it still won’t use up too much of my time, because I can read through hundreds of tweets fairly quickly (and I can throw stuff off to Instapaper if I see potential rabbit holes to go down): I think the issue is more the interruptions rather than the total quantity of time?

I guess the other option would be to leave Tweetbot installed and just move it off of my dock, down to some hidden folder. That would probably work too, because it would be enough to break the habit of checking it frequently? But I think I’ll start by deleting and seeing what the effects are.


So: Tweetbot is deleted from my phone, and Music has taken its place in my dock. (Messages, Safari, and Castro v. 1 are the other apps there, if you’re curious.) Which, symbolically, feels right: really, wouldn’t my life be better if I were spending more time listening to music and less time reading Twitter?

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