Discover more from The Writing Shed with Tommy Tomlinson
Trying to detach from the grip of a vice
Elon Musk has done me a huge favor. He has caused me to seriously consider giving up Twitter. I love Twitter and I want it out of my life at the same time. It’s my drug of choice. Although sometimes, scrolling through it late at night, it doesn’t feel like a choice anymore.
First, the good stuff: I’ve made hundreds of e-friends on Twitter, and some of them have become friends in the flesh. There are many true joys in my life that I might never know about if not for Twitter—Spencer Hall and Holly Anderson and the other brilliant lunatics at Shutdown Fullcast are just the first ones off the top of my head. I’ve learned more and laughed more from Twitter over these last few years than pretty much anything else. Every day somebody tweets out a new story I need to read, a new song I need to listen to, a new point of view I’ve never thought of before.
It’s been good for me in the other direction, too. A lot of you reading this newsletter first found me on Twitter. The biggest and weirdest paycheck I’ve ever gotten for a single story came when I wrote a little column that went viral on Twitter. Alyssa Milano retweeted that piece when it came out. Later, when I wrote THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, Lisa Loeb—LISA LOEB!—dropped me a line on Twitter to say kind things about the book. I didn’t know what to do with those pieces of information, and still don’t.
So it has been a big positive in my life. But maybe a bigger negative.
Since I created my account in April 2009, I’ve tweeted nearly 41,000 times. That’s about eight tweets a day, every single day, for more than 13 years. In purely practical terms, that’s probably a million words I’ve written on somebody else’s website for free.
But it’s not so much the tweeting as it is the time. Looking back through my recent screen time logs, I’m on Twitter somewhere between an hour and two hours a day. That was actually less than I thought. The devious genius of Twitter is that it’s a bottomless cup. No matter how many times you refresh, there’s always something new. So I keep mashing that little bird at the top of the screen, looking for another insight, another joke, another hit of dopamine. And in a big moment—as election results come in, or there’s a great ballgame on TV—it can feel like a great party I never want to leave.
Twitter can definitely feel like a garbage scow at times, with all the bots and trolls and people who are not just wrong, but loud and wrong. Most days I can filter most of that out. (I am lucky on that score because I’m a straight white guy; women, people of color and LGBTQ users have it much worse). But Musk seems determined to make the garbage on Twitter a feature instead of a bug.
It appears he’s going to invite back a bunch of previously banned Twitter accounts, including the one belonging to the loser of the last presidential election. Without making any formal announcement, he decided Twitter will no long enforce its rules agains COVID misinformation. This week he’s complaining that Apple has cut its advertising from Twitter and has threatened to take Twitter off its App Store.
This has extremely strong “letter to the editor” energy. It’s hard to filter out the trolls on Twitter when the biggest troll owns the place.
Twitter can feel essential to journalists and writers and other folks who create stuff and need people to see it. But I’m not sure it’s quite as essential as we think. One of the things I’ve learned from hearing from y’all over the years is that people come to me from all different directions. Some of you remember me from the newspaper and don’t know or care that I do a podcast. Some enjoy the podcast but didn’t know I write for a living. Some of y’all are here because you read my book. And some, sure, found me on Twitter. But even without Twitter, there are lots of ways to run across somebody.
Having said all that, Twitter still means an awful lot to an awful lot of people. I’m rooting for another shiny object to come along* and take Musk’s mind off Twitter enough that he sells it off or leaves it alone.
But either way, it’s best for me to put myself in Twitter rehab for a while. I’m not deleting my account—I’ll still jump on from time to time to let folks know about something I’ve created (like this post), and I’m sure I’ll want to follow along for big events now and then. Otherwise, I am going to do my best to remember the idea of opportunity cost. There are a lot of things I could have done with all those hours I’ve scrolled through Twitter late at night. Gone to bed earlier, for one.
This morning I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. Since then I’ve already picked up my phone three or four times, looking for it by reflex. I suspect it'll be a while before that goes away.
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