Twitter is a fascinating platform. At its very best it delights and instructs. It is also a formidable networking tool. It is a bridge to worlds and people you would otherwise never have the pleasure of interacting with. It breaks and covers news at such a swift pace “old media” can’t keep up as witnessed during the “Arab Spring” and other revolutions around the world. Twitter is also great for raw commentary on other live events like sports instantly placing your fingers on the pulse of your hand picked community. At its worst Twitter can feel like the mental equivalent of dozens of people talking into your ear all at once. It feels superfluous, a platform for the narcissistic and banal.
For me Twitter has been a conduit for more good than bad. I have a hyperactive brain and an almost insatiable need for information. Twitter makes me feel like I am not alone in my thinking. Occasionally somebody on my timeline mirrors my own mindset. They condense and articulate my spirit in a great joke, epigram or apercu. A lot of the times when I tweet I am just talking to myself. Twitter gives voice to the introvert in me. Twitter gives my overactive mind an arena for it to do its acrobatics. The problem with acrobatic shows with no referee or rules is that you can do significant harm to yourself or others.
Whilst Twitter is a great way to share and expose myself to a variety of ideas I have come to the realization that this constant exposure isn’t always necessarily conducive to a sense of balance, stability or ideas being able to take root. By the time I read something compelling on one website, there is another article being praised on my timeline. There is always another issue to be outraged about, something else to critique or another celebrity scandal that warrants stepping on the digital soapbox. There is always something to say or consume. That is the deceptive thing about Twitter. It can make you feel as if you’re actually doing something, even if you’re not. It not only serves as the distracter in chief, but is one of procrastination’s strongest allies.
Twitter has helped my writing in many ways. Twitter democratizes expression and gives a necessary public to writer’s, and types of writing, that otherwise would be confined to the hard drive. I am no exception. Following and interacting with other writer’s has helped me grow as a writer. It serves as a sounding board for my ideas. Some of my tweets have been the first drafts of the pieces I have written. The 140 character has somewhat tamed the rambler in me, schooling me on brevity and wit. On Twitter I have consciously curated my timeline to ensure the mélange of personalities and organizations I follow mentally stimulate me in a variety of ways. There are the people who tweet obscure yet fascinating and illuminating links to longer reads. The people who keep me updated on the latest developments in the worlds of Hip Hop, F1 and Manchester United. The writer’s who inspire me. Finally, there were those who professed ideologies are diametrically opposed to mine but have a compelling way of conveying them.
Despite all this I quietly worried that inhabiting a 140-character universe meant my thoughts and writing were becoming staccato. Twitter was slowly eroding the patience and care I applied to my writing. It wasn’t as symbiotic as I needed it to be. There was an immediacy, automatism and compulsiveness, that I found becoming more and more disturbing. This all came to a head recently when a friend was telling me something and I found myself thinking to myself. ‘I don’t remember seeing that on Twitter”. Not to mention moments when something would happen and I would mentally step out of the moment to wittily capture the moment in a tweet.
A little over a week ago I made an active decision to take a step back from Twitter. I was in a losing battle for my soul and sanity. I need to revaluate my relationship with Twitter. I decided “F*ck hashtags and retweets. 140 character’s in these streets.” It was time for a Twitter detox. The premise was simple. No tweeting.
Stepping out of the information cyclone that I had helped foster meant my thought process slowed down because I was exposed to less. The detox has been far from simple. The more I have been away from Twitter the more tweet worthy my experiences have seemed. So it’s been harder not to tweet. I have had my 10 year old cousin staying at my house. Engaging with him without distractions has been a fulfilling experience. I have been encouraged by his candidness and childlike curiosity. He reminded me of the vibrancy and beauty that exists in the world outside of these pixelated screens.
My detox reminded me that I needed to sit more. Sit with my thoughts. Sit at restaurants with family and friends without scrolling through my phone. Sit with disruptive emotions until there was some form of resolution (or not). Either way sitting and slowing down was a welcome change from the constant connectivity and speed. The most important lesson I can take away from my Twitter detox is the need to strike a balance between the 140 characters in these streets and the 140 characters in tweets. I am determined to make Twitter work for me and not the other way round.
Twitter, can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.