From December 20–January 1, I took a break from Twitter. That is a big deal for me personally. I rely on Twitter for my news, interacting with peers, and generally staying abreast of important trends and ideas informing my line of work. For good and bad, my job is one that requires active attentiveness to Twitter.
After a very busy 2017, I decided I would take a break from it over the Holidays. I have to be honest: It was wonderful, and it has made me re-evaluate my future use of the platform.
Here’s a snippet of some observations about my brief hiatus.
First, I still read the news. I used my iPad to regularly access The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Staying on top of the news was not difficult.
Second, I had to take deliberate effort not to use Twitter. While I still allowed myself occasional uses of Facebook and Instagram, I had to deliberately tell myself “no!” when it came to Twitter. This revealed to me how instinctual and impulsively my use of Twitter had become. I’ve read from multiple outlets about the transforming, and frankly manipulative, effects at work with social media—and social media companies are entirely aware its effects and intentionally hoping for such outcomes.
When I read something I enjoyed, my first instinct was not reflecting on how a particular news item or interest piece affected me. Instead, it was “I need to Tweet this.” Twitter has created an automatic and instantaneous “share” effect that reduces impulse control and allows the reflective elements of cognition to subside for the next dopamine “hit.”
Similarly, if I was thinking about something of interest that I had been reading about or thinking about, any original idea I had was met with “I better share that idea.” Again, I’ve found that Twitter creates an augmented reality for its users—that the “realness” of social media invites almost-instant need to share my life or insights with it.
We are creatures of habit and cultivation. I already knew this. But I really understood it for the first time in taking a break from Twitter.
Third, I became more aware of Twitter’s distance from people’s lives. So much of my world is driven by what influencers and opinionists are saying. But you know what? I never had one single conversation with a family member over Christmas about what Person X was saying on Twitter. Twitter is an echo chamber. Now, it is an important platform that should not be dismissed. But we delude ourselves if we believe that everyone in our orbit is as immersed and concerned about someone’s Twitter hot takes as those who use it frequently are.
Fourth, I was happier. For reasons I cannot explain at length, I am not convinced that Twitter leads to better emotional perspectives or emotional health. It seems to be a growing complaint that Twitter is a toxic environment, and I share that concern. Here’s a big reality I have come to understand: I can probably count on two hands the number of people whose use of Twitter makes me think more highly of them. What does that mean? It means that if you are using Twitter, you probably are not fostering a healthy image of yourself. Let me indict myself on that last sentence for a second: I am personally guilty of every Twitter vice that I point out in others. From acerbic one-offs to quote-tweeting someone I disagree with, or to the ever-important humblebrag, Twitter seems to extract sides of human nature that we would not dare consider emulating in person or sharing around a table.
Fifth, and related to the last point: When I returned to Twitter, I peered over to a Twitter list I follow that is comprised of progressive activists. This is a very anti-Christian group whose entire existence is mediated through grievance, conflict, and resentment. I became genuinely saddened. There was so much vitriol and resentment. Of course, that exists for conservative Twitter too if you go looking for it. This is not a complaint against progressives only. It is an awareness that Twitter creates the exact type of atmosphere that humans with torn and corrupted natures secretly want. It is there if we seek after it. When we go looking for views on reality that are opposite our own or the same as our own, Twitter will help you find it. Twitter is human nature on display.
There’s much more I could share. But my even brief hiatus has made me evaluate my current use of it.
What does all of this mean moving forward?
- More regular Twitter sabbaths.
- I am still trying to determine how to use it less throughout the day and pare down the number of accounts I really need to see.
- No more acerbic one-offs. That might get you retweets and likes (and we deny our craven natures if we insist we do not secretly crave them), but curtness and bombast is not cute, nor is it godly. Being a provocateur seems to run counter to the spirit of Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
- I will still use Twitter, and will do enthusiastically, but I am going to do my best to not contribute to the elements of it that I find disheartening and responsible for shredding civility and public discourse. When I reflect on my use of Twitter as a Christian, I am guilted into thinking that I don’t apply the same standards of decency, kindness, and civility that I would expect of myself if I were having the same conversations in person.
- To that end, I will aim to engage Twitter for the purposes of sharing articles. I will still banter with peers and engage in limited back-and-forth, but I want to always use Twitter such that it is seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6).
- I am done quote-tweeting accounts I disagree with. A simple rule seems to follow here—The Golden Rule: Tweet others the way you would want to be tweeted.
Happy Tweeting, tweeps!