Twitter is fascinating. When used correctly it’s a formidable networking tool. It can be a bridge to worlds and people you’d otherwise never have the pleasure (or misfortune) of encountering. It breaks and covers news at such a swift pace “old media” can’t keep up. It’s a microcosm of society, filled with heroes, e-thugs and those that don’t tweet enough to be labeled either.
For me Twitter has been a conduit for more good than bad. But my brain is hyperactive. I have an almost insatiable need for information. Twitter gave 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.
In an attempt to out-cartwheel someone with your wit, a display of what you perceive as intellectual strength may actually be a brutish blow. I remember debating the late Margaret Thatcher's legacy with someone and responding with something along the lines of "Great debating with you. Thanks for not making your point."
At the time it seemed like an appropriate way to close an argument that had become more about ad hominem criticisms than arguing facts. In hindsight it was condescending and cutting. I'm not like that in real life. I worried that inhabiting a 140-character universe meant my thoughts and writing were becoming staccato. Twitter wasn't as symbiotic as I needed it to be.
It was time for a break.
I knew I had to make my Twitter diet as simple for myself as possible--otherwise it'd go out the window. So I decided to adhere to a single rule--just don't tweet. Initially it felt odd. I’d tweeted 43,011 times since September 2009 and its deduction from my daily routine caused noticeable changes.
Right at the beginning of my Twitter break, two things happened in my life that I’d usually tweet about-- the tragic and sudden death of a childhood friend, and the Trayvon Martin verdict. Both tangibly impacted communities I belong to. They sparked a plethora of emotions, ranging from inexpressible grief to a pain so palpable it felt like we were collectively bleeding. I had so many questions, sadly there weren’t enough answers.
Ordinarily I’d express my feelings of grief and frustration in a public place. I’d interact with those who felt the same way, affirming their emotional experience and my own via retweets or replies. Instead I was forced to sit alone with uncomfortable emotions, rather than tweet about them. I was forced to reconcile intellectual and emotional tensions that I'd usually negotiate and discuss online, in private. Consequently I was confronted by an emotion I endeavor to avoid--helplessness.
The deceptive thing about Twitter is that it can make you feel as if you’re actually doing something, even if you’re not. As I thought hard, I realized joining the chorus of anger or grief would change none of the facts that had caused so much hurt.
Before my break, when I was active on Twitter I had consciously curated my timeline to ensure the mélange of personalities and organizations I followed mentally stimulated me in a variety of ways. There were the people who tweeted obscure yet fascinating long reads. The likes of @paulocoelho who’d tweet pithy and powerful quotes on life and love. Youtube personalities like @kidfury and @theskorpion who are always able to make me laugh. I relied on @purseblog for my daily dose of bag porn. Finally, there were those who professed ideas diametrically opposed to mine but had a compelling way of conveying them.
The pluralism was a great way to expose myself to a variety of ideas. Yet I soon realized this constant exposure wasn’t conducive to a sense of balance, stability or ideas being able to take root. By the time I’d read something compelling on one website, there was another article being praised on my timeline. There was always another issue to be outraged about, something else to critique or another celebrity scandal that warranted stepping on the digital soapbox. There was always something to say or consume.
Stepping out of the information cyclone that I’d helped foster meant my thought process slowed down because I was exposed to less. My diet reminded me that I needed to sit more. Sit with my thoughts. Sit at the restaurant with 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 preferable to constant activity and speed.
Critics often say millennials are obsessed with navel gazing activity. I figure if we’re going to peer down into ourselves it's only worthwhile if we extract something that makes us more useful to others.
While on my break I discovered I’m more useful when I listen. As Twitter demonstrates so many of us want to be heard, but who is listening?
My Twitter diet affirmed a lesson that life has been presenting me for while - it needs to become less about my voice and more about hearing others. My voice won’t necessarily make the dialogue better, but hearing always helps. Desisting from tweeting meant I became an observer rather than participant.
A couple weeks back my six-year-old goddaughter stayed the night at my house. We spent the evening together and I listened to her speak. She told me all about her ballet exam, school playground politics and inquired why I wasn’t pregnant yet. When I tried to explain why my uterus remains unused she responded with, “Why are you speaking to me like I’m a teenager?”
I was able to sit and really enjoy being with my goddaughter because my phone wasn’t fused to my fingers. When I did hold my phone, we were using it to take gratuitous selfies and record videos. I bribed her into saying I was the best godmother in the world on camera. She agreed to do so upon the receipt of oranges and more candy. Fortunately I could meet her terms.
Awkward conversations about my reproductive organs aside, it was a beautiful evening. I was present, Twitter was absent and the memory will always be perfect.