Adam Ayrton Stoner

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Flying the Nest: Growing Out of Twitter

4 months ago

I've been on social media half of my 22 years of life.

I joined MySpace (against their Terms of Service and back when MySpace was still cool) in 2006. Then Bebo, MSN, Blogspot, Wordpress, Livejournal, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Dailybooth, Friendfeed, Friendster, Formspring, Foursquare, SocialVibe, Tumblr, Instagram, Google's Twitter knock-off, Google's Facebook knock-off, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn — you get the idea.

I joined Twitter in September 2009 meaning I've been on the network for a third of my life. There was a time where I found Twitter engaging and fun. Now I look at my timeline in dread. What changed? Did I devalue the service myself, by unfollowing swathes of people and setting my tweets to self-destruct, or did something fundamental shift?

It's not me, it's you.

I've never been the recipient of abuse and negativity on Twitter but I see it everywhere. In every thread and @reply, in every quote-retweet, and with every link to an external article there's always a smart alec in the replies chain, keyboard-warrior'ing about how you're 100% wrong and they're 100% right. The analogy that Twitter is akin to shouting in a crowded room is well known - and if that's true, the reverberations are nothing but abuse. More so than ever before, I find Twitter to be a cesspit of narcissism and aggression and it's exhausting to watch.

I'm tired of the content I'm seeing. If it's not a try-hard corporation desperately clawing their fifteen minutes of fame, it's users fostering a sense of false moral outrage. All I see is over-shared, ripped-off content and people nattering about things they're clueless about. What's more, I've not chosen to follow these people. I follow 75 accounts and a quick analysis of the first 30 tweets on my timeline shows less than 60% are authored or actioned (retweeted) by those I follow. The rest are 'likes' from those accounts or sponsored content.

The anger after the Grenfell Tower disaster was a personal tipping point. We all know the broad story - profit came before people - but since when were we all experts in cladding? Twitter was the least helpful I have ever seen it, bubbling over with anger and rage - both understandable reactions to an entirely preventable and foreseen tragedy - but the hive-mind offered little in support for the victims of the disaster. Retweeting inflammatory articles and false statements and driving its own agenda, we all became divorced from the people who mattered most: those on the ground.

The service no longer provides value to me and I feel as if the vast majority of my interactions on Twitter can be automated. Every time I blog, I share it. Every time I post a photo to Instagram, I share it. Those basic social functions can be automated. We spend so much time building and managing technology - why not have that same technology manage it all for us? I am sick of being a bot. It's only on the rare occasion I strike up a conversation worth having that I wouldn't be able to automate my feed but those moments are few and far between. Twitter's character limit is a valuable restriction but I also feel that makes the service useless for meaningful writing and conversation.

In a video titled 'My Information Diet', vlogbrother John Green expressed a lot of what I was feeling:

[Twitter is] both the name of a social network and my personal word for that kind of buzzing misery that the social internet lately fills me with. I call this strange brew of outrage and worry and exhaustion and not being able to look away 'Twittering' but presumably you can get the same unpleasant and yet still somehow desirable feeling from other social media outlets. […] I'm just going to level with you and acknowledge that the majority of time these days my general feeling when on the social internet is like ahhhh.

Twitter is a world-changing tool. It's not only shaped the way we communicate but it is responsible for driving real, meaningful political change. It gives us direct access to artists and musicians, politicians, and millions of other people. It drives the news, the news drives it. Twitter is, has, and will continue to change the world. And how beautiful it is to belong to a community so diverse and decisive.

But if I were to phrase all of my feelings about the service more simply: I think I've grown out of it. Like I said, I've been on Twitter for a third of my life and very few things have stuck with me that long. Growing out of it doesn't mean I think I'm more or less mature than people who still use it. It simply means I crave something different from my 'social internet' experience.

So that's what I'm doing. With the help of some home-grown scripting and apps like IFTTT, I'm making Twitter more frictionless. I'm going to stop reading my timeline because the people I care about, I see - or they have my phone number. I can find news and articles from sources I trust and know and perhaps, in the process, I might even burst out of the echo-chamber.

I have one last point and it's the most important to me: The world I want to work towards is not happening on Twitter. It's happening in the real-world.

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© 2017, Adam Stoner.