Sometime around Thanksgiving of last year, I was idly thumbing through my Twitter timeline, scrolling past a lot of stuff I realized I just didn’t care about, and I quietly closed the app and put my phone down. Then, this:
I’m not sure if I like this anymore.
It was an odd little revelation. I’d been using Twitter for seven years at that point—a lot. Every day, many times a day. For personal stuff, business stuff, being a jackass, everything. It’s the only social network in which I’d bothered to remain active. But I’d reached a point where the information coming in through that small window ceased to be as compelling as it once was, and with the other things happening around me, it also seemed like it was definitely taking me away from where I needed to be right then.
I’ve often felt a weird anxiety around Twitter and ‘staying connected’ or ‘up to date’. I’m not talking about some kind of crippling mental anguish, but a certain slight pressure that gets exerted on your mind once you create a habit of checking this kind of always-changing information. I’d identified it in the past, but it had begun to be a more prominent feeling around that time, likely due in no small part to the reduced amount of time I had to do well, anything.
So I figured I’d take a break, and stop reading Twitter. For like, a week. See how things go.
It’s been almost four months now.
I certainly didn’t expect this. It wasn’t meant to be (nor am I claiming it is) a permanent decision, and I’m not writing this as a call-to-arms for everyone to join hands on this love train. I just figured it was time to collect my thoughts, and a few people have asked about what’s going on, so it’s worth mentioning, I suppose.
I’m also not writing this to begin another “Twitter/internet/information is killing our brains” dialogue. I have no intention of promoting this post or circulating it around. It’s not supposed to get me page views. It’s mostly just a synopsis of some thinking I did, and continue to do.
In leaving Twitter for a while, I ended up disconnecting from a large part of my interaction with the internet as a whole, but then I ended up going further. I haven’t touched this site since around the same time. I’ve since gone back to having some semblance of understanding as to what the world is doing, but I’ve remained disconnected in some ways too. Simply put, I took the time I was spending on mindlessly scrolling through floods of information that was unrelated to most of what I wanted to know about and applied it elsewhere. I’ve been reading a ton, chewing through books. Life’s been pretty busy, and I’ve been working a lot. And getting back to things like making the time to play guitar even just for a few minutes a day to relax and stay sharp, which I’d really been neglecting.
What I did not expect was that by breaking the cycle of “have a thought/read something/immediately formulate a secondary thought/opinion/tweet” I allowed myself to ingest information and just… think about it. To actually mull something over and consider different angles before feeling like I had to analyze and make a decision as to how I felt about something, as it passed through my social networked-Terminator HUD. I noticed a marked reduction in the shapeless anxiety I felt about “staying up to date”. There was a quiet that crept in, allowing for other thoughts. I’ve always been a fast thinker, it’s just the way my brain works. But I didn’t realize that my daily interactions with information flows from the internet was also shaping those actions, and not always in good ways.
My attention was refocused on the things in my direct field of vision, instead of through a tiny viewport. On my kids. My wife. The rest of my family. The people I was eating lunch with. People in stores. Neighbors I passed on a walk. Literally anything else apart from “what was going on”. Things were going on all around me that I’d been peripherally aware of, but not focused on. Not all of it has value, but some of it definitely does.
I will admit, I’ve missed some good friends with whom I really only interact on Twitter. But that’s also on me for not seeking them out in other ways. I’m sure I’ve missed some genuine laughs. But I’ve also missed randos being dicks, snap judgments leading to miscommunication, boundless vitriol, the world’s misery shoved down my throat, you know, all that stuff.
My mind has been moving more methodically–and not in a bad way–affording me precious moments to think, calculate, and react in kind. For the past few years, I’ve been unconsciously using certain neural pathways that were beaten in like footpaths in a park, without my realizing it. The unintended result of which was that certain aspects of my personality were fundamentally changed, right out from under me. I’m not placing blame or pointing fingers, but seeing it clearly and taking note of it has really made me aware of it in a way that I just wasn’t before.
It’s a seriously weird feeling.
Obviously, I’m still using computers, and the internet. My livelihood depends on it. But I’ve been more deliberate about the information I allow in, and when I choose to allow it. It’s a more conscious action now, to engage my mind and take things in at certain points of the day. And to be clear, I’m not saying I’m never coming back. I mean, I change my mind like I change my underwear: frequently, regularly, and with purpose. But I will say that this break has taught me some incredibly valuable lessons about time and attention and what I’ve been doing with them. I still believe there’s value in Twitter as an information source, and as a tool. And I do feel like it might be time to check in with some folks I’ve been missing.
I’m just not sure if it’s where I want to spend the bulk of my time anymore.
And for now, I’m ok with that, to my continued surprise.