Lately I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like, ‘I need to get off Twitter, but I can’t.’ Or, ‘I’ve been really good and not gone on Twitter for a week.’ Or ‘@%£$ you, Twitter, you big pile of horse crap!’
Personally, I like Twitter, so comments like this strike oddly upon my ears. I’ve never felt the need to ‘wean’ myself off it, or take a break for reasons other than to go on holiday or meet a deadline. I know plenty of others who have used it for a long time and feel the same. Still, lately there’s a real sense that people find Twitter abhorrent and conversely addictive, like a bad habit they can’t shake.
I definitely identified with that feeling when I left Facebook. At first, I found it useful for sharing photos and keeping in touch, but grew to loathe how it encourages people to self-obsess, brag and compete with everyone else. It’s like a wily witch luring you in with features like ‘my story’ that only urge people to talk about themselves. It’s so ripe for comparing people to one another, and that can be very dangerous, especially when things aren’t so great on your side of the fence. Humans don’t cope well with that kind of psychology.
Twitter vs Facebook
When I discovered Twitter, I thought, hey, here’s somewhere I can bond with other like-minded people on the subjects I find interesting like gaming, writing and general geekery. It’s not a soap opera about who’s changed hair colour, having their fifteenth baby or hint-whinging about something or other (‘can’t say, hun’). Don’t get me wrong – I’m obviously keen to know how my friends are and what’s going on with them, but I would much rather do that in person. I’ve lost count of how many people have said, ‘Oh didn’t you know? I put it on Facebook’.
If anything, Twitter fills a void in my ‘real life’, providing a space to chat about gaming and other things my friends just aren’t into. What’s more, there are few other platforms (except maybe Discord or Kickstarter) where I can engage with devs and other inspiring people who are happy to open themselves up to fans. I can stay up to date with important announcements about games, gigs and news that’s relevant to me. I can promote stuff like my blog and the websites I write for, knowing I’m hitting the right audiences and not boring family and friends who might not give a banana about the complexities of the monkey wrench puzzle.
When I have seen people come to blows, it’s usually over differing opinions on the state of the world, or conflicting morals or behaviour. Quite rightly, people have a lot to say on the big issues, how they’re directly or indirectly affected by the decisions of our leaders (and voters, cough), new laws, environmental crises, and so on. I haven’t come up against that yet, but I tend to stay out of those sorts of conversations, so maybe that’s why.
I get this. Some imbeciles exist on Twitter solely to prod people until they get a rise. It’s even worse if you’re blue-ticked. I’ve been trolled a bit and while it was pretty short-lived, I can see how it might make you want to run away, arms flailing. It’s easy enough to block and ignore, but if fame makes you an attractive prospect for the trolling breed, I guess there’s ultimately no escaping it.
I’m all too aware of how social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms can quickly become all-consuming and so addictive that I catch myself checking timelines and then picking up my phone again a second later. I’m aware of the sudden joy that pings my endorphin receptors whenever that like or retweet symbol pops up (and the sadness when it conflates 20 likes into one). It’s human nature to crave that validation. What worries me is that I don’t remember always needing it – not until I started getting it. It may not be as bad as Facebook, but Twitter instills neediness too.
Of course I’ll probably have my shitstorm moment now, ending with me rage quitting in a haze of disappointing realisation.
I believe your overall experience and enjoyment of Twitter comes down to how you use it, and who you interact with – but there is a shelf life. All social media has the potential to become wholly overbearing, hateful and addictive, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before I experience that first hand.
I was all set to publish this, then a tweet about my Doom blog post unexpectedly took off (thanks John Romero). So now I’d like to add a new category…
It’s all fun and excitement when a tweet gets a lot of attention; even better when people interact and there are some nice exchanges. In my specific case, it was great seeing how a game has influenced so many in different ways, and how people are united by that. And on a personal level, people were reading my stuff and enjoying it. For those first few hours or so I felt great.
Then something weird happened. I started feeling uneasy, and I wanted to remove myself from all the activity hitting my feed. I wanted the notifications to stop.
I guess part of that was the exhaustion that comes from trying to acknowledge and reply to (almost) everybody, but it was also a mental thing. I felt foggy-headed and overwhelmed. Even while the pings were still coming in, I was going through a bit of a comedown, like after a caffeine high, or the end of a holiday.
And this is following only a minor event – it must be ten times that for people when something goes viral. If you’re in the public eye I suppose it’s something you get used to, but perhaps then it becomes meaningless, and ultimately tiresome. For the rest of us, those moments are rare and short-lived, but that’s not to say they don’t make us feel part of a community or even inspire us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t.
I’m curious to revisit this post in a year or so. Will I have closed my Twitter account? Gone incognito? Switched to something else instead? Will Twitter itself be shut down over a mass controversy? Place your bets.