Guys! I finally did it! I deleted my Twitter! I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did. Leaving Twitter for a bit did wonders for my anxiety levels. John Green recently posted a video about how his leaving social media has affected his life, and while he reported (I thought) great improvements in his quality of life, he also said it wasn’t the revolution he’d thought it’d be. For me it was. When I started to tweet again in the past couple of weeks, I grew concerned that my addiction would latch itself onto my brain once more. So I clicked “deactivate” at 5am on a Tuesday morning.
My mind is clearer since I began my hiatus. (I posted about my struggles with social media here.) I have meditated every morning and night recently. I’ve started many notebooks: one for book-writing, one for poetry, a personal diary, a tiny on-the-go notebook for spare thoughts, and one for thoughts on books/reading. The last one is especially great because my book thoughts, it turns out, often don’t fit the character limits of Twitter or Goodreads or our notion of what a bookish blog post ought to accomplish. So I’m having a lot more book thoughts now!
Pen and paper is back in vogue in my life. I can’t believe I lost those essential tools for thinking. I have found that precisely because I am writing I am thinking about topics my brain would otherwise not approach. The best part is it is all happening in private, so I can write about, say, the snobbism of Virginia Woolf, or even explore the potential toxicity of YA Twitter, without having to piss anyone off or have them try to tumble with me.
We talk about increased political polarization in the U.S.; the left is more lefty, the right more righty. The Internet pushes us to take sides, and obviously I am left-leaning, which leads to a cognitive dissonance when you are in online “communities” where other lefties are saying stuff you don’t agree with. Obviously, aloud, it sounds stupid to say that if you are left-learning you must agree with everything every left-leaning person says, especially if they have a lot of Twitter followers, but subconsciously this became my way of thinking. Since I did disagree with a lot of people I felt I ought not to disagree with, there was this constant, suppressed tension in my brain. And with the Internet being my only outlet for thoughts, and with these thoughts being unacceptable in these rigidly binary spaces, there was no way for me to explore this.
A really fast example of these I-disagree-with-all-of-you feelings I have comes from the topic of antisemitism. Here’s quick anecdote about how both the left and right are antisemitic, provided by the recently published Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt:
"In April 2017 at the University of Michigan, a group of students associated with Black Lives Matter hung posters on campus decrying an array of prejudices. There was no mention of antisemitism. This absence was not lost on Jewish students, who had been targeted by antisemitic incidents earlier than year. In a sad but of irony, that night a local (probably nonstudent) what nationalist, alt-right group tagged the posted with Happy Merchant stickers. They implied that liberal Jews were being the hanging of the anti-bias posters. So the Jewish students on campus found themselves simultaneously facing a refusal to recognize antisemitic bias from the left and antisemitic bias from the right.
So what I’ve realized in my time away from Twitter is that I don’t like the right or the left, you all suck, so there.
No, more seriously: It’s been nice to entertain more nuance in my head. I’m able to remind myself that people on all sides of everything ever have done both good and bad. That’s folks being folks. Imperfect, hateful, violent folks.
When I get myself to the level of “all of human history and contemporary politics is folks being folks,” I cool down. The cognitive dissonance resolves. My heart rate lowers. I can sleep. Nuance is good for me.
Goodness it has been freeing!
The main reason I joined Twitter was for books, but since leaving I have not lacked a book community. I still really enjoy Goodreads. It’s so cool just to see that thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of other people have read the titles I’m reading and have had thoughts of their own on them. As someone who felt like an outsider for being bookish while growing up, I like that constant proof that other people are reading books, too.
Goodreads and bookstagram continue to be mostly non-toxic book “spaces” for me, but a huge amount of my book community is just...talking to my friends. In person, online, shopping together in bookstores, mentioning our recent reads over coffee, and scribbling our literary criticisms to each other in letters. Yes, you read that correctly: Since leaving Twitter, I’ve asked my faraway friends to be pen pals with me, and that has come with lovely, handwritten paragraphs of book thoughts.
Last November, I reviewed the excellent biography The Great Unrecorded History about E.M. Forster’s life. When Forster lived in Egypt, he met the gay Greek poet Cavafy, who was unconcerned with being published and instead used his private salon to connect men “literally through literature.” He left his little queer poems unbound on his bookshelves, inviting men to read them. Thirty years later, Forster would still be writing about what an incredible revelation Cavafy’s small gay community was, because: “Up until now, Forster had not imagined any way to be a writer but to partake in the public world of letters. Inability to find an audience had always led him to what he called ‘sterility.’ But Cavafy proved there was a different path: by exercising authorial control he forged a homosexual culture. Sublimely detached from the dictates of the public, he refused to encounter the world on any other terms but his own.”
Even reading about Forster’s revelation was a revelation for me. I don’t mean to say I have no interest in being published or read widely But I have no interest in partaking in the constant, moment-by-moment whims of a particular slice of the public that has proven itself angry, hostile, and intolerant. I also think there’s great value in connecting with the people close to us—literally, within physical proximity to us. That’s why I’m helping set up a community art show in my city this spring. That’s why I’m making a kind of book club revolving around writers who were born in my area. That’s why these conversations are taking place in-person and not online.
There’s a lot of online discourse that I enjoy, of course. I really love it when writers have thoughtful blogs. P. Djèlí Clark, Brian Staveley, and R.F. Kuang’s sites are great examples. I get LitHub’s daily round-up emails; I listen to U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s daily poetry podcast; I like the Economist’s book reviews, too, and any article about how much Zadie Smith hates social media.
Maybe I can make QR a place that feels, to me, as enjoyable as some of these things. I’m not sure. It’s difficult to decide which thoughts I want to be public and which I’d rather keep to myself. There are also varying degrees of “public.” When I say “public,” I really mean available-to-every-soul-on-the-Internet. In this age, sharing a thought with all of my friends is very private, indeed.
These are not the last of my thoughts on Internet usage and technology. Just what I scribbled at lunch today. For now: The era of Twitter is over in my life. Hurray, hurray, hurrah!