My Year without Twitter

the Twitter log in page

I left Twitter in February 2018.

I had been contemplating a clean break for a while, knowing how much time I spent on that website that I wish was spent elsewhere, and the effect that it was having on the way I thought about the world.

I deleted the app, initially planning to be gone for a month. But I also gave myself the assignment of writing about being Extremely Offline before I could come back; I, a highly accomplished procrastinator, pushed that hiatus out to a full year. My only interaction with the site in the past 12 months was via embedded tweets in news articles. Here’s what I learned.

I feel a certain caveat is necessary: I’m not going to talk about why Twitter is bad, toxic, etc. because many people much more eloquent and thoughtful than me have already done so, far better than I could. Instead, I’m sharing what I personally learned from a year without the Blue Bird in my daily life.

Lesson #1: There are so many things to fill my time with — things I really enjoy and wish I did more — that I would nevertheless sacrifice to the pyre of my timeline.

I like to read, and I usually try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction when I do. This past year, I averaged about one book a month (don’t judge, that’s good for me). The year before I read maybe three total. Without Twitter distracting me, I’ve had more time to read, play ukulele, and simply be more present to those around me.

Like all humans Alive and Online today, I still have trouble with time allocation occasionally. But eliminating Twitter from my list of distractions definitely helped. It also helped me realize when I was spending my time on things I’d rather not, so I could course correct more easily.

Similarly, it has been good for my mental health to not have the news constantly and endlessly slow-dripped into my consciousness. It has pushed me to develop healthier consumption habits, like trying to limit myself to morning and evening news digests, rather than a constant stream of half-baked thoughts and alerts. Twitter is a great place for breaking news, but sometimes (read: almost always) it’s better to wait for the full story to come out.

Lesson #2: It’s ok to be more patient with and understanding of views that are not entirely aligned with my own.

Twitter’s worst bias confirmation problem isn’t that it is an echo chamber. In fact, being in an echo chamber isn’t always a bad thing. Twitter’s problem is the increasing radicalization of individuals and viewpoints within affinity groups. This stems from follow/follower clouds that create a silo of bias that reinforce and exacerbate it over and over, pushing the group further into entrenched and increasingly intolerant beliefs.

This obviously creates an environment that is hostile to opposing views, but also (and especially) to weaker views of the same flavor. Dirtbag Left Twitter is openly resentful and contemptuous of more moderate liberals, and the reverse is also true. It turns the world into a giant Spiderman meme, with everyone pointing the finger at everyone else.

However, stepping away from Twitter gave me a chance to build more compassion and empathy for others and their views, while still calling out and challenging things that I disagree with or find problematic, and allowing myself to be challenged as well. It’s important to understand why someone believes a certain way, and as difficult as it may be, we all should try to assume the best intentions of each other.

Of course, this is a matter of scale. I am happy to hear you explain why you think the Green New Deal is not the right answer to climate change. I am, however, entirely uninterested in hearing why you think climate change is a liberal conspiracy to steal the guns and turn the kids into gay undocumented immigrants. If you can’t defend an idea without resorting to racist, sexist, homophobic, or other attacks, I don’t care what you have to say.

Lesson #3: Twitter has a well-deserved bad reputation, but it’s not the only platform that warrants one.

In my time away from Twitter, like the good millennial I am, I leaned on a crutch: Instagram. But for every vile tweet in a woman or PoC’s mentions, there are as many offensive and regressive comments posted on The Gram. The grotesque behavior of assholes online is seemingly unending: Ariana Grande being forced to disallow comments on her photos after Mac Miller’s death; targeted harassment of journalists, people of color, women, and differently abled folx; Barstool Sports.

You need only to visit any public Instagram page, particularly the exorbitant proliferation of meme accounts on the site, to immediately see disgusting and reviling comments from complete strangers online. This is, of course, nothing new. But it is an unfortunate reality that there is no real escape from the toxicity of Twitter; the rot is everywhere. There’s not much else to say here: to be online in 2019 is to be surrounded by hate at seemingly every corner.

Lesson #4: It isn’t all bad, all the time.

But, there is some hope. In what seems to be a response to the darker aspects of the platforms, there have been an uprising of some high-profile positive pages, designed specifically to enlighten your timeline and bring some positivity to your feed. Tank’s Good News, Kale Salad, and WeRateDogs make a good starter pack.

It is both nice and important to have an infusion of light when scrolling through the internet. And largely, that task falls to the individual user to build out. Twitter’s multiple timeline feature can help silo potentially toxic feeds from the rest, or provide a steady stream of puppy-related eye bleach when needed. It’s something that I plan to use far more once returning to the site.

Overall, my biggest takeaway has been this: I didn’t miss being on Twitter half as much as I thought I would. There were definitely times I wished I was on the platform: a huge national event unfolding that I wanted to follow more closely, or a super witty line I thought of that I just know my army of followers needed to see. But I resisted the temptation, and this year hiatus made me a better person. A digital detox, even in this small form, was good for my mental health.

This won’t be the last time I try something like this, either. It felt good to switch up my habits and find healthier choices for my internet diet. So, I will go back on Twitter. But I’ll bring a year’s worth of perspective of not having it in my life daily, and better habits to reorient my use of the site.

See you online.

Originally published on Medium. Reprinted in revised form by permission of the author.

About Adam Whalen

Adam (he/him/his) is a graduate of Santa Clara University (Go Broncos), and served as a JV working for Back on My Feet, a nonprofit seeking to use running and team support to empower those experiencing homelessness, returning from incarceration, and recovering from addiction. After JVC, he moved to San Francisco and worked in the health tech industry. Passionate about the intersection of public health and social justice, he is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree in Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. He enjoys reading, playing ukulele, video games, and obsessing over news/politics. Follow him on Twitter @whaleMPH. (Clare Furay House, Baltimore, MD 2015–2016)