I still remember my first tweet. I was in a laundromat in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Seated on top of a machine, waiting for my clothes to dry, I was thumbing through what little of the internet I could access via a Blackberry in the pre-smartphone era. I found an article on the fledgling social network and joined via a text message.
It took a little while for me to convert from a text message user to a full-fat web user, spending those first several weeks, maybe months, Tweeting purely via text. This was 2008 and ultimately Twitter replaced keeping multiple SMS conversations in the days before group chat.
The bird quickly became my go-to social network and the only one that I used daily for over fourteen years. I made friends, real-life friends whom I still keep in regular contact with. Whose couches I have slept on. I got jobs and networked. I engaged with charities. I even tweeted with some of my favorite musicians. And one, during an earthquake (the tweet was “Um, was that an earthquake?”)
Most of that was ages ago. Most of that happened in the beginning. I recall joking that I was going to quit Twitter after 3 years, because honestly who should engage with a social network for longer than that? That joke was 11 years ago.
Most of my friends either abandoned Twitter out of boredom or because they saw the writing on the wall, moving on to Instagram or whatever fresh new thing came about.
But not me. I stuck it out. If I had to put a word on it, it was mostly habit. I knew the rhythms of Twitter. I knew the ins and outs. I’d been there for long enough that I felt like I had gotten somewhat established, even if what was established wasn’t that great.
People decried the place as toxic. As an insular community where bad ideas either went unchallenged or were contained in a way where they magnified to the point where they stopped being ideas and started taking themselves as a fact. A funhouse mirror where if you squinted just right, you could almost make out what had once been.
That was justifying a bad scenario.
Ascribing intent when we should have been looking at the actions.
It was a far cry from ‘doing laundry.’
For those that did stay, each had their coping mechanism. Some learned to laugh at the absurdity of it. Some raged against it. Pretty sure most people were drinking. Everyone had learned to laugh about it in one way or another. The platform itself did seem to try and fix things, albeit never going far enough. Every time a token nazi was kicked off, we celebrated. Those were small victories in a losing war.
All those years, and all that habitual action, the reflexive checking every time I opened my phone - that all came to a stop when Elon realized he wasn’t going to be able to back out of the deal.
I didn’t make a big deal out of it. No holier-than-thou speech. I posted a picture of my dog and walked away.
The actions that have occurred in the time since I left have done a bang-up job both justifying my decision and shedding clarity on just how toxic things were before. The combined effect has been illuminating, not taking away the good times, though it did (on balance) make those good times seem much more the exception than the rule.
Strangely, since that final tweet, I have had no desire to tweet again. More than fourteen years of a daily habit just removed. Gone. I checked out Mastadon - having made an account back in 2017. The level of effort made me close the tab and not look back. And I got accepted into Post, a network that just seems like the same echo chamber issues as Twitter had albeit without the nazis.
All of which caused me to start asking why I even joined Twitter in the first place. The initial impetus was boredom - it’s hard to recall what that was like in an age before smartphones. There was the thrill of usage, the dopamine hits of interaction. Of being seen as clever by people that were seen as clever.
In the end, it took an outsider to show that the bad aspects of Twitter had been left untreated for so long that they had obscured what once might have been good. So, now I’ve learned some lessons, grown to the point where I no longer have that need for social validation. The desire, of course, but not the need. I learned that distinction. The biggest lesson is that by reflexively responding to every event, every stimulus, I made the echo chamber worse, not better.
So, as my final tweet said, I’ll stick to blogging. Less content, more meaning. Maybe something else will come along. For now there's just far more important things in life.