Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman.
It took the passing of movie star Chadwick Boseman at the young age of 43 to make me realize that I needed to cut way back on Twitter.
See, I wanted to write something on this blog about Boseman’s passing, about the work he’d done while he was sick, knowing that his life might be cut short. About the impact he’d had and the joy he’d spread. That I admired the legacy he left behind and feel awful that he’s been cheated of the time he could have spent with the people he loved.
But I can’t seem to focus on the subject. I can’t even sort out my own feelings about the passing of this famous stranger. Everything’s all jumbled up.
And this isn’t true just with this one subject. It’s true about politics, movies, all sorts of things. I’m more distractible. I’m finding it harder to focus.
The more intense the problem becomes, the more I’ve begun to associate it with Twitter.
Obviously, there are other causes, too. Generalized anxiety about the pandemic. Being stuck at home, looking at these same few rooms. But I think the bulk of the problem comes from what I’m calling the Twitter Effect: a continual flood of information in small doses on widely disparate topics.
As an example, this is what’s popped up in my Twitter timeline as I write this:
- Sports team urging people to vote
- A snide remark at a pundit’s old tweet
- Trump administration
- Abolishing Daylight Savings Time
- Trump’s golf shoes
- Misinformation from QAnon
- Joke about Plato
- Snide election comment
- Halloween book recommendations
- State-level (but not my state) police reform
- Retweeted cross-promotion for a TV show
- Author promo
- San Francisco rent laws
- Superhero commentary
- Trump joke
- Mask commentary
- COVID-19 symptoms/treatment
- Superman joke
- Trump tax returns
- Climate change policy
- Alexa’s “whisper mode”
I stopped scrolling just now when I came to a cartoon with the caption “My desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to stay sane.”
It’s not just that social media can feel so combative and alarmist. That, I can manage. It’s that I’ve spent 13 years training my brain to take in random, scattershot input about all sorts of different things. I need fewer soundbites and more long form thinking. More time reading outside Twitter, in other words.
For a long time, I held on to Twitter because 1) it has replaced blogs as a source for interesting/amusing links, 2) I follow some very fun and funny people and it’s become my main source of laughter during the day, 3) book talk, which is mostly pretty dull but this is what I can get, 4) film and tv talk, which tends to be more analytical and therefore more interesting, 5) and finally, the big one, politics.
Twitter was the place where I kept up with political scandals and wonky procedural shit and climate change and so on. Turning my back on that felt like being a bad citizen.
And few things are as irresistible as an addiction that feels like virtue.
So I’m cutting back on Twitter in a big way. Years ago, I set up my writing laptop to block it during the day so i could get shit done. This past weekend, I set up my desktop to block Twitter (and Steam, because 2580+ hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse is plenty) from midnight to one in the afternoon.
That still leaves my wife’s iPad, which I can use to access the service if I want, but that belongs to my wife and it’s not convenient. Part of any plan for breaking bad habits is to make them inconvenient. Plus, I’m not trying to drop Twitter completely, as I did with Facebook. I just want to cut back.
So I’ll be on Twitter less because less. I won’t be completely gone, but I hope to put an end to doomscrolling and political hobbyism.
It’s a relief, honestly. Social media feels both necessary and damaging at the same time. I’ve sort of grown to hate it.