What to do about Twitter...

I'm in an abusive relationship. My partner is a controlling, jealous, nightmare. There's a good chance you're involved in this too.

Of course, I'm talking about Twitter. The social media giant that has everyone up in arms about everything.

Why is it this way though? Why do we continue to go to that platform when it's so obviously toxic? Hmm, maybe I should explain why I think it's obviously toxic (in case it's not obvious to you):

Everything on twitter is public

This is the best/worst part of twitter. With everything being public, you can hear voices you never would have otherwise. You can meet people and form great connections.

If you're incredibly lucky.

If you're normal lucky or below, all you meet are people trying to find meaning in their life by arguing with strangers (I'm very guilty of this). A small percentage of these folks are assholes, who are mean just to be mean. Once you spot them, they're pretty easy to ignore.

But the majority of folks are smart and passionate about their cause. They see twitter as a way to make an impact and really believe that they can change lives through the medium. Which brings me to my next point:

Twitter isn't built for changing lives

The short-form communication setup of twitter is a double-edged sword. Limiting thoughts to 240-character sized chunks is fantastic for encouraging people to write. Your brain knows it doesn't have to commit to a five-page thesis; it only has to type out a few sentences.

So it becomes really easy to do that. You get to say something somewhat intelligent without the overwhelming effort of a fully-fleshed out defense. It's an incredibly easy way to feel a sense of purpose.

And with that comes the other side of the blade. Assertions on twitter will always, always be poorly constructed. No matter how well stated, you can't make a claim with ample evidence and counter-arguments pre-refuted and still fit it on twitter*.

Simply stating that last sentence took up half my allotted characters. So far, this blog post would take up 10 separate tweets.

* Yes, you can do the multi-tweet thread thing that people half-read and you don't know where to respond to so the conversation is completely lost and confusing and awful. Yes, you can do that, if you really want.

Everyone wants junk food

Twitter is junk food. It tastes so fucking good sometimes. So good you'll want to spend all day consuming it.

"Hey, that person agrees with me! This is going to feel so good to retweet! Ah, I hit that retweet button now everyone who reads this is going to finally be on my side. Oh I gotta do that again!"

"Hey, that person disagrees with me! But they have a flaw in their argument because all twitter arguments are too short to not have flaws! I'm going to point this obvious fact out to them and they agree with how completely wrong they are! Oh, they responded, saying obviously they didn't mention that counter-argument because it's well-refuted with another counter-argument. But they didn't mention this other thing because no one has room for that so I'm going to point it out and they'll agree with how completely wrong they are!"

It never works. The sentences and attention spans are always too short. We just fill ourselves up with this junk discussion and end the day feeling just as empty inside as when we started. Maybe the solution for the next day is to consume just a little more, better junk, then we'll be satisfied.

So twitter is toxic... now what?

Combine an excessively-public forum with woefully truncated statements and a bunch of people seeking some form of meaning in an overwhelmingly nihilistic world, and you get twitter.

It should be absolutely no surprise to anyone that this is a terrible, terrible place for public debates. Yet we find ourselves continuing to come back to it? Why?

Because junk food tastes so good and is a hell of a lot easier to make than a full-course meal.

'Hmm, i'm a little bit hungry... should I spend an hour cooking a healthy and delicious baked chicken parmesan dinner with mashed potatoes and fresh cooked green beans on the side, or should I just grab two oreo cookies, stuff them in my mouth and savor the short but ever sweet moment...'

Here are a few alternatives to twitter:

  • Blog posts like these
  • Longer-format online discussion boards
  • Face-to-face conversations

I like blog posts. They're fun to write and I get to really think out ideas. But I can't write a blog post on my phone while I rock the baby to sleep. I also can't do it while in the waiting room for my next appointment or sitting on the can dropping a deuce. I can check twitter while doing those things though!

Also, for some reason, when writing a blog post, I want to double check everything. I treat the writing with much more respect and want to ensure I get it right. That adds yet another hour or two to the process, because there are just so many more words to adjust. I do the same thing with my tweets most of the time, but it's always limited to a sentence or two. Not three pages of text.

Online discussion boards are another good option, but they run into the same issue as with blog posts. There's just little time for this and you're still arguing with strangers on the internet.

Face-to-face conversations, even for introverts like me, are a great idea. But how do you find them or make time for them? It's difficult to get out of the house to go to a pub and talk about the [insert thing 1000 miles away] when you've got three kids who need dinner, baths, teeth-brushing, bedtime stories and to be coerced back to sleep at midnight.

All during that time, twitter is whispering in your ear "check me... check me... maybe you got a like! maybe someone retweeting that awesome thing you said! maybe you're tweet is going viral and you're missing out on all the fun!"

Then you check and you see either no responses, or if you're unlucky, some asshole has responded with a really poor counter-argument that would be so satisfying to refute. And you're hooked.

Where to go?

Despite all of this, twitter is useful. It can be hilariously funny. You can have good discussions with people you know on topics that aren't incendiary. That's what keeps me coming back.

But I'm wondering if that's worth the cost. The frustration at saying things and not being heard. At wanting to play devil's advocate, but getting called a bigot or hateful for doing so. There is no such thing as "for the sake of argument" on twitter. You're either for them or against them.

So for me, I want to write more on here. I want to fight the temptation to make a quick post on twitter, and commit to spending the time writing out full thoughts here. I end up investing the same amount of time, but here, I might actually get a return.

That's all. Now to post this to twitter to see if I can get any likes or retweets :)

Header Photo by Kevin Butz (hah) on Unsplash