Goodbye to Twitter

I’ve been a pretty heavy Twitter user since about 2009. I’ve had a lot of fun using the service, I’ve forged a number of friendships there, and in several concrete ways, I owe my career to my use of Twitter. For years, I’ve kept TweetDeck open on a dedicated screen throughout my working day – a connection to the world around me, to colleagues and friends around the world. I was a Twitter advocate. I loved Twitter.

Over the past year or so, the things I once liked about being on Twitter have faded pretty rapidly, and the downsides of being connected to this space have come to overwhelm the upsides. Since ditching my smartphone a few months ago, I’ve been using Twitter less and less, until about a week ago I pretty much stopped.

There are dozens of reasons why I just don’t want to participate anymore, some of which are part of the recent zeitgeist and some of which are totally specific to me. It’d be pointless to list them all. At the same time, transitioning away from being an active Twitter user feels like a major life event for me (silly as that may sound), and I can’t help but reflect on two interconnected reasons that stand out from the rest.

One is that I’m tired of having an audience, or at least tired of having the specific audience that I’ve got on Twitter. Interacting earnestly and honestly with others is hard to do when you’re being watched by thousands of strangers. Some people react to this by adopting the voice of a pundit or a “public intellectual”; I’ve chosen to tell jokes. And the truth is that I like to tell jokes, and it’s nice to make a funny and have people laugh. But when your main public outlet is primarily a platform for snarky comments, it starts warping the way you interact with the world. I find myself actively looking for funny ways to be annoyed as part of my everyday life, and I shape a lot of my internal monologue regarding the banalities of existence against the backdrop of the audience I’ve cultivated. One-liner oneupsmanship is fun when you’re at the bar with buddies. But when it pervades your waking hours, it feels so vapid, and I’m tired of it.

Closely related is the sheer exhaustion of being constantly tapped into in the network. Every tweet I read or write elicits some small (or not so small) emotional reaction: anger, mirth, puzzlement, guilt, anxiety, frustration. I’ve tried to prune my following list so that when I do find myself engaging in a genuine way, it’s with a person I genuinely want to engage with. But there’s a limit to how much pruning can be done, when unfollowing a real-life friend is the online equivalent of punting his puppy across the room. So all day long, I’m in and out of the stream, always reacting to whatever’s coming next. Setting aside the question of how distracting this is when I’m trying to get work done, the fact is that I have a limited capacity for emotional engagement, and the code-switching that’s required when the character of my response is supposed to change every 140 characters only increases this overhead. A life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions. I want to be pouring these energies into my family and my friends and my work.

I’ll keep my Twitter account, and I’ll probably open it once or twice a day to see if anything catches my eye. But I no longer want its constant companionship. That this realization feels more liberating than bittersweet shows that it’s probably the right decision for me.

29 thoughts on “Goodbye to Twitter

  1. Mason James

    I’ll miss ya on there, but your reasons for doing so really resonate with me. And I resisted the urge to retweet this line: “A life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions” genius.

  2. Doug Belshaw

    Boone, this is a shame. And it made me think that, with some people, Twitter’s my only connection with them. I haven’t got their email address. I’m not connected with them elsewhere.

    Still, all power to you for managing your information environment. Perhaps you’ll join me on Sublevel?

    1. Boone Gorges Post author

      Doug – Thanks for the comment. Your reaction is the same as my initial reaction was: what about all those people I engage with only through Twitter? And in many cases this does end up being quite a shame. But on balance, the kinds of engagement I was getting involved in on Twitter – even with these very people – was not really the kind of genuine engagement I want anyway. Take you, for instance: you might have read my facile one-liners hundreds of times over the last year, but now here you are commenting on my blog, and this feels much richer than all of that.

      Sublevel seems kinda neat – I’ll poke around a bit. Though I must say, frankly, that I’m very skeptical that any Twitterish system is going to be any better than Twitter. By this point – and this is a totally personal point – I’m so trained to act a certain way in this sort of rapid-fire, one-to-many enviroment, that I’m not sure I’ll be able to change my behavior enough to make my participation worthwhile.

  3. David Jakes

    Really, really well-said and your writing mirrors my thoughts exactly. Interestingly, I’m going through almost the same process you have been through. I’ve been on since 1997 and I’m done.

    Thanks for writing this…appreciated.

  4. Jill Berry

    Thanks for this – which did make me think. I recognise people use Twitter for all sorts of reasons, and they give different things to it and take different things from it.

    I use Twitter just to connect to people in education, and I learn a huge amount from the tweets and blogs they post. I’m keen to recommend Twitter to other teachers and school leaders at different levels, and have been doing so this week when working with aspiring middle leaders and senior leaders.

    I read and respond to a lot of blogs and spend a fair amount of time on Twitter – I no longer work full-time so I can manage to do this. If I can pass on an idea/link/resource to another teacher/school leader who finds it useful, I find this very satisfying and rewarding. I’ve met some really interesting people through Twitter at various spin off Twitter events – #TeachMeets, #Pedagoo, #ResearchEd, and through contributing to the publication ‘Don’t Change the Lightbulbs’ and the ‘Sweet Dreams Charity Calendar’ initiative, which wouldn’t have happened without the Twitter contacts I’ve made. It’s also led to some consultancy work.

    So, for me, Twitter has been a hugely positive experience. I recognise that one day I might tire of it, and/or the Twitter/blogging bubble in education might burst before then. For now I find far more positives than negatives in it.

    But thanks for making me think (which is the main thing Twitter and blogs do for me!) and I respect and agree with your comment “I want to be pouring these energies into my family and my friends and my work.” If ever Twitter becomes some kind of substitute for human relationships (rather than a supplement to them), I can see the danger of that.

    I wish you the very best of luck.

    1. Boone Gorges Post author

      Jill – Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, which resonate with me in a big way. Like you, I’ve found Twitter to be transformative in a number of professional and personal ways. And I’ll probably continue to encourage people to use it, especially those people who do their work largely alone and could benefit from being tapped into a larger community of peers. In the end, my decision to stop using it is highly tinted by my own experiences on the service, and shouldn’t be construed as advice to anyone else – though, of course, I’m glad anytime something I’ve written leads someone to look at their own behavior with a more critical eye!

    1. Jill Berry

      But having the self-awareness to recognise when you ARE spending too much time on Twitter is an important first step, Tim! You just then need the motivation/self-discipline to stop doing that!

    2. Boone Gorges Post author

      Hi Tim. Sure, do feel free to quote in your thesis. (Funny point that I didn’t mention above: Twitter is probably indirectly responsible for me dropping out of my PhD program. So there’s that.) As for the “excuse” bit – people who are likely to be distracted from critical duties by Twitter are probably just as likely to be distracted by something else in the absence of Twitter, so I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a cure-all. That said, the structure of Twitter – the validation that comes from the responses of real people to snippets of thought – is, for a personality type like mine, particularly addictive. So it’s probably more apt to distract than other media.

      Good luck with your thesis!

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  6. Jim Doran

    I have been avoiding twitter (and Pinterest, etc.) to improve my concentration at work. I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.

    You are visionary. And I’m glad you are still here.

  7. Bowe Frankema

    This posts explains a lot. 3 months of no Boone tweets and I knew something was up. I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter and seem to be only using it in the winter when I’m spending more time inside and behind my computer. I hardly ever sent out a tweet on my phone, and I’ve recently started unfollowing a huge amount of people. That being said Twitter is by far the most useful place in terms of networking and “business” and I don’t see myself moving away anytime soon.

    Talk to you on Slack boonafide hustlar

    1. Boone Gorges Post author

      Hey Bowe. Agreed that Twitter is very useful for business stuff. Opting out of Twitter is something I’m able to do only because I’m lucky enough not to have to worry much about business stuff. But for many, it’s sort of a necessary evil.

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