Let’s zoom back to early April. We’re several weeks into the COVID-19 epidemic. I’m not sleeping well. In fact, a “good night” for me is just a few hours. I’ve realized a couple days ago I’m averaging about 30 to 40 hours of sleep per week. The talking heads on Fox have already begun their drumbeat about how we should reopen businesses to save the economy, despite zero economists arguing for that. The Overton window is already starting to shift from trying to avoid deaths to discussing how many hundreds of thousands of deaths are a “reasonable number” of deaths. The CDC itself will ultimately become a part of this narrative, revising their death count below what anyone else thinks so that they can say a “mere” thirty-nine thousand people have died, which they’re in turn doing because it helps Trump’s narrative when the Overton window doesn’t shift fast enough.
But I don’t even know that yet. That happens in late April. It’s still early April. What I do know, even now, is that the deaths are of course going to hit the poorest, the most disenfranchised, the people who cannot do what I’m doing and work from home. The deaths are going to hit people who have to work the grocery stores, the drug stores, the delivery services. I am unsurprised to see the death tolls comically high amongst people of color, and I’m equally unsurprised to see the talking heads “wonder” why. I’d honestly be more surprised if that weren’t the case.
I cannot make my brain stop thinking about this. Ever. So I have night after night of unending insomnia, forever, because I cannot do anything to fix any of this.
But there is one small thing I can “do”: I can scream on Twitter. I have relatively few followers, but I’m an old account, so my screaming “means something.” But that is itself complicated. Alongside the people whom I merely disagree with are the conspiracy theorists who are trying to say the US caused it. And they themselves are right alongside those saying China deliberately unleashed it. And both of them are alongside those saying the entire thing is a scam. None of these arguments make any sense; they don’t survive the first couple of questions, let alone an actual dialog. But that doesn’t matter; Twitter values all of these positions equally, and escalates them equally, as long as The Ratio is high enough.
So it’s bots against bots, all the way down. Even the people who aren’t bots are basically bots, because it’s not about facts; it’s about sides. There is zero room for nuance or discussion. You need enough people who either agree with you—or even disagree with you, as long as they elevate you—and you are going to be elevated in The Feed. It’s about retweets, and likes, and comments, and only the numbers matter; not what you said. If you tweet a middle finger emoji and you get a hundred thousand retweets, you are more valuable than the epidemiologist who tweets out an actual cure. No actual discussion happens. No one learns. No one is persuaded. Everyone is just angry.
Twitter is so caustic that I long ago had to use scripts that block many, many people. I only follow a couple hundred people, but I’ve had to block nearly forty thousand just to make Twitter tolerable, let alone hospitable. But Twitter is how I communicate. I want to stay involved. I want to stay a part of the conversation. And I have convinced myself that staying on Twitter is how I can do that. I cannot, absolutely cannot, put down this particular bullhorn. I must remain a part of the discussion. So I lay awake and don’t sleep and wonder what the debate will be tomorrow.
That was a few weeks ago.
This evening, for whatever reason, I had it. I’m done. There are many great people on Twitter, but it’s no longer worth engaging with them this way. It’s not even worth it when I’m not getting harassed, because Twitter’s algorithms—correctly, for their bottom line—are only sated when I’m angry enough to use Twitter when I’m on the toilet, and that’s a very high bar. So Twitter goes to great lengths to ensure that I’m as angry as possible all the time. And that will only capture me at my worst. No one will be persuaded, and nothing will be gained.
And I realized I’d felt this once before, about Facebook. And I deleted my account then. And I hadn’t deleted my account on Twitter because I “needed” it.
But the truth is…I don’t need Twitter. Twitter needs me.
So I’m done. If you follow me on Twitter at
@gecko, please feel free to subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, or to email me at
email@example.com if you want to contact me. I’m available a multitude of other ways, many in person if you live in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area. And if you’re a real person and want to talk, I’d really like to chat with you about what you feel, and why, and about how I feel, and why, and see where we overlap and where we differ, and where we can learn from each other.
Twitter and me, though? We’re done.