We all know a bunch of good stuff happens when you delete social media apps from your phone. What we didn’t know is that a bunch of bad stuff happens, too! I went there so you don’t have to.
It feels like everyone’s been on a social-media detox these days! To join this fellowship of modern ascetics, disable all notifications. Then maybe turn your phone monochrome. Then hide your apps so you need to consciously use the search bar to find them. The final step is uninstalling, telling the world, feeling smug for a while, and after a month or two you’re ready to go back to the inadvertent Marshmallow Experiment we’ve somehow all come to inhabit. You’ll be left with a newfound respect for your meatspace relationships and interactions, or so the usual story goes. There’s already a zillion thinkpieces on this and I’d like to add my cackle to the infinite henhouse by telling you all how much I love Twitter.
Opportunity presented itself last year. My son was born in 2016, and being Swedish I decided to take advantage of the parental leave provided by our awful nanny state. Six months! And I didn’t want to spend all that time looking at pictures under glass, I wanted to spend it with my child. So bye Instagram, bye Twitter, bye Slack, and bye RSS reader (I would have deleted Facebook too but that was already gone, a story for another time perhaps). If I wanted to use any of these services I’d have to fish my laptop out of its drawer: maybe I’d do it if there was an emergency, but otherwise? Inconceivable.
But the fire of those first two months died. My muse left me.
The novelty of my small human endlessly digging in sandboxes or finding ever bigger sticks wore off, and I’d find myself browsing the news. News is boring and practically good for you, right? Informs you of stuff happening in the world? Turns out you can read a day’s worth of news really quickly. Then it’s on to the sports pages and wild Silly Season speculation, then on to celebrity gossip (I now know more about Meghan Markle than I care to admit) and then whatever cat videos are viral enough to break through to the local front page. I mean, these are ok cat videos, but as I said, I’m used to the very best. The brain abhors a vacuum and while I’m sure you can build enough discipline to think or meditate in between activities, most of us won’t. The mind craves its junk food. And that’s how I eventually ended up on Reddit.
Twitter gets a bad rap, but if I had to pick the REAL evil of today’s Internet I’d be looking at Reddit. I don’t know what bothers me the most: the memes, the groupthink, the neverending TV quotes, the hideous gravity center of 20-something basement dwellers — but it’s all so very, very awful. Reddit is the locus of much of Internet Culture and Internet Culture, as we all know, is pervasive and awful. I die a little inside when I see Swedish teens dabbing. Spend too much time staring at Reddit and Reddit will begin to stare back.
And that’s where uninstalling social media got me? I’d call that a net loss.
So Reddit is really bad. I guess you can have a nice experience with it if you log in and select a few low-traffic subreddits relevant to your Internets. But the site’s natural inclination towards college-age males and the karma system make it really hard to lose the memers, trolls, and misogynists. They’re everywhere. Conversely, if you’re getting your #content from a reputable news company, your articles are going to be the heavily slanted and filtered product of an editorial team. Definitely nicer! But it’s often sort of irrelevant since they need their clicks. Editors are likely to go for the viral, sticky content (Swedish media are very prone to talking about Donald Trump, for instance, something which hardly affects our day-to-day lives but is sure to get reactions).
A lean and well tuned Twitter list, though? It’s a thing of beauty.
I think of the people I follow as levers and switches that can be used to refine my daily media consumption. Feed too tech-heavy? Unfollow two or three of the worst offenders and follow some artists instead. Tired of political opinion pieces? Unfollow. Mute that hashtag. Get some comedians or weird bots in there instead. They’re all just droplets in your very own personal spray of wisdom and novelty. I found that uninstalling Twitter made my phone about 41% more boring and while I did set out to do just that, I wasn’t prepared for the consequences. My brain apparently needs things to stuff down the boredom hole, and it’s either the articles and cat videos supplied by my artisanally selected tweeps, or it’s the deluge of bored teenagers who won’t shut up about Overwatch. So Twitter went back on the phone and I’m measurably happier. It’s so much better than it gets credit for. I also retweet things, not because I need the dings on my phone, but because I believe that all things good should flow into the boulevard.
I am aware that I’m writing this as a middle aged cisgendered white man with ~200 followers, factors that make me impervious to almost all of the bullshit that I see others wrestle with on the platform. But unless you’re famous or want to actually express Opinions on Twitter, it’s amazing. You do need to use a third-party app like Tweetbot though, because the official Twitter app tries to manipulate you in nasty and inventive ways.
Funnily enough, I didn’t miss Instagram at all. It’s strange, because it’s the most social of my social networks: i tend to only follow friends and family. I chalk it down to my being a monster. I’m 38 years old now so everything on the feed that’s not kids doing mundane kid stuff, is people doing things that give me FOMO and I’m prone to pangs of jealousy. I know that’s not how you’re supposed to react when you see your friends have amazing experiences but as I said, I’m a monster. Plus, Instagram’s algorithm will happily show you pictures from two months ago and pretend they happened yesterday when you haven’t logged in for a while, making you look like you’re creeping on people’s timelines whenever you Like something.
I did reinstall it, but the spell was broken. When I open it once every week or so the algorithm makes me unreasonably angry and I close the app. Which is good for me and bad for them, I guess.
In the end, I thought a lot about Time in general during my parental leave. I felt that I threw too much of it away on irrelevant stuff, and that’s why I removed my apps to begin with. I now realize that while trying to limit myself is good and worthwhile, the quality of what I consume is the more important factor. It’s fine to have a long backlog of tabs in Safari and some Instagram pictures of relatives and acquaintances — it’ll keep me from seeking out the junk food, and that junk food is really awful and really addictive. But the neverending news cycle, the opinion pieces, the show-up-and-talk-about-whatever podcasts? Nah. Done with that. And I can’t do it on my own, I need my well-manicured Twitter feed to help me.
Oh, and my new year’s resolution is to stop using my phone in the bathroom! Wish me luck.