As a semi-retired person of a certain age, I’ve been curating my archives the last couple of years, sorting through a life’s accumulation of journal-writing, photographs, ephemera, books, clothes, and memorabilia so that I could actually live, instead of hauling around the trappings of a life.
As part of that process, I’m on the second day of a ten-day Twitter fast. I know where that leads. It leads to recognizing that Twitter feeds only anger, emptiness, idleness, and ignorance, if my Facebook experience is any guide.
I joined Facebook in 2006. I didn’t ever allow it to “notify” me of things, but I checked it constantly, keeping up with gossip, news, relatives, politicians, friends, acquaintances, writers, and organizations. Ten years later, when Facebook swayed the election of an improbable incompetent, the platform was still a good medium to find out about opportunities for activism and to know what was going on with my friends.
But though I felt as if I was doing something useful when I checked it, I knew I wasn’t, not really. I realized I didn’t need to keep it as an archive, either. Others obviously have had the same thought, because there are a number of programs around to delete your old content. And because I’m part of a network of activism and I work in a helping profession, Facebook didn’t bring me any important opportunities I didn’t already have.
I deleted all my old posts and likes, until I had nothing on my page, and after winnowing my friends down to people I actually knew in real life, I Facebook-fasted for a while, realized it wasn’t adding much, and deleted my account.
I found I only missed one person I didn’t see often in real life, and we have taken up corresponding by email.
Twitter I joined in 2008. As part of building a writing identity, I diligently followed other writers. Most of their feeds contained only hashtags, links to their books, self-promotion, and complaints about not writing. To fight against that temptation. I posted content – what I called “writing prompts” – every day. For two and a half years, I wrote five mini-stories or story starters a day. Thousands altogether.
This summer I realized it was taking up writing time and only a handful of people ever seemed to see them, so I stopped.
But somehow I was still looking at Twitter, over and over again. I had a few friends, but mostly I was reading news, journalists, organizations, activists, and politicians. Despite careful curation so that I wasn’t following conspiracy theorists or rabble-rousers, I realized I was feeding an outrage habit. And having an outrage habit is not useful.
I don’t need more outrage in my life. I don’t need to seek out cynicism or despair. It doesn’t make me more useful, and it doesn’t nourish me, no matter how important being “informed” makes me feel. I don’t owe an addictive algorithm any allegiance.
At this wonderful moment when I am still healthy and still have my wits vaguely gathered around me like a loose cloak, I would like to make the spaces of my life peaceful, useful, and uncluttered, and I would love to have everything I do and see, both in physical space and in virtual space, contribute to the richness of that life.
And I prefer being useful to being up-to-date.
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
― William Morris