On Quitting Twitter
So I’ve done it. I’ve done the thing. I’ve leapt from a window of the burning building that is twitter.com and am currently falling toward the outstretched netting below me. Who’s holding the edges of the netting? Is it a passel of veteran firefighters? Or a bunch of clowns? What lurks below the netting? Is this metaphor stretched beyond recognition? All of this remains to be seen.
What I do know is this: I’ve not enjoyed twitter very much for the last several years. It’s been a nagging thing, just in the back of my mind. I haven’t felt particularly moved to participate in the Big Cultural Conversations in that shared “town square,” though I’ve often felt obligated to do so. I’ve regretted certain things I’ve said; I’ve resented others for what they’ve said. And this isn’t unique to twitter; I have a similar relationship with the other social media platforms I’m on: instagram and facebook.
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I’m not sure if you’ve experienced this, but as a working artist, as a “creative,” there’s been a strange phenomenon that’s slowly built over time as these social media platforms have gained presence and influence, this feeling that your career, your reputation, your status, your worth, all hang on the functioning of your social media presence. I’d meet people — or see people out there, making work — who weren’t active on social media and I’d wonder how is that possible? and how do you do it? My finger has hovered over the “delete account” button so many times in the last ten years or so, but there’s this nagging feeling that keeps me from going through with it. What will happen to my creative life, my career? Will I continue to exist?
And all the while, social media (and twitter in particular) continued to become more and more of a spurious barnacle on our society: it promoted hate speech, it spread disinformation, it lowered the quality of reasonable discourse, it actively capitalized on sowing discord. It was some balm when He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was banned from the site, when twitter was actively flagging debunked information — it appeared that someone with a moral compass was piloting the ship.
But now we’ve got a new captain, and I don’t particularly like the new captain.
Not that I’ve met Elon Musk, but I’ve been kept tabs on the guy. Three years ago, I bought a Tesla Model 3. Our current car lease was up and I liked the idea of lessening our household’s fossil fuel consumption. I did my research; looked at a bunch of the current EVs on offer — I test drove a few. The Model 3 was the best of the bunch. But man, if Musk’s particular musk didn’t start to putrefy since then. I’m no stranger to suffering the personal beliefs of people who are gainfully contributing to the betterment of society (thanks for everything, Morrissey), but Elon was pushing the bounds of even my tolerance. All that anti-government agitation is not becoming. It reached a fever pitch, IMHO, when he disrespected Oregon’s beloved senior Senator, Ron Wyden — on twitter, no less. Fuck that guy, I thought. Wheels were in motion; I would sell my car. I needed to de-Musk my life. To disinvest.
And now here he is, acquiring twitter. Suggesting he’ll roll back the content moderation; that he’ll reinstate certain banned accounts. Great. It was just the shove I needed. Fare thee well to @colinmeloy, then.
I started my twitter account in January 2009. I think I was bored, looking for something to do. Between tours, between albums, I was futzing around on the internet. Famously (and famous only to myself and the other party involved), my manager expressed surprise that I had started an account. “What are you going to do with that?” he asked. In his defense, this was before it was de rigueur for a musician or writer to have a twitter handle, back when the platform was still just a way for futurist tech-bros to let other futurist tech-bros that they had arrived at some restaurant or another. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Behold, my first tweet.
It wasn’t even a lilac; it was a myrtle. This was a harbinger of things to come. So much off-the-cuff riffage, so much silly conjecture. So much unedited shit thrown into the universe.
I’ve had the chance now to look at my twitter archive, to thumb through some of the 9,102 tweets. So much of it makes my skin crawl, particularly in those early months, when I first was taking to it. The funny thing, also, is that so much of what I remember about twitter being fun, the random back-and-forths, the songwriting contests, the critical mass mooning of the Pitchfork writer who savaged The Hazards of Love — all that stuff happened within the first few months of my being on the platform. The rest? Nothing particularly memorable, as it turns out. Maybe I would count the whole #BundyEroticFanFic thing that I kicked off as being a highlight — but even that was fraught. I didn’t find the initial entries to be very homophobic, but those that took up the game did end up pushing it in that direction. At least it brought joy to Ursula Le Guin; that’s the one good thing to come out of it.
All in all, it’s been a fine run. Just fine. But there’s some palpable relief that comes with being done with it, with putting it behind me. I’ll still wring my hands over posts on instagram, I’m sure, but there seems to be much less conflict there. For now.
Do I still exist?