I suppose it was inevitable. I left Facebook over four years ago, and over the last year (and probably longer) I've had the almost daily urge to quit Twitter. Now the time has come.
Let me begin with an image. Twitter, to me, seems like one of the palantiri, the "seeing stones," in The Lord of the Rings. Used wisely, a palantir seems like a helpful tool, a means of fast communication showing what's happening in the far reaches of the world. But in The Lord of the Rings, the question raised is whether they can be used wisely at all. The images shown are from the far reaches, but they are carefully curated by the dark lord Sauron to cause despair. These images are assumed to be truthful, but even if they are accurate, the narrative they tell is not.
It's easy to see the usefulness of Twitter as a tool. In fact, I initially began using Twitter as a replacement for Google Reader (RIP). I'll often receive an e-mail or be in a conversation where someone will say, "Did you hear about...?" And the answer is inevitably yes. Being plugged in to the Stream confers at least the benefit of speed. There's the utility of overhearing interesting conversations and being able to ask clarifying questions. There's the benefit of connecting to people (to borrow Lewis's terms in The Four Loves) in friendship rather than affection (the currency on Facebook). You needn't know in real life the people you follow on Twitter. As long as they're interesting, they can be part of the Stream.
What's harder to see in Twitter is the malevolent force on the other side of the medium. Yes, the Stream provides news of the world...but is getting it faster getting it better? And does the demand for as-fast-as-possible updates affect the news we receive? Is the demand changing the product?
Participating in interesting conversations seems beneficial...but is participating in them 140 characters at a time the best way? There is so much room for misunderstanding, and by recognizing that an audience could be at hand, is the conversation itself altered? Am I outsourcing my conversations to the digital space so that I have fewer resources for these conversations in real space and time?
Am I any better off for marking meaningless holidays, mourning celebrities I've never heard of, or witnessing the outrage of the moment, which will be forgotten by the next morning? Is it good for the soul to constantly envy what others have, to vaunt my own rightness, or to think a thought is only worth something if shared with 860 strangers?
When I consider these questions, it seems there is a huge deficit on one side of the ledger. To be worth it, Twitter had better be providing some significant benefits. And at one time, I would have said, yes, the benefits are worth these considerable misgivings. But not anymore.
Blame the election or the inauguration or just the doom-and-gloom that raises funds, but it just isn't worth it anymore. There is a great temptation on social media to become the flat avatar of a cause and to lose our humanity in the process. It's my hope that, by cutting this digital weight, I will be more present to the people who are close to me and will improve in the difficult task of loving my neighbor as myself. Twitter lets us choose our neighbors, which in itself is something to be guarded against, but it also makes it more difficult to love them (and not just because of the near-constant political spew): Twitter both inflates the self (making it hard to love anyone else up to that standard) and makes the other less real.
So: that's the goal, at least. Love others better, beginning with those closest to me in proximity. It's a goal I'll probably fail at ("I liked you better when you were on Twitter"), but it's worth a try. If you've enjoyed our interactions online and want to stay in touch, you can find me here or by e-mail. Just don't look for me on Twitter.