In about 4 days my Twitter account will be deleted forever if I don’t login to the system. The widely reported failures afflicting the service as Musk guts the organisation mean I should probably log in before that if I want to ensure I have access. I was pretty sure I wanted to leave the hell site for good given the rewards I get from it (a vague sense of intellectual community, the opportunity to share provisional ideas and the capacity to promote my work) are things I can get elsewhere at a fraction of the mental energy which Twitter consumes. As someone who was in a meaningful sense addicted to the service – something which I think is true of many academics but is rarely talked about – it was difficult for me to post just one tweet. The act of engaging with the service always felt like it pulled me back in, leaving me thinking about the platform even after I had stepped away and stopped using it. This podcast captures something of my own experience in Inger Mewburn’s description of coming to realise the effect that Twitter micro-celebrity (the people who, almost by definition, disproportionately influence the debate about Twitter’s future) had on my psyche:
The weapons of influence – On the reg
What made this difficult for a long time was the sense that Twitter brought something to my intellectual life which I would otherwise miss. However it occurred to me recently that the impulse to share ideas via Twitter might actually foreclose other avenues through which those ideas could be developed, as well as bring collateral costs which might impact the development of your thinking elsewhere. The promotional opportunities Twitter offers are still available to me to a certain extent through the group accounts I manage, as well as LinkedIn and my blogs. It’s hard for me to see why I should remain on the service. The point Cal Newport makes in Digital Minimalism seems obviously true to me in retrospect, summarised from my notes:
We tend to only focus on the value which digital tools bring us and not recognise the losses which come with them. For example if you spend ten hours on Twitter per week the limited benefits it returns (e.g. new connections, exposure to interesting ideas) are likely outweighed by this time. He suggests going to an interesting talk every month and chatting to three people when there.
If I’m honest I came to regret it the first time I deleted my Twitter account but that was because (a) there was a global pandemic a few months later which left me legally confined to my house (b) once I pursued a traditional academic career the social capital @mark_carrigan brought with me would have been much more useful to me than it was as a freelancer and post-doc. When I rejoined in November 2021, a couple of months into my first lectureship, I told myself it was a reflective judgement made for reasons of career planning. But if I’m honest it was just as much because I missed being seen and heard online. However no longer being the most followed person in my discipline created an experience of Twitter which I couldn’t then replicate, leaving me with a strange disjunct between my embodied expectations and the reality of using it. It’s an odd experience which I haven’t really enjoyed, with instrumental considerations tangled up with affective ones, neither of which I was particularly comfortable with.
If it makes me uncomfortable and I don’t think it’s as useful as imagined, at least once you consider the opportunity costs involved, it raises the question of why would I continue to use it?
I was struck that Inger doesn’t plan to actually delete her account which makes it something like a soft retirement from the platform. I think I will let mine lapse just because I can’t bring myself to log back into it and revive it because of everything Twitter now represents to me. The fact that Twitter might be dead within a week makes that decision easier than it would otherwise be.