What If We Stopped Going On Twitter?

A radical idea, I know.

Image: freestocks.org via Unsplash (art by Silvia)

All good things must come to an end. Like classic restaurants, old New York neighborhoods, and the lives of our favorite entertainers. I’m sorry but it’s true, and it’s not very fun to admit because it means no one cares about your preachy tweets about how much someone or something meant to you, at least for the time during which you were aware of that thing, because ultimately, in the performance of your life, everything is about you.

Speaking of preachy tweets, you know what deserves to die? Twitter. It’s had a good run, Malcolm Gladwell got to make some thought-writering about whether tweets can or cannot do sociopolitical justice, and the service helped spread the news just like Fred Ebb imagined, I’m sure. I’m not even saying that Twitter hasn’t saved lives or made people’s careers or saved the day by making a small child laugh. But that doesn’t mean its time hasn’t come.

You know what I’d rather read than Twitter? Literally nothing, as in—I’d be much happier and more at peace staring into a blank wall than looking at everyone’s tweets. I’d also rather read a million Twitter obituaries, and then not feel bereft at all that I don’t have somewhere to argue about what this one misses versus what that one overlooks, screenshots and all. This is not entirely related to waking up each morning and loading up the app with great trepidation, “Oh God, what’s he saying today”—and worse—“what is everyone saying about what he’s saying?” But it’s not unrelated either.

Remember the gingers? The boys who used to work here? They’re tweet-deleters. Matt still creepfaves, which is just weak if you ask me, but I get it. I get the draw. It’s nice to laugh in between choking on your own spit. “Time is a privacy setting,” wrote Herrman:

Twitter is a massive rolling context experiment, its conversations and subjects and audiences materializing and disintegrating constantly; a single user’s Twitter archive is a series of permanent and public contributions to discussions that have long since ended. A user’s posts referencing the Oscars also reference other users’ posts from the same time, and are experienced first in full transcript. In the archives, however, each speaker is isolated to the point of incoherence.

Twitter is ultimately a giant chat transcript, and we all look like idiots. Don’t get me a wrong I’m not saying I’m not an idiot for participating in this, because I am. We all are. But I’m really curious about what it would look like if we just voluntarily stopped. We have other places we can chat now, like work Slacks, and friend Slacks, and secret gossip Slacks. If Twitter went away overnight, we would be fine. Trust me. You’d find somewhere else to be a self-aware impression of a bad standup comic, I promise. You could take it to Facebook.

But Twitter isn’t going away overnight, it’s just not. Let’s be real, Twitter probably isn’t just going to die right now when we need it to, and I don’t think it’s right to murder it either, and much as I dream about it at night, rogue hackers probably can’t deny the whole service in one fell swoop, at least not for long (please, God, even just, like, a summer blackout of 2003-type-situation would be good).

What is it that separates Twitter from Peach and Mastodon and Tik Tok and Vine all the other made-up social networks that are sort of but not quite iterations of the only thing online has ever wanted, a chat room (with bells/whistles/video)? Not the technology, that’s for sure. No, it’s the eyeballs and the size—the numbers, the audience, AKA the idiot people who use it. You and me, buddy. We are the problem. Just because we still go there. As always, Yogi Berra has the answer.

So what if we just stopped showing up?

Honestly, I think leaving Twitter is going to be the next big “stop eating meat”—an ethical and somewhat torturously difficult intellectual decision whose advantages are so painstakingly obvious and good for the planet that no one will do it because that would make too much sense and also it feels good (though of course it’s slowly killing you). You can bet that the early adopters of this strategy will lord it over the rest of us righteously, and you can bet I will laugh my head off when I see they never really left at all, they are just silently faving from a farm in Utah, still addicted as ever.

I have friends who’ve left Twitter and failed, repeatedly. Or they’ve come up with coping strategies, like unfollowing everyone, or only looking at Twitter at their desk and not on their phones. This apparently helps, but not enough. This is the equivalent of eating only ethically farmed meat that had a name and a hobby and eggs that were allowed to mature on their own terms. It’s nice for you and the other people who can afford the nouveau white flight Hudson lifestyle, but it’s not going to make a dent in the numbers. I used to use Twitter to see what was going on, but now everything is going on all the time and so much (h/t horse_ebooks) that it’s all just a jumble of sexpolitik and 👇🏼 (the emoji for “This.”).

But some people succeed at leaving Twitter (Hi, Mallory Ortberg). Am I bitter because I can’t leave because I’ve never really tried because it’s basically unthinkable, and my livelihood is basically chained to the traffic provided through social channels that depend in part on the wittiness of the capsule summary of a story provided on Twitter? Sure. Do I suspect that we would be just fine without Twitter and we would make do with the lesser imitations and substitutes, and that we might even look back fondly on that cyan logo that used to mean so much to us, even though in fact nothing would ever be the same and none of it would feel quite as good as a cigarette but it would still be technically better for us in the long run, like quitting drugs or red meat? You bet your ass.

Do I know for a fact that we can’t, we just can’t do it, because the smell of chicken nuggets on a subway car is just so irresistible, and our bodies are weak, and we just love the pull? Don’t ask me, I still eat meat.