For a year – I don’t know, years probably – I have felt addicted to and very depressed by Twitter. I’ve always told myself I should scale back or get off it entirely in the same way that I said I should really drink less when I was in New York. But I’m always depressed, there’s a pandemic, my husband and I are under a lot of stress, blah blah blah. I’ll make a change when everything else isn’t so hard, I told myself. Some days it would hit me just how pathetic it was that I looked at my phone immediately upon waking up, and during every sliver of unstructured time. Too much of the convsersation in group chats I’m in became sharing links to tweets, and of course we all had Twitter itself open on our respective computers. Our speech, written and spoken, took on the semantic stuctures du jour of the Extremely Online. “You should post that” or “I’m going to post that” was a sentence that came up too often. To sound like a bore, can nothing be ephemeral? I keep switching verb tenses because in an impulsive fit a few weeks ago, I did go off Twitter. For how long, I’m not sure, so I don’t feel confident in phrasing my engagement with it entirely in the past tense.
I’m on a reserved-to-reclusive spectrum by nature, and my fear was that being off Twitter would make me completely unmoored from society (we live in one apparently). I could probably go weeks or more not interacting with anyone but Paul and barely realize it. Maybe I’ve been assigning that a judgment it doesn’t deserve. Maybe it’s worth questioning what point being aware really serves. It seems that “Awareness” on Twitter is often a cover for histrionics, or an excuse to be histrionic, if there’s a difference. Some people take it upon themselves to post about and retweet every piece of news about every terrible thing happening in the world. Then you have to mute things like “vaccine” and “abortion” just to stay sane. I’ve also muted every iteration of anything related to my most despised person on earth, her friends, and her fandoms, but something always slips through. Even if it doesn’t, I end up putting my own hand on the stove. I have bad online hygiene and have caused myself so many paroxysms of anxiety and bitterness checking up on losers who suck. They may deserve my hatred, but it’s not healthy for me to know about every micro-instance of them finding a new way to suck. My online self-harming is so ingrained into my habits that I needed to do something drastic to stop it. I am so beyond the point of knowing it’s bad and wrong making a difference.
At the beginning of the summer I stumbled across a corner of some type of reactionary-adjacent Twitter. I can’t cut myself off from listening to Red Scare, am kind of trad, will never give up on Lana del Rey, and so on. A lot of people who have those things in common with me are incisive and funny, and they follow people who have nuggets of real wisdom. I’ve read interesting discussions because of this crowd and they’ve provided a springboard for interesting discussions of my own. I’m not sure what they call themselves. “Neoreaction” is declasse I think. They aren’t the alt-right or even the regular right. Heterodox, maybe? Also kind of corny. Almost to a one they had some stance I don’t agree with or find outright reprehensible. Like, I don’t Fucking Love Science but I am vaccinated and have never been vaccine skeptical. I ate a lot of Slim Jims and drank a lot of Fanta in the early 2000s, and who knows what was in that. For every enlightening and astute point, there was a post about the capital W West. I started thinking about how bad I was for following these people that I 40-60% agreed with. A lot of conversations with my husband started with the disclaimer, “I hope I don’t sound too reactionary/mean/like some kind of conservative, but…” The problem is the same reason I can’t help but feel very fond of the Red Scare ladies. A messy, somewhat offensive person who is clearly groping their way into being, whatever else, themselves, is more palatable, charming, and human to me than someone whose Twitter account is in lock-step with progressive politics to such a degree that I can’t gain a sense of their actual personality underneath the flawless, pre-sanctioned vocabulary.
I felt myself getting grumpier and more ideologically unclassifiable by the day. I experimented with letting my fangs out a little more on my public account (which was, at this point, also locked). I took a page from the neotrad waif girls and decided that just because I’m some type of leftist doesn’t actually mean I have to endorse things that other some-type-of-leftists tend to. Most blatantly for me, I really don’t approve of nonmonogamy as a lifestyle. And I don’t have to! That has nothing to do with politics or being a decent person in the world (well some might argue with me on the last point). Maybe “demisexuality is fake” would be the next thing I’d out myself on, I thought. But then at what point do I just become a neotrad waif girl, being HeT3r0Dox for the sake of it. I should probably quit before I’m taking selfies wearing a tennis skirt with a copy of Sexual Personae staged in the background.
My experience on Twitter wasn’t all bad, which is part of the problem. I hate those people who call it “this hell site.” Don’t call it that if you know full well you’ll never quit. Don’t committ internet mortal sin, cowards. It’s obvious to me that those types adore Twitter and are not practicing the radical sincerity many of them tend to advocate in elliding their genuine attachment to the website. Still, Twitter has introduced me to some very singular minds and some of the only “comedy” that actually brings me any kind of joy. Most TV/film comedy falls flat for me, but a post that just reads, “gamer be playing smashed brothers” makes me laugh and laugh. But a lot of what I enjoyed had a dark edge to it. There’s a thrill to getting wrapped up in the Discourse surrounding the bad thread or NYT editorial of the day. There was an observation once by I forget who that if you were confused about what everyone was upset about, just search “the essay” and you’ll work your way to it. A few weeks before I started my hiatus, a writer and critic I greatly admire was set up as the enemy of an absolute dipshit baby person and I was glued to the hysteria. Ultimately, though, there’s something rotten about being so invested in all this. It’s the digital equivalent of eating too much candy corn and the sick, buzzed overheatedness that follows.
I’ve let these drama benders get in the way of not only real life, but sublime real life on multiple occassions. During my first residency at Bennington, science fiction & fantasy Twitter cannibalized itself over Isabel Fall’s fantastic and gamechanging Helicopter Story. I was also losing whatever thread of faith I had left in mainstream feminism as I watched friends and media types alike go into hysterics over whether or not Bernie said a women wasn’t electable. Who the fuck cares, commes des fuck on, etc. Between readings and workshops I was frantically checking in on whatever SFF clout chaser was making an overlong but nutritionally defecit argument for why a short story by a transwoman author was “harmful.” I was looking at this shit instead of the pristine and quiet landscape of Vermont. Outside my windows now, the seasons are changing in the countryside of Northern New Mexico. As a person raised in the Midwest and near or on the East Coast, the beauty of New Mexico still seems unreal, like something humans were perhaps never meant to see. It feels particularly stupid to be addicted to Twitter in this environment.
Right before I ripped the Twitter cord out of the wall I read famously not online wunderkind Sally Rooney’s latest novel Beautiful World, Where Are You. It centers on four Irish millennials navigating their place in the world and interpersonal relationships (when asked, the author insert character, Alice, says her books are about “I don’t know… People”). Two live in the western countryside: ambivalently successful novelist Alice and her love interest, the working class Felix. Two are in Dublin: adrift editorial assistant Eileen and her childhood friend/on and off lover Simon, who works in the leftist political sector. Much of the novel is written in the form of e-mails between Alice and Eileen, where they share updates on their lives but also reflect on the burdens of modern life, mental health, and Capitalism. In one passage, from Eilieen, she rants about the state of online discourse:
“I looked at the internet for too long today and started feeling depressed. The worst thing is that I actually think people on there are generally well meaning and the impulses are right, but our political vocabulary has decayed so deeply and rapidly since the twentieth century that most attempts to make sense of our present historical moment turn out to be essentially gibberish. Everyone is at once hysterically attahced to particular identity categories and completely unwilling to articulare what those categories consist of, how they came about, and what purposes they serve.”
It does make me wonder if Rooney is just lurking out there, tweeting or reading under an anonymous account. More power to her if so. Another depressing facet of online disease brain is the sense that if you’re a writer (or artist of any kind) your twitter presence is inevitable. That you are required not only to post, but post as some kind of professional branding and marketing exercise. Turns out you don’t. Part of my inspiration to finally make a change was this interview with the writer (and teacher of mine) Chelsea Hodson. Chelsea has been taking extended silences on social media for as long as I’ve known her and it doesn’t affect her standing in the literary community, because that of course is maintained by her art and conscientious literary citizenship. A lot of artists, I think, don’t feel confident that they can market their creative output without having to market their soul. They are in fact different things. I digress. Rooney is very apt in evoking the demoralizing experience of Twitter here. And I like that she does it through characters who are practicing an intentional and more intimate form of communication. Earlier this year I read Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts, which less evokes than replicates the emotional bankruptcy of Online. It’s a blackly funny and impressive work, but it left me so tired. For all the conversation about how Rooney and her peers are not meaning-making, her characters are grappling with something I find meaningful, and in a way that I find generative wrt how I address these problems in my own life.
My first major undertaking in my Twitterless life was not to touch grass, but to spend almost every waking hour for a week playing Disco Elysium. It’s a masterpiece and not only the most well-written game I’ve ever played, but one of the most well-written narratives in any medium I’ve experienced. I don’t really know what to do with myself now, but that’s another issue. In the “final cut” release of the game, your player character can complete a special storyline based on the political alignment you end up guiding him into. In my case I more stumbled into communism, the vision quest for which involved breaking down the barriers of gatekeeping lingo and irony with some students to get to the emotional heart of their ideology. It was touching. Though I tend to answer dialogue options on my own gut insticts and pure vibes, I can’t of course do a 1:1 replication of my own mind in the game. I wouldn’t fall easily into communism or the three other alignment options (that I know of at least). There are characters that also don’t fall neatly into categories, and I ended up seeing some of my own frustrations – and Eileen’s for that matter – in a drug addled, EDM fanatic named Noid. That’s short for Paranoid.
Noid is uninterested in the political spectrum and instead conducts himself like a futuristic transcendentalist. His philosophy of “Hard Core” is nebulous and sort of ridiculous but you can read him as a person not unlike a Twitter poisoned millennial in 2021. We are so fractured that we can’t articulate what we want out of life, only that it should feel truer and realer than our current model of being. He’s also cynical and suspicious of everything, traits I have often been accused of having! Fair! The game, usually many steps ahead of us, has also built in the issue of abstracts like beauty and truth being coopted by reactionary movements.
To this point Noid replies, “Nationalism, militarism, racism, and emphasis on a leader character are totally absent in *hard core*.” And Eileen of Beautiful World writes in a later e-mail:
“It is hard in these circumstances not to feel that modern living compares poorly with the old ways of life, which have come to represent something more substantial, more connected to the essence of the human condition. This nostalgic impulse is of course extremely powerful, and has recently been harnessed to great effect by reactionary and fascist political movements, but I’m not convinced that this means the impulse itself is instrinsically fascistic.”
The not “intrinsically fascistic” parts of this yearning for smaller living and realer intimacy is what made Twitter accounts that may actually be a little fascistic seem refreshing in moments. But instead of bemoaning the inability to express some affinity with the old ways of life, I could just you know…live it, and not record it. Not everything about “the old ways of life” is good – maybe most of it isn’t. But if I had to pinpoint the worst thing about how Twitter affects me, it’s that I’ve often felt like it contributes to losing touch with my own brain. I guess I’m trying to be more deliberate about why I think what I do and the choices I make, and part of that is doing so knowing it’s not just in reaction to the infinite rows of dominoes online. Another brilliant feature of Disco Elysium is the Thought Cabinet. As you move through the world, talk to characters, and gain new perspectives, thoughts will occasionally occur to you. You can choose which ones to internalize through a mechanic in your menu screen. Sometimes that process takes fifteen minutes of game world time, and sometimes it takes closer to an entire day. I think a problem with Twitter style engagement is that too many thoughts pop up yet we can’t take the time to internalize them, so they just rattle around chaotically. I am finding myself uncomfortable having so much space for my thoughts, but facing that feels important and worthwhile I guess. Maybe I’ll come down from the mountain and find some healthy way of being on Twitter. For now though, not being there…hard core.