I’ve found there are largely two types of people when it comes to Twitter: those who log on only occasionally, and those who are heavy users, constantly refreshing for updates and retweeting and replying and crafting their next tweet.
If you’re in that first group, congratulations! You sound like you have a very healthy relationship to social media and I applaud that.
Until very recently, I was in the second group. I’ve been on the platform for twelve years now, which sounds insane even now as I type it. Twitter has undoubtedly been an important part of my career: it’s an important platform for news, and as a journalist, it’s helped me stay on top of trends and breaking stories, promote my work, build an audience, develop my voice, and connect with others in the industry.
But over those twelve years, I somehow started following nearly 2000 people. My feed had become chaotic and stressful and angry. Every time I opened Twitter, my feed was a mix of subtweets that were referencing things I didn’t understand, people arguing with each other and/or calling each other out, pandemic scolding, quote-tweets of Donald Trump, and general, run-of-the-mill outrage. The platform has become especially tense and charged during quarantine, as everyone is at home, frustrated, bored, and with nothing to do. As Max Read wrote in Bookforum:
Twitter… felt more like a doomed space-colonization mission where everyone had survived but we had to decide who to eat. Or like a drunken 3 AM basement fight club, a crowd of edgy brawlers circling each other, cracking their knuckles, waiting for an excuse. Only, it didn’t have any of the danger, or eroticism, or fun you might expect from a fight club.
Twitter had begun giving me anxiety. I was doomscrolling — the worse the news got, the more I’d endlessly scroll, looking for the latest drama, the latest bad news, the latest take. And the platform had become a stressful place where everyone was angry and outraged all the time, and still I was glued to it everyday even as I knew it was bad for me.
To be sure, there are definitely lots of things happening in the world right now that are worth being angry and outraged about. But there are also plenty of things being debated and picked apart that do not, in the grand scheme of things, actually matter.
Energy is finite. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that we have to conserve our energy and focus it on the things that are most important to us. (And I’d argue that if you want to take action on issues that matter to you, offline action is likely to have far more impact than tweeting). I realized that online debates were not the best use of my energy, and every time I opened Twitter and proceeded to try to decipher what it was that people were fighting about that day, I could practically feel my energy wasting away.
So I decided it was time to start over from scratch.
First, I unfollowed all of the almost 2000 accounts I was following. If you’re worried about offending people, that’s why unfollowing everyone is the best: no one can take it personally. You’re unfollowing everyone indiscriminately.
I reminded myself of my original goal for Twitter: I wanted to use the platform to find interesting articles. When I first signed up for Twitter in 2008, it was useful because it helped me discover stories that I might not have otherwise found. I wanted to learn from different perspectives and find smart, interesting things to read. Today, I wanted that same experience back — and I was no longer interested in media drama (which, if you are not in media, I regret to inform you that there is lots of totally inconsequential, very dumb drama) or arguments about the Twitter outrage of the day.
So I cautiously started refollowing people with those goals in mind. As I followed people, I asked myself: will following this person help me achieve my goals of learning, hearing new perspectives, and finding good articles to read? And then I only refollowed people/accounts that helped me achieve those goals. Right now I’m only following around 115 accounts, and it’s totally transformed my experience of Twitter. It’s easier to find articles and smart observations and I’ve managed to filter out the drama, the anger, the circular arguments, the noise.
I am here to highly recommend doing this if you, like me, feel like Twitter is starting to melt your brain. It’s okay to be selective about what and who you give your energy to! It’s okay to take control of your news and social media diet! 2020 is all about setting boundaries — and not feeling guilty about it.
What I’m reading
How cities come back from disaster, The Atlantic.
The redemption of the spice blend, Eater. Spice blends used to be frowned upon — but now, they’re making a comeback as more people are cooking at home.
Instagram is coming for your sock drawer, New York Times Magazine.
Writers on writing (and not writing) right now: Mary H.K. Choi, Repeller. Some gems in here, like: “Hustle culture isn’t the wave anymore. Not by a long shot. Now it’s discernment and shrewd allocation of resources and boundaries galore.”
What does it mean to be bad with money? Believer.
I used to go out. Now I go to the Home Depot, NYT. On how gardening has been a bright spot for so many during the pandemic.
How can we pay for creativity in the digital age? The New Yorker. On art and money.
My 98 days in unemployment purgatory, The New Republic. Why is it so hard to get unemployment benefits?
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