Requiem for a Feed

2021.02.03 by Josh Erb; 770 words.

Over a year ago, I wrote about the hoops I jumped through to curb my Twitter habit. At the time, I wrote:

"I've increasingly begun to feel that the only real solution is purposeful privation."

So what did this past year look like? Was I completely off the platform? Not entirely. You can still visit Twitter even if you're not logged into your account. You can still see threads and moments and related tweets. And why shouldn't you? These are all the things that Twitter hopes will make your eyeballs stick enough to keep scrolling.

The gravitational pull of the site is so great that part way through the year I took the additional step of blocking the website at the OS level on my phone. And when I caught myself turning off restrictions to "check back in," I had my partner set a password for changing those settings and not tell me what it was.

It wasn't until I was finally (nearly) fully blocked this way, that I realized that I have other attention-sucking apps on my phone, just with less powerful tractor beams. Without Twitter's interference, they started to pull me in. Funnily enough, Slack was the most frequent culprit of my return to mindless scrolling post-Twitter. I think some part of me knew this already, but Slack is essentially social-media for work and whatever other groups you're a part of. I saw that Twitter was gone, but the hunger for a place to mindlessy set my attention remained. I was like a smoker who's recently quit, suddenly aware that he's developed an oral fixation.

So what did the year off Twitter look like? Well, as you might remember, a global pandemic kicked off roughly 2 months after that post. We've been staying at home for nearly 11 months now, with no real signs of that changing any time soon. What did I do with all the dead time that this entailed? I learned to bake a few new things (and yes, I realize I'm not alone in this), I read 33 books, and I tried to improve my practice of the Dutch art of niksen. There isn't anything super out of the ordinary here. I've done all three of these things prior to turning off Twitter. I don't necessarily think these are things I wouldn't have accomplished if I was still active on the site. But who knows? Maybe I wouldn't have. The problem with making a conscious decision to remove something's influence from your life just before the entire world changes is that it's hard to tell which event is responsible for your actions and state of mind. If nothing else, it's nice to have the peace of mind that my time on a website didn't actively hinder me from doing these things.

At the end of "Kill the Feed" I mentioned that my elaborate scheme involved me getting an email with my log in credentials in exactly one year, courtesy of futureme.org. Well, turns out there was a small hitch in this plan. The email never showed up in my inbox. So, as of right now, I don't have the means to log back into my account or even reset my email. Sure it's probably possible to get back into it, this isn't a blockchain private key or anything. But why put time and energy into falling off the bandwagon?

Honestly? I'm kind of relieved. This past year's endless barage of tragedy and horror has been disorienting enough without me knowing every thought in the heads of a large bubble of extremely opinionated people. I'm happy to have had the space to process everything on my own, and to be able to cultivate a personal sense of distance and clarity as events unfold.

Looking back, I think pulling away from Twitter is just the first step. As I said, removing Twitter didn't make me X% more productive or suddenly have the time to achieve all my dreams. But it did help me see that my phone is full of apps clamoring to trap my attention. I think that the next step is to cull any app that I find pulling me in. Compulsively pair it down until until the only software that remains has some sort of practical utility.

Who knows? Maybe someday soon you'll see a blog post about my decision to downgrade to a feature phone?

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