Five years of quitting Twitter

It’s been almost five years since I deleted my Twitter account. I didn’t just delete the app or deactivate – I deleted my whole account and my entire tweet history, lighting a match and burning the bridge behind me.

I don’t want to pretend to be some kind of seer, but since then, divesting yourself from social media has become a somewhat fashionable lifestyle choice. For a certain type of person, it’s the kind of pro-mental health, self-care kind of thing you might do along with going vegan or taking up Vispassana meditation. (To make it clear that I’m not above such intellectual trendiness, I’ve tried all those things too.)

In this post, I want to talk honestly about the good and the bad that comes with deleting your Twitter account, from the perspective of a tech guy who’s plugged in to several different software communities (open source, web development, Node.js, etc.).

The good

Let’s start off with the good stuff. Twitter is no longer what I check first thing in the morning and the last thing before I go to sleep. In fact, I instituted a personal rule to charge my phone outside of the bedroom altogether so that I’m not tempted to read it in bed. (I don’t always hold fast to this.)

I have my RSS feed, I have Hacker News, and I have various news outlets (Ars Technica, Wired, etc.), so there’s plenty for me to read on the internet. But unlike Twitter, I actually run out of stuff to read and eventually get bored with my phone. I consider this a plus, even if it ends up driving me towards other screens – video games in particular. But even if my lofty goal is to spend more time reading books or riding my bike, I still consider time spent with my Switch or doing crossword puzzles to be time better spent than flicking through social media.

I also disabled all notifications on my phone except for IM and email, which helps reduce the neediness of my little pocket Tamagatchi. IM notifications are invaluable for keeping up with family and friends, but my email notifications are still sometimes a source of stress, so I try to unsubscribe as much as possible from any newsletters, automated updates, and other bullshit. If my email is going to buzz in my pocket and show me a notification, I want it to be something important.

I still have a Mastodon account, and I still host a Mastodon server at toot.cafe, but I’m not very active anymore. I mostly treat it as a write-only medium. My reasons for this are various, but basically I’ve become less of a booster of Mastodon (and the fediverse in general) over time. It’s a neat idea, and it still works pretty well for the cohort of hardcore techies and tech-adjacent folks who seem to be there, but I just don’t find it super interesting any more. Sometimes I think of Mastodon as my Twitter nicotine patch – it sorta feels like Twitter, it scratches the same itch, but it’s just not nearly as compelling.

The bad

If you’re the kind of techie who uses social media to connect with your peers and build your personal brand – the kind of person who speaks at conferences, writes blog posts, talks on podcasts, etc. – then quitting Twitter is a terrible idea. My blog posts get less traffic than they used to, I don’t get invited to as many conferences anymore, and even when I do give the odd podcast interview, there’s always an awkward moment when they ask for my Twitter handle, or which social media account they should direct traffic and followers to. (I dunno, GitHub? I think I have a Reddit account?)

My main public outlet these days is my blog, and from looking at the WordPress stats, my overall traffic has taken a hit since I quit Twitter. I’ve kind of ceased to exist for a certain segment of my (former) audience, and for the rest, I only exist when someone takes pity on me and links to my blog from Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News, or a big site like CSS Tricks. (I don’t abstain from Reddit or Hacker News, but I’m also not super active there.) It feels kind of weird to have quit Twitter, and yet to relish the traffic spike from a well-timed Twitter mention.

For those people who are re-sharing my content on social media, I suspect most of them found it from their RSS feed. So RSS definitely still seems alive and well, even if it’s just a small upstream tributary for the roaring downstream river of Twitter, Reddit, etc.

Another odd downside of deleting your Twitter account is that, after a cool-down period, someone can grab your Twitter handle. I didn’t realize this was a thing, so someone has squatted on my old Twitter name, presumably because they hope to re-sell it later, or maybe because they want the SEO juice? I have no idea. I would be mad about it, but the fact that this account exists (and my old mentions on Twitter still link to it!) makes Twitter a slightly shittier place, so in my own petty way, I’m kind of glad it exists.

The mixed bag

Some things that I miss from Twitter are both good and bad. Twitter is a sprawling global conversation, and a lot of the important debates in web development (client-rendering vs server-rendering, web components vs frameworks, etc.) were born and thrive there. I miss out on a lot of those debates, and many of them could serve as good fodder for a thoughtful blog post or open-source project, so I regret not having the creative spark that comes from those conversations.

The problem is that a lot of these debates are, in my opinion, either trivial or manufactured. Twitter (like all social media) is an outrage machine, designed to goose engagement using whatever means the algorithm finds through blind optimization. I fully believe that phenomena like “the great divide” in web development wouldn’t exist without Twitter, and to the extent that it does exist in the “real world,” it’s only because it was hatched on Twitter before infecting the rest of us. Social media engagement thrives when it finds a wedge to drive between two parts of a community, where it can cause incendiary content to cross-pollinate from one camp to another, creating an endless cycle of irritation, condemnation, dunking, and flaming.

Occasionally in my RSS feed I’ll read a post that starts off by saying, “There’s been a huge debate about…” or “There’s been a recent controversy over…” and then eventually I realize the whole post is about some Twitter beef. I don’t miss being on the front lines of these kind of battles, but I do think some of these debates are worth having, so I have mixed feelings about it.

Conclusion

I don’t plan on coming back to Twitter. Mostly because I just don’t need it anymore – I’m not super active at conferences or meetups, I don’t have a workshop or service I need to sell, and so there’s little professional reason for me to be there. I like posting on my blog, but I can only hope that my content gets attention in direct correlation to the value that people derive from it. If I write a good blog post, people will read it. I try to focus on that and that alone.

Honestly, even that lifestyle – writing blog posts, watching it occasionally blow up on Hacker News and Reddit, reading occasionally scathing comments – is hard enough on my mental health. Whenever I write a blog post these days, I have a period of anxiety and dread where I worry about the potential backlash. I mitigate that a bit by carefully editing my posts to remove anything that could be misconstrued, and to occasionally have some trusted friends review a draft (thank you all!), but frankly it’s a bit sad that I even do this, because my writing has gotten decidedly more boring over the years.

Sometimes I go back and read my blog posts from 2014 and marvel at how freewheeling, irreverent, and downright joyful my writing was. I don’t really write like that anymore, because social media (and the internet in general) have conditioned me to constantly fret over negative attention. So I act as my own PR firm, carefully focus-testing and bowdlerizing my prose until it’s as dry as a slice of burnt toast. Sometimes I can escape from this trap a little bit (like I’m trying to do right now), but overall I worry that my writing has gotten worse, not better, over time. (Another worry!)

So given my inherent worry-prone nature about posting content on the internet, Twitter is probably just not right for me. The high I would get from seeing a tweet go viral and getting adulation from my peers just doesn’t outweigh the anxiety, the sleeplessness, or the careful tiptoeing and sanitization of my thoughts that come with heavy social media use. I’m already bad enough with that as it is, just with my blog; coming back to Twitter would dial that up to 11.

So I deleted my Twitter account, and I plan to keep it that way. Should you do the same? Well, I dunno. If you need it for your livelihood, then decidedly not. You should probably just see Twitter as a necessary evil and try to insulate yourself from the bad parts while profiting from the good parts. If you’re a casual user, then maybe you’ve already figured out a healthy way to live with Twitter (curating your feed, turning off the algorithmic timeline, whatever), and if so – good for you! For me, I have too much stubbornness and too little faith in my own ability to manage my social media addiction to want to give Twitter a second try.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Hear hear!
    I’m with you, exactly at the same point in my reasoning. (Although unlke you I still do post some crazy whimsical article full of nonsense now and then, just for the sheer lunacy of it, like in the old times when it was funny to write funny things, and who cared who read it!)

    So yeah. Blog is good, Twitter… not so much. The addiction, the anguish, the permanent crusades, I can do without.

    What I find daunting though is that many people who have a website nowadays couldn’t be bothered to add a “contact” link anywhere, and a whois only gives you obfuscated information. The only way t get in touch would be through their twitter account, so I can’t get in touch with them. Oh, heck. I’ve decided to go with it. “Too bad” and “Oh well” come to mind. T-shirt material.

    Thanks for writing still.

    Reply

  2. […] Nolan Lawson […]

    Reply

  3. Wow — this line really stuck with me:

    “The problem is that a lot of these debates are, in my opinion, either trivial or manufactured. Twitter (like all social media) is an outrage machine, designed to goose engagement using whatever means the algorithm finds through blind optimization.”

    Thank you! That puts in words what I’ve been feeling about being “left out of the conversation” with twitter.

    Sure, we’re being left out, but… is what’s being discussed even producing anything useful? No.

    Reply

  4. New (Old) Idea: have Twitter account (and all the other socials), but have my site post links to blog posts on my behalf. Never check the replies. Make use of social media rather than it making use of you.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Maxime Vaillancourt on February 2, 2022 at 2:47 PM

    I’m at the same stage. Did the whole “write blog posts, get retweeted by your idols, make the HN frontpage” thing, and while fun for a bit, it’s a mental health destroyer of a lifestyle. “Twitter beefs” were entertaining initially, but now they make me sad more than anything else. I’ve since unfollowed everyone and moved everything to RSS (that’s how I get your blog posts!).

    Reply

  6. Posted by Tagomago on February 3, 2022 at 12:57 AM

    RSS FTW! Let’s get our heads out of the noise machines.

    Reply

  7. […] solución? Pues claro: quitarnos. Este desarrollador web, por ejemplo, contaba ayer en su blog cómo llevaba cinco años sin Twitter. Sus argumentos eran algo flojetes, pero al final […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.