Featured Learning Personal Growth Reflection The Internet

The addictive nature of Twitter

Twitter is the only thing that’s ever made me feel addicted. The combination is my catnip: learning interesting things, seeing pretty art, following live events as they unfold (especially ones that seem poorly covered by the news), venting about politics, and pumping up my emotions.

I fought back against my Twitter addiction by hard blocking the domain, which worked reasonably well for several years. Except I wasn’t really free of it, because I managed a Twitter account for work. So I was still on Twitter multiple days a week, and writing tweets. Even when I got some colleagues to pitch in shifts on managing Facebook, I was always solely responsible for Twitter. Then when the pandemic hit and I switched to remote work, I had to unblock the domain on my computer so I could access my work Twitter account. I resisted posting and engaging on my personal Twitter account, but reading alone is enough to rile me up.

Now that I have quit my job, for the first time in nearly eight years I truly have a choice about whether to use Twitter.

I agree with Ben Werd: “I’m afraid of leaving Twitter for two reasons: because I might miss something from someone, and because someone might miss something from me. In other words, I feel like I need to be on the platform to stay informed for the good of myself, and to let people know about the work I’m doing for the good of my career.”

The FOMO of Twitter is real and legitimate; I have learned so much I wouldn’t have without it. I’ve learned tons about ableism and accessibility from following disability advocates. I’ve gotten better updates about COVID directly from scientists and public health experts. These are clear benefits to my life.

But this is the trap: the grain of real value floating in a toxic sea. “I won’t stay in that long — the acid won’t hurt that bad in a quick dip,” you tell yourself.

It will.

It eats away at your emotions and thought patterns, etching itself deeper with every dip.

For me, the site brings more negativity than optimism, feeding my cynical and pessimistic tendencies. For as much as I learn about ableism, I rage about injustices out of my control.

And a lot of what I learn from Twitter *feels* important, but instead feeds a cycle of despair and disempowerment. Book industry updates. News about Iran and Ukraine and Russia. Political decisions and rulings. Book bans. Shootings. Hate crimes.

Do I really need to hear about every horrible event across the United States, the world? Must I bear witness to and the emotional burden of  every act of terror, of racism, of injustice?

‘Privilege’ is levied as if it is my moral obligation to join the suffering, when my suffering does nothing to help or lessen others’, it just adds to the pool of misery.

And The Discourse feels like the public conversation you need to be part of to be relevant, to be part of whatever industry or group is tearing itself apart on any given day. But it’s usually about somebody’s fuckup. And the personal nature of the attacks — Twitter famously has the daily Main Character you Do Not Want To Be — is almost always disproportionate to the error. Death threats, getting people fired, cancelling new authors’ debuts.

It’s especially galling when someone’s life is torn apart based on a misunderstanding or Having A Bad Opinion. But no one dares push back on this vengeful cycle for fear of drawing the Furies’ wrath upon themselves. I’m not crying Cancel Culture, but there is a difference between holding accountable people in positions of power and authority, and destroying a normal person’s life for one mistake, potentially taken out of context. As Timothy Snyder wrote in On Tyranny, “No one has a private life that can survive public exposure by hostile directive.” People are not perfect, and it feels ironic that it’s often the group advocating against prison that wants to mete out punishment. If we believe in second chances, shouldn’t that also apply to people who have done something non-criminal as well?

Part of me wonders if I’ve done this to myself by following people who post about this. If I’m rubbernecking and enjoy it more than I want to admit. If there could be a way to get the good of Twitter without the bad — but I think that’s a question born of addictive mindset and denial.

Because it’s also an illusion that Twitter will help you. That you must be there for the sake of your career. I have seen very little engagement with my work on Twitter. Maybe I’m bad at self promotion. Maybe my work sucks. Maybe I have no followers interested in my actual work. But the perception that Twitter will help my career is, for me at least, a meager justification for staying on a toxic platform.

I must give channels of self-promotion due consideration as I pivot to freelance work — yet for the type of services I offer and my target audience, Twitter is an unlikely place for me to connect with potential clients. For my blogging and other creative work, there are other barriers to people engaging with my work that I could put my attention to first, like publishing more consistently, writing more meaningful titles, and investing more time in editing. Pretending Twitter is the answer to gaining respect for and engagement with my work is an addict’s excuse that removes responsibility from myself.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *