In the months that followed, socially, I felt calmer, clearer, and happier. Turns out, the Twitter experience had immensely soiled and narrowed my worldview. I’d flat-out forgotten there were other, more constructive ways to interact with people. Even if people weren’t interested in engaging in them, it was good to be reminded there was a better way. I liked being back in the real world, feet flat on the ground, my head out of the cloud. This new clarity proved there was undeniably something cleansing and, more importantly, something gained, from no longer jumping into the social media shit show.
Not that it all came without concern. When you break from the pack, certain fears are sure to rear their ugly heads. A part of me felt like I had cut myself off from information and interaction, like I’d permanently ditched my cell phone or resigned from using email. In truth, it was just the opposite. New channels of communication opened up, while the old corroded ones were shut down and sealed off.
Clicking “Deactivate” was like hitting the flush button in an airplane bathroom. Waste, filth, and impurity, magnificently sucked away in a flash. Gone was my anxiety about being smeared, my dismay about being shamed, and any foreboding thoughts of being bullied. I’d ended an abusive relationship. There were no more concerns like, “What will I be yelled at for today?” or “How long before I’m told I did something wrong?” or “When will the brigade of insults begin?” It often takes getting free and clear of a toxic force for you to realize the damage it’s truly doing. For me, using Twitter was like living next to a Superfund site; over time, the poison covertly took its toll.
Flash-forward a year or so from that fateful day in July. I’m still Twitter-free, and my understanding of my relationship with the social network continues to deepen. Back in my tweeting days, I’d often wonder, Why do we use this platform in this fashion? This wonderful interface, constructed to provide a truly democratic experience, where individuals can exchange ideas evenly, has only transformed us into crazed dictators. “What did you say?! Blocked!” “You think what?! Reported!” What a horrible representation of us.
But over the last 14 months, I’ve come to realize Twitter isn’t the malignancy I once made it out to be. It’s just a minor symptom of a much greater disease: our addiction to self-sensationalism. We seem to be at our happiest in this country when we’re screaming “YOU’RE TERRIFIC!” in the mirror, or “YOU’RE FUCKED!” out the window. What better place to indulge these twisted proclivities than an app that lives right in your pocket, accessible at all times, for any impulsive lashing-out or self-aggrandizing thought that pops into your head.
Sadly, the old-school social interactions I so greatly looked forward to weren’t all that different from the newfangled ones online. I quickly noticed an undeniable increase in provocative discussions only being conducted in hushed tones, and people tapping out of most conversations once they got heavier than “What did you think of the Game of Thrones finale?” Common communication is barreling toward a one-sidedness that would put most fundamentalist televangelists to shame.
Turns out, Twitter isn’t a bad representation of us. Twitter is us. And for that reason, most folks feel like they can’t live without it. And maybe that’s true.
Full disclosure: As of the publication of this piece, I am about to reactivate my account. Hypocritical? Probably. Experimental? Possibly. I’d like to think I’m reentering the relationship with a fresh understanding of myself. I have new boundaries, different expectations, and interest in real growth. I’m more in touch with what I’m looking for this time around. And if things don’t go exactly how I want them to, I’ll just jump ship again. After all, I’m a self-indulgent, self-centered addict of self-sensationalism…just like everyone else.
Joe DeRosa is an American stand-up comedian, author, musician, actor, producer, director, editor, television writer, and podcast host.