I’ve been screaming my opinions at the world via the internet for a solid decade now. Back in the day, I discovered WordPress, which I filled with my views, shoddy political analysis, and banter (which I directed at other people on my blog). Then Facebook opened up! And Twitter! And Instagram! And you could link them. I have now spent a solid decade getting positive reinforcement and criticism — at least someone cares! — from strangers online.
But this is the year I have to stop.
Social media has brought us all together. But perhaps it’s brought us just a little too close. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram make it easier than ever to plug in and experience a firehose of anger, joy, fear, and “like” (love is a little strong, perhaps) with the tap of a thumb or a few keystrokes. But in a world where Twitter can facilitate digital hate crimes and Facebook is struggling to keep the news legit, let alone civil, does it make sense to turn off the firehose altogether?
In 2014, after Facebook “unzipped” Facebook Messenger, I removed the app. I still look at Facebook, of course, but my primary distraction over the last few years has been Twitter, where, in the space of a few short years, I’ve racked up thousands of tweets. In a lot of ways Twitter is the perfect intellectual treadmill: Read a snippet of a thought, click like, retweet, and move on to the next snippet. My Twitter timeline is a sea of RTs and favs.
Over the last few months, though, Twitter hasn’t exactly been a source of joy. The issue, really, is that the election threw everyone who fancies themselves a smart person (pretty much anyone with a computer and an opinion) a giant hunk of red meat tinged with panic to gnaw on. I discovered that my anxiety grew rapidly via the platform. Twitter, for all its flaws, is an excellent way to get these concerns, and opinions on them, front and center.
So I started tweeting, RTing, and sharing to make my voice heard. At the same time I started having trouble sleeping and began feeling more anxious and miserable over other’s petty unsubstantiated opinions an comments.
It’s not a secret that social media can affect our mental health. Since the inception of Facebook, we’ve discovered that social media can make us depressed, exhaust us physically, and leave us anxious, but it might also have positive impacts on self-esteem and be a place to connect for people with mood disorders and other struggles, offering a support network. It’s really all about fitting these new(ish) platforms into your life in a healthy way.
“People use social media for an experience, to feel a greater depth of feelings: to feel more connected, to laugh, to share things they’re proud of, to be jointly enraged,” she says. “We connect on social media for the same reasons we connect with people in real life: to feel something. And the opposite is also true: Social media can also be used not to amplify emotions, but to deaden them.”
That was really the thing I experienced. Even before the election, something was always on fire on Facebook and Twitter; there was always something to be angry about, and it was constant, never-ending.
Twitter is very, very good at surfacing news, and the old adage of “If it bleeds, it leads” holds true. Unless you fill your feed with kittens, puppies and cute overload — and that’s a valid strategy — if your friends are watching the news, they’re going to share it with you. In some ways, that’s a good thing, but it also means you’re constantly seeing something else that leaves you aghast.
What struck me was that I didn’t think about any of this or the impact that my immersion in social media was having on my psyche. When a friend asked me, point blank, whether I’d considered just deleting Twitter off my phone, the answer was “No, I just haven’t.” At all. Looking at it, and looking at my Twitter usage, it occurred to me that Twitter fit so seamlessly and easily into my life — a series of pellets fed to me so that I’d make more pellets for others to consume — and that there was so little tangible cost to using it, that I simply hadn’t thought about the intangible costs. I recommend logging out completely, so “when you pick up your phone to check your page, you’re confronted with the log-in screen, rather than your home page. There’s a barrier between you and the pleasurable reward of your notifications.”
The idea of removing Twitter from my phone, when I seriously considered it, didn’t fill me with fear; it filled me with relief. I can’t delete my Twitter account entirely — Twitter is great for getting your writing in front of eyeballs — but for a long moment I had to ask myself whether having it on my phone worth it. Was having it sitting there, tempting me to get on the discourse treadmill every night, rewarding me? It wasn’t. Into the fire it went (literally).
The results were almost immediate. I stopped getting sucked into tweeting and posting until the wee hours, of course, but I also managed to get a little distance between myself and the nonsense everyone spews forth. I tweet less and I tweet more judiciously. I still get enraged when I come across idiots posting on the many pages I manage for work, but they don’t drag on for hundreds of tweets and/or comments.
I’m still anxious. I’m still afraid for my daughters’ futures, worried about the direction of the country, and sometimes spend an hour fuming over amateur politics that anger total strangers on the internet. But I’m sleeping better, and I’ve found that if I only use social media during work hours, I’m still informed, but less angry, mostly because I no longer get into pointless fights with total strangers, and immature people I allegedly thought I knew. I do not miss the treadmill, and I find I can more easily set aside my worries for a few hours to sleep if I’m not constantly being reminded they exist.