It wasn’t meant to be like this.
It started off so innocently: a challenge, an experiment. But things seemed to get out of control. Twitter isn’t what I remember it was.
Maybe its just me. On December 20th I flew back into Heathrow from New Zealand, en route to a workshop in Paris for a day (nice!). In Terminal 5 I phoned Vodafone to see what data allowance I’d have there: none, apparently, and it would cost me a small fortune if I wanted to tweet. So I decided not to. This was the start.
I doubt that Twitter would have helped me negotiate the Gare du Nord amidst a strike by French train workers. And the jetlag I was suffering meant that I wasn’t that bothered about following twitter once I was back home. Soon it was Christmas and I hadn’t looked at twitter for a week. A challenge had begun: going from a regular user, how much longer could I stay away?
The first 2 weeks were a little tough, fingers hovered over the twitter app or it was quickly turned off when started by mistake. I thought that when I returned to work I’d get back into the swing of things. But the challenge proved irresistible. Soon it was two, then three, then four, then six weeks. And by then I didn’t really care too much. I’d developed twitter snobbery: laughing at those scrolling through their phones on the train. I wasn’t missing it at all. In fact it was liberating, the pace of life slowed, unfilled by the sense of urgency and outrage that twitter provides.
It was difficult to get away from twitter completely: news websites embed tweets into their reporting all the time. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t using social media: Instagram and Strava remained on my things to do. Later, I’d find out that I also received tweets, retweets and new followers despite by twilence.
After three months, I returned, announcing “IM BACK”. But the experience was disconcerting. The memories I’d had of twitter were different to the reality; in fact it turned out to be somewhat depressing.
What was the problem? It was like a time warp. The same people were having the same conversations. The same people were shouting at the same people; and those people were shouting the same things back. Debates, issues and arguments: they were all the same. I might not have ever been away. Nothing had changed; it was a sort of groundhog day. That’s not a comment on people’s views by the way, but if the great thing about twitter is that it can be used to ‘educate’ other people, alert them to particular problems, and collectively find solutions, then none of that was evident.
Maybe it’s a bit optimistic to find new attitudes and different conversations after just three months. But perhaps frequent use of social media blinds us to its own inadequacies and limits. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.