How Ezra Klein and Ta-Nehisi Coates Helped Me Quit Twitter and Facebook
(Yes, you read that title right)
Amongst other things, 2016 also ruined the internet. Before the election, Facebook was a place of fun pictures, occasionally mundane statuses, and the intermittent heated discussion. Yet, somehow, before this last election, I was able to choose to not engage. (That’s actually not true, I had a hard time choosing not to engage, but at least the discussions didn’t feel like they were life or death.) Then Facebook became a minefield of unknown proportions. Posts were suddenly all about politics. Emails. Russia. Sexual assault. Fake News. I’ll stop before this becomes an unfortunate, modernized version of We Didn’t State the Fire, but you get the idea.
Beyond the constant barrage of political debate, Facebook also became a well-intentioned bubble of action advice. Every day I would see multiple posts with phone numbers and members of Congress to call. Posts full of explanations of complex bill proposals and their consequences. Articles about which outlandish goon the Trump administration was considering for some new position. By the time I was done reading everyone’s posts, I was more prepared to curl up in the fetal position than leave another message for an elected official. I went to bed every night somehow both exhausted and paralyzed. There were so many opinions and voices floating around in my head that I started having trouble hearing my own.
In December 2016, Ezra interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates on his podcast The Ezra Klein Show. At the end show, Ezra asked about advice for young writers and Ta-Nehisi said “I wish I had the courage to get off Twitter”. A conversation then ensued about the actual value of Twitter and whether or not young writers really need it to build their careers. I had never heard someone phrase social media like this, a challenge. I’d listened to Ezra talk at other times about his concerns regarding social media and our attention spans, but I’d always thought that I was above the so-called addiction. But I began to wonder if I would have to courage to get off Twitter. In a moment of arrogant confidence, I deleted the Twitter app off my phone. Just to see if I could do it.
At first I felt like I was missing something. My hand even did a weird twitch toward my phone to check Twitter and check the news. I spent a few spastic days unlocking my phone to check my non-existent Twitter account. Yet, I also noticed that when I would pull out my laptop at night, it wasn’t worth it to me to sign in. If it wasn’t important enough to me to take the extra 10 seconds to pull up the browser, then maybe it wasn’t all that important at all. Finally, I deactivated my account and replaced my Twitter news cosumption with quickly scanning the CNN headlines and listening to an extra podcast focused on the news. (If you’re wondering, I recommend NPR Politics or The Daily from The New York Times.)
Even though I had purged my list of Facebook friends many times, this felt like the ultimate purge. I had sent a few messages to my friends abroad to ensure they had my updated email address, but other than that, I didn’t tell anyone. Even my mom. People always claim that Facebook is such a great connector, so I wanted to test how long it would take anyone to notice. It took a week before I got my first text. (It was one of my sorority sisters from college.) At two weeks, my best friend from college texted me. It took my boyfriend and my mom over three weeks to notice. This seemed like even more evidence that Facebook isn’t actually true connection. Rather it is lazy way to pretend to stay in touch.
Instagram was the only social media account that I kept. Maybe it is because the photos are the focus, not the caption, but it seems to be a marginally more positive place. Maybe it is because most people don’t post on Instagram every day. Regardless, I’m more than happy to quickly scan and celebrate people’s partners, pets, cups of coffee, etc. Whatever people deem important enough for a filter and a witty caption. Full disclosure — my Instagram account does have a political slant. So do some people that I follow. But it continues to not feel as overwhelming. And, instead of being paralyzed by the political posts, I find empowerment in them. A post that captures the image of a sample script with the phone number in the caption has spurred me to action more than novel-long Facebook posts ever did. Maybe because they feel manageable. There’s only one number and one script, which means one phone call and then I can heart the post guilt-free and continue to scroll.
Yes, I know I am probably one of the only millennials who doesn’t have a Facebook and Twitter account. And sometimes I do wonder if I would have a larger audience if I used those two platforms to market myself. But clearing out some of the noise has been invaluable, especially in this political climate. So has slowing down the news cycle. Occasionally it is important to follow the news as it breaks — such as when people started the airport protests against the travel ban. Waiting too long would mean missing the call to action. However, with the speed at which the president changes his mind, deliberate and prudent reporting is imperative. Our exhaustion from trying to track every whim will only provide a wider opening for him to further his agenda.
This not to say that I don’t get the draw of social media. Or that I’m judging you for having accounts. (But, seriously, look into Facebook and Twitter’s privacy policies.) While my Twitter page is gone (or will be once it passes 30 days since I hit ‘delete’), my Facebook account is just deactivated, in case I ever decide that I want to awaken it from hibernation. I’ve had that page since 2007. There’s 10 years worth of posts, pictures, statuses, and memories attached to it. I’m not sure that I can ever just delete that into oblivion. Before deactivating, I did the Facebook ‘download’, which basically gives you rough (mostly text) copies of things like wall posts, messages and photos. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does give me the comfort of knowing that if I did get rid of my page, there would be some, albiet imperfect, record left behind.
Maybe this will be a permanent change. Maybe it is just a phase. It has been a little over a month and right now I have no plans to reactivate. (Plus it is fun to see people’s faces when I tell them that I, the 25 year old, do not have Facebook.) What feels different is that I now have a choice. I no longer believe in the idea if that I got off Facebook, I would lose touch with all of my friends. I know that people will find other methods like texting or email or (in extreme cases) Instagram DM. There’s plenty of ways to communicate. I’m more likely to talk on the phone now because its (shockingly) the easiest way to keep in touch. Facebook messaging and texting require so much more work for someone you haven’t talked to recently, just pick up the phone. Now that I’m no longer reading everyone and their mother’s opinions on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve gotten back to finding my own. And I actively seek out the opinions of others that I care about. Being liberated from the noise actually empowered me to get more involved in the political fight. So, if you’re thinking about coming over to the non-Facebook dark side, just know that we have a lot of opinions over here, but, don’t worry, you won’t actually have to hear them.