My name is Ginger, and I used to be a Twitter addict
When I stopped working at Twitter ten months ago, my plan was to spend less time on social media.
Being at Twitter for four years took its toll on me. Like the cop who gets addicted to coke after going undercover, I had become professionally and personally dependent on a drug, but felt like I had enough self-awareness and self-control for it not to be a problem.
If you’re a power user of Twitter, you know how hard it is to keep up with the firehose of tweets.
But just imagine what it was like on the inside: keeping up with all the tweets on a cultural and personal level, keeping up with tweets for our advertising clients (I worked in ad sales), and then keeping up with tweets about Twitter and the industry in general. I really wish I could track the number of tweets I’ve seen over the last few years. Surely it’s in the millions.
Twitter for me was like a never-ending game of Tetris — tweets constantly streamed down my Tweetdeck columns creating an equal mix of panic and excitement. It was fun, and it was fast, and it was infuriating.
A lot of ex-Twitter folks talk about a form of PTSD we’d gotten from working there, and a large part of it was the pace. We had an omnipresent fear of missing something important or being late to something urgent. So we were ever vigilant: always checking in, always keeping up. We feared being the single point of failure that brought the ship down. This wasn’t just a desire to be good at our jobs. We all cared deeply about Twitter and felt we needed to help keep something important stay alive.
My thing is that I will always root for the underdog. I rooted for Apple when it was an underdog. I rooted for Google when it was an underdog. I like the story of a small person fighting against a smug régime. And Twitter felt like the ultimate underdog, always in peril of being swallowed by a giant, always trying to avoid the oblivion of the fail whale.
Keeping up with tweets was important to me. Being one of the first to know about something gave me a sense of pride and value, and I loved the frisson of being the first to share important breaking news, swiveling wide-eyed around in my chair and saying, “Oh my God guess what happened??!!”
But you can be that person only for so long.
Twitter is all about our cultural addiction to the new and the next, and I just didn’t have the energy to take it all in anymore.
So I thought I’d do less of this “keeping up” and let my brain release itself from its state of constant anxiety and stimulation it had been in for years.
I went back to the slow, meandering world of books that I had originally loved. I read plays and attended plays. Jason and I put together a photo studio and started working on projects together. I started again to make things instead of just consuming. I got back to exercising the parts of my brain that had atrophied from underuse.
I’ve loved new technology since I first starting working with computers nearly 30 years ago, but honestly it’s been a relief to take a break from newness for a while.
But I still think a lot about social media and what its lasting effects will be on our culture.
I spend a lot of time walking around Brooklyn and Manhattan and watching a diverse set of people as they go about their lives with their phones.
Now that I’ve stopped tracking the latest memes and the latest reaction gifs, I can see things more clearly. When you look at the long history of information transmission technology, we’ve made incredible progress in a very short period of time.
Anyone with a phone can be a publisher, and anyone can build an audience, and anyone could become famous. This wasn’t always the case, and we tend to forget that with our blasé attitudes.
People with little power can now easily come together collectively, pool their power, and change the world!
My idealist self vibrates with excitement by what we’ve accomplished.
But then we’ve used that power to also become a culture of terrible bullies, making fun of and shaming people for laughs and clicks and favs and retweets.
I would have thought that with all the time we’ve collectively saved by using the internet — Google, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Uber — we could have done something important already like solving the income disparity crisis in America. But we haven’t yet. We’ve filled those newly reclaimed hours with more online time and more entertainment.
I think a lot about privacy and our desire to record and share. How much sharing is good sharing? Does it make me feel more connected to people? Or does it make me feel anxious because I’m not getting enough attention? Should I post more selfies? Will we ever get tired of taking pictures of ourselves and posting them online? Will the novelty of recording everything wear off? Will kids who have been recorded since birth resent the online persona their parents have given them?
It took decades after moveable type was popularized in the 15th century for print culture conventions to emerge and major cultural changes to take root.
Of course we’re on a crazy-fast accelerated timeline now, but I think of this time in history as the incunabula of social media. This frenzy of creating a new world for ourselves online is like the high school kid who has alcohol for the first time and ends up drinking way too much, wakes up with a killer hangover, and realizes they said and did some really messed up things when they were drunk.
I wonder how long it will take to shake off our hangover, recognize our big mistakes, and course-correct ourselves.