The Twitter of our Discontent: Social Media in the Age of Trump

Art by Pia Guerra (Pia Guerra)

A few years ago, President Obama did a press conference wearing a tan suit. He strolled to the podium in the White House Briefing Room in that thing. You remember. And it was one of the best days on Twitter in living history. The jokes just would not stop. The interactions were amazing, the commentaries, the sheer volume of discussion that the tan suit generated, it was Twitter perfection. The moment was that much better because President Obama had no idea it was happening. He was trying to make serious comments on foreign policy while millions of people on Twitter were clowning him. I still think about that day when I’m walking somewhere, how I was connected to an event with millions of other people, all of us laughing together as one. That was one of Twitter’s best days. Those days are gone now. Where once we had a website that allowed us to pontificate on any number of important life events, we now have the scorched Earth of a once beautiful world. Like all things he touches, Donald Trump destroyed Twitter, tainting it with the stink of his self obsession.

To be honest, Twitter was killing me and I wasn’t fully aware of it. I mean, I knew that there was something wrong. Around the middle part of the 2016 election, I was constantly on Twitter, either on my phone or on my laptop. I would continuously commit the classic crime of having Twitter open on my phone and my laptop, flipping between the two like there were different versions of the political banter I was reading. When I woke up, I checked Twitter. When I was in the bathroom, I checked Twitter. When I was waiting on the crosswalk, I was checking Twitter. Yes, I was the guy pulling out his phone because I couldn’t handle the abusing reality of not being connected to my information flow for thirty-seconds. I knew I was a broken human, but I was rationalizing. This was the 2016 Election. Hillary Clinton was going to be President and while we waited on that to happen, I wanted to read every stupid fucking thing that Trump posted on Twitter and I wanted to read what people thought about every stupid fucking thing that Trump was posting on Twitter. “I am mentally preserving this insanity for our future generations,” was the lie I told myself. The reality was that I was anxious and I had no place to put the anxiety, so I wanted to absorb other people’s anxiety so it would make me feel better. Of course it got worse when the floor fell out and that Orange monster actually got enough Electoral College votes to work in the most important office in the world. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor at four in the morning, looking at the murder scene that was my Twitter timeline. Tweet after Tweet of blame, disgust, raw hatred and nothing short of digital vomit. The only reason I was able to look away was because I was too tired to keep my eyes open.

Trump winning the Presidency wasn’t the worst part for me. It was the slow moving realization that he was going to be President and there wasn’t a fucking thing anyone could do to stop it. December was me reading Twitter in the hope that someone, anyone found out that Trump did some horrible crime and he couldn’t take office or that the Electoral College would somehow save us. January was me reading Twitter in the hope that all the Russian information would finally be leaked and he’d go to jail. None of those ever happened, but that’s the thing about Twitter. It’s not really about what happened. It is about what is happening. It isn’t like a newspaper, where I can start at the beginning and then slowly make my way to the classifieds. Twitter is a repository for the thoughts, angst and raw boredom of millions of people that should actually read a book instead of answering a Twitter thread. How can I stop reading Twitter when Twitter never stops? Two weeks ago, at rock bottom, I was laying on my couch and reading Twitter on my phone. For two hours. I would respond to something every once in a while, but I was mostly refreshing, waiting for the next hit, that next fix that would make me somehow feel better.

It’s that connection that is so warm and lovely. That is what draws you in. You have millions of voices, pictures, thoughts, moments of people’s lives and it just keeps coming. There is an inherent loneliness at the center of being a person. You are surrounded by people every day, talk to them, love them, but no one fully understands you, no one fully understands you except those hundreds or even thousands of people on the internet that deliver to you a false self that seems so real. Especially when the majority of us were mourning the loss of our illusionary meritocracy, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one crying myself to sleep. Twitter is a home for the overly anxious, the perpetually bored, those that want to resist in the laziest way possible. Just like a mother that never lets a child fall down, Twitter gives us the soft pillow of self-indulgence and preoccupation. Why fix our problems when no one else is fixing their problems either? Let’s talk about our problems over and over, a furious circle jerk where everyone is wearing gloves with sandpaper palms.

Twitter gave me sheer enjoyment. Now it gives me existential dread. I could never quit Twitter all together, though. I’m too used to scrolling down the screen and reading irrelevant material that has nothing to do with me. It’s relaxing like feeding ducks at a pond even if the pond is a burning oil slick and the ducks are all dead. In a weak act of self-regulation, I’m no longer allowed to look at Twitter when I’m at work. That was a near impossible task the first few days, my hand reaching for my phone every minute, my eyes glancing up to my work computer and looking for the omnipresent Twitter tab. After three days, the urges subsided. There was the occasionally cheat. I’m no saint. But what normally took me four hours at work only takes me two, sometimes one. The worst is the constant feeling that I’m missing something, that pebble in my shoe that I would loss a moment in our collective lives and I would be sorry that I did. It’s not fair to blame Donald Trump for my recent disillusionment, however. If anything, Trump’s grossness helped ween me off the digital tit. If Trump was less bombastic, less of a polluting presence, I probably would have continued to waste untold hours scrolling down, looking at Twitter threads about whether hot dogs were sandwiches. Ultimately, cutting back on Twitter is both cutting back on yourself and becoming more narcissistic. I am more important than the churning world around me.