A week away from Twitter

Lane Rettig
Photo by Benjamin Balázs on Unsplash

Recently I took a week off of Twitter. Ostensibly it was in reaction to the fact that Twitter keeps arbitrarily banning some of the most valued members of the Ethereum community such as Evan Van Ness, Jarrad Hope, and Liam Horne. However, it was equally an experiment to see what a week without Twitter would feel like. I was craving some time off, and a short, meaningful boycott felt like just the right catalyst.

A tiny bit of background information: inspired by Jaron Lanier, I’ve been working on eliminating centralized, Web2 social media from my life for some time. I stopped using Instagram over a year ago, and haven’t missed it. I finally deleted my LinkedIn account a few days ago — good riddance, since 99% of what I received there was spam and anyone who really needs to reach me will find me another way. I haven’t posted on Facebook in years; deleting it entirely has been a goal for a while and I am nearly there.

Twitter, however, is another story. Like an addict who gives up drinking and gambling but decides to keep smoking so he has one last vice he can throw overboard, cutting off all other social media only increased the importance of Twitter in my life. I noticed that I was spending more and more time on it, along with a few more troubling signs of addiction: using it in bed and postponing sleep to catch up, scrolling way, way back so that I wouldn’t miss a single notification, paying attention to my follower count, and getting upset when someone blocked me.

When you find yourself relying overmuch on something unhealthy, the best thing to do is to go cold turkey for some time and see how you feel.

And the result?

Would it surprise you if I told you I didn’t miss Twitter that much?

I didn’t. Somehow pre-committing not to use it freed me from a great deal of cognitive burden. The only time I found myself missing Twitter was during the in-between moments — on the bus, waiting in line — when I couldn’t do something more productive. In those moments, I found more meaningful uses of time, from catching up on articles I’d saved, to podcasts, and forums like Fellowship of Ethereum Magicians and Etherean.org.

Here are some of the more surprising takeaways:

  1. The first thing I noticed upon reopening Twitter was that, even in spite of Twitter’s algorithms and heavy curation of the people I follow, easily 99% of what I see on Twitter is meaningless garbage. Whether it’s worth sifting through the garbage for the 1% of gems is debatable, given that…
  2. I found that the most critical information reached me via other channels, such as Evan’s fantastic Week in Ethereum or certain Telegram groups. I feel more and more like a big ingredient in success in the modern digital economy is an effective information diet, and letting others do the curation for you, where possible, can be a big part of that.
  3. On top of that, even if you believe there’s value in what you see on Twitter — and there is of course some value in being exposed to ideas of and dialogue among people you respect — there’s little to no time sensitivity in the vast majority of that content. For the same reason, reading a book is nearly always better than reading a news digest, such as a podcast or The Economist, which in turn is nearly always better than getting the news in real time (another enormous waste of time). Again, let time and other people curate what matters for you. You will not miss the most important topics or articles, which will pop up again and again.
  4. It was genuinely hard to do research without at least reading content on Twitter. Even for deeply technical topics such as this article which I wrote during my week off, I found myself landing on Twitter again and again as a primary source, or to verify something. I had to amend the rules of my boycott (view Twitter content while logged out) so that I could get work done. It’s genuinely a bit frightening to think about what percentage of institutional knowledge in our, or any, community lives exclusively on Twitter in a format that is not meaningfully indexed or searchable, not to mention owned and managed by an unaccountable third party with the right to censor arbitrarily (as evidenced by the senseless banhammer).
  5. Speaking of censorship, without the “Tweet” button as an outlet, I found myself self-censoring what I wanted to say — in the sense that I ended up dropping the less important things (since sharing them was such a hassle), and expanding the more important ideas in long form or in dialogue with friends. I also found myself thinking through these ideas, and developing them more, before sharing them.
  6. I thought I had outsmarted Twitter’s dopamine hook by turning off all notifications (as I do for nearly all apps). I was wrong. I didn’t fully appreciate how hooked I was on seeing retweets, mentions, and followers until I went cold turkey for a week. With the dopamine hook rendered useless I felt much more peaceful and felt more cognitive space open up in my day.
  7. I took advantage of the time off Twitter to try a Web3 app that I had been meaning to try for ages, a Twitter alternative called Peepeth. It uses Metamask to sign data and IPFS to store it in a fully decentralized, self-sovereign fashion, and it’s one of the few examples today of a functional, end-to-end decentralized app (“dapp”). While it’s a little rough around the edges — there is still no native mobile app, so you have to run it inside an Ethereum wallet app — by far the biggest obstacle to engaging more meaningfully is the lack of other users. This drove home the power of network effects and the lunacy of the naive idea, so common in Web3, that, “if we build a better app, the users will follow.” This is especially true of social media. The only chance we have of competing is by (1) exploiting asymmetries to deliver experiences that centralized platforms cannot provide (such as better governance, forks, data interoperability, and allowing multiple, customizable frontends on the same protocol), and (2) building bridges (ideally bidirectional ones) between our decentralized apps and the incumbents. Even then, we should not attempt to go head-to-head with Facebook or Twitter.

In summary, going forward, I expect to spend a lot less time on Twitter specifically and Web2 social media in general, and when I do, I expect that time to be much more focused and mindful.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend putting in place good digital hygiene, starting with regular time off social media. Jaron urges you to delete social media entirely, or to take six months off. I challenge you to start with a week. Let me know how it goes on Etherean.org!

Lane Rettig

Written by

Decentralizing the world one opcode at a time on Ethereum. Founder @crypto_nyc, hacker, polyglot, runner, adventurer, entrepreneur, economist, breaker of molds.

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