A few months ago, I realized that reading Twitter at all hours of the day was starting to make me anxious.
I get overly invested in other people. Including strangers. When I was living in New York City, I’d leave the subway in a different mood depending on who else was riding. If everyone was keeping to themselves and seemed relatively content, I was calm. But if something else was going on — a weird parent/child dynamic, a fight between a couple — I’d get sucked into it and when the doors opened, I’d spill out onto the platform still trying to process the emotions of someone else’s dynamic.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve built a relatively quiet life for myself, at least in that my daily life no longer involves the emotional entropy of subway rides. So, you’d think I’d also be without the intrusion of strangers’ emotional states in my mind as I go about my morning routine.
That would be true, except: Twitter, #2019.
One morning the plights of the people of Twitter were particularly weighty. Difficult family members; political distress; death. As this all swirled around me while I was still in my bed, I realized that Twitter in the morning is a bit like waking up and suddenly being thrown into a packed subway car. Maybe it’ll just be interesting reading material and you’ll make your way to the coffee pot with some peace. Or maybe everyone will be screaming, crying, and laughing uproariously, and the noise will make you wish you could just go back to sleep.
So, I deleted my Twitter app.
Suddenly, I could hear the crickets chirping outside, and in the natural pauses of my writing, I’d stare at the clouds outside my windows and see shapes emerge from them the way I did when I was a kid with a big imagination.
Life was good.
I actually started a new novel and penned several essays because of all of the creative space I suddenly had in my mind. It was like I’d run away from the subway and into an empty dance studio, where I could twirl around, jump, or lay down and look at the ceiling whenever I wanted.
Despite the creative freedom, I started to feel cut off. For me, there’s no better way to catch up with what people are talking about — articles, controversies, public sentiments, political atrocities, weather events — than Twitter. Being off of it was good, but I kept finding myself unaware of things my friends were talking about.
Insert eyeroll here, reader. I re-installed the Twitter app on my iPhone.
I tried to trick myself anyway
I put Twitter in a folder on my phone and made it so that I had to scroll over four screens within the folder to get to the app. This, I told myself, would be a visual reminder to ask myself, “Is Twitter the best use of your time right now?”
This tactic worked for like, a week, and then I just developed the muscle memory of scrolling over four times. The thing is, most obstacles we create for ourselves on iPhones are not really obstacles. They’re silly little tricks we try to play on ourselves that — being, ya know, sentient beings and all — we quickly learn to work around.
I decided, recently, I needed to kick it up a notch.
This time the turning point was that I found myself affected by posts about some old friends who I’ve lost touch with but who were together. My emotional response was to feel left out because I wasn’t with them, which I deemed weird since I don’t talk to them anymore, and then I spent time judging myself for thinking that emotional response was weird.
Basically, I was back on the subway getting sucked into something — the something being my former friends, or me, or both.
Not really wanting to divorce myself totally from Instagram and Twitter, I decided to develop some middle ground for myself. I used the “Screen Time” feature on my iPhone to limit the hours I can access certain apps. Currently I have it set so that I can’t use many of the apps on my phone during the hours of 8:30 am and 9:07 pm. Those apps include Instagram, Twitter, shopping apps, Pinterest, and photo editing apps.
So far, I’m finding that limiting my app usage is working well for setting boundaries with the time I’m spending using apps, which is therefore limiting the amount of time I’m spending entertaining ideas other than the ones I’m trying to mine for work.
There are a few caveats, though:
- The phone lets me override the Screen Time, and I can see a slippery slope ahead of that just becoming muscle memory, too. The good thing is that it allows you to either ignore the limit for 15 minutes or for the rest of the day. I almost always choose 15 minutes, which means if I spend 15 minutes on, say, Twitter, it’ll kick me off after the time is up, and plus, the next time I pick up the phone, the limit is there again
- When I set up Screen Time, I was able to which apps to limit. For some reason, I wasn’t able to control whether or not my phone should limit Safari and it was automatically included in the list of banned apps. So I had to switch to Chrome, which has actually been fine/great.
- It’s not as good as when I stopped using Twitter altogether. I’m still using it in the morning and at a night, and although I’m finding myself less invested in it overall, I’m also not reading as wide a range of things as I was when I didn’t have Twitter to fall back on.
This is an evolving journey.
I think it’s possible that I should just quit (Twitter, at least) altogether, rather than limit my use. But I don’t want to cut myself off totally right now. I want to be able to follow along on Twitter during presidential debates, for example, and I also learn about writing opportunities and writing wisdom from Twitter. So for now, I’m going to stick with this middle ground.
Lauren Harkawik is a fiction writer, essayist, and freelance local reporter. She lives in Vermont.