So you're quitting Twitter, for real this time
A guide from someone who quit Twitter before it was cool
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Back in 2014, there was an internet blowup called “Gamergate.” This was almost a decade ago now (!!!), so I’ll forgive you if you’ve already forgotten about it, but at the time, everyone agreed it was Super Important, even though no one could agree what it was actually about. Adherents—Gamergators or whatever they called themselves—insisted it was about “ethics in games journalism,” whatever that means, while their detractors countered that they were just a bunch of racist sexists running a racist, sexist harassment campaign.
By the time I heard about this stuff, it was well underway, but I was convinced it was Incredibly Important and that it was my duty to spend hours online annoying those racist, sexist Gamergators. I would tweet snarky things with the #Gamergate hashtag, and like clockwork the basement-dwelling Gamergate trolls would show up in my mentions where I could verbally abuse them.
It was endlessly amusing. And of course it meant nothing at all.
For all the sturm und drang about how Gamergate was Gamers Finally Uniting and/or Hitler But About Videogames, it changed basically nothing. The Gamergators just kept tweeting impotently, and the games journalists just doubled down on the social-justicey stuff that had annoyed Gamergators in the first place, which is why websites like Kotaku and Polygon remain boring to the point of unreadability to this day. Everyone just sort of came out of it slightly worse.
And this is all a roundabout way of saying it, but I think that was the beginning of the end for me—the moment that I first realized that Twitter had done a great job of making us think that everything that happened on the site was Extremely Important, when in fact it was of no importance at all. For a moment, I had believed—on some level—that being snarky on the internet would somehow Make the World a Better Place, when in fact my time would have been better spent on almost anything else: volunteering, earning money to give to charity, or even just taking my kids to the park.
But instead I was getting into fights with anonymous strangers so that a corporation could sell my eyeballs to advertisers. I was living in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, working in the Subterranean Hot Take Factory, in order to enrich the penthouse-dwelling elite, except said elite had yet to actually make money on the enterprise, but it would definitely happen someday, shareholders, they were sure of it. And also, instead of paying me near-starvation wages, they were paying me nothing except “likes” and “retweets,” which have roughly the same cash value as “exposure.”
Oh, and also, I was unlikely to get killed in a horrible factory accident. Look, I know the metaphor breaks down, just go with it.
In the last week or two, an awful lot of people have made a big show of Quitting Twitter, which in practice means that they posted a bunch of tweets to Twitter about leaving Twitter, and then continued to hang around Twitter in order to count how many likes and retweets their tweets about leaving Twitter got, and then spent several days tweeting back at all the people who questioned their sincerity about leaving Twitter. Of course they were quitting Twitter! The Bad Electric Car Man had bought Twitter, so it was Extremely Important that they make it known, via Twitter, that they were quitting Twitter.
But I’m going to assume that some of y’all are acting in good faith, and are totally-for-real-this-time stepping out of Plato’s Bird Cave, blinking blindly into the sun. So, as someone who’s been off Twitter for literal months at this point, it’s my solemn duty to reacclimate you to the realities of living in meatspace. With that in mind, here is your official guide to not-Twittering:
1. If you want the emotional high of “speaking truth to power,” you will now have to speak actual truth to actual powerful people.
I saw a tweet the other day (I still pick this stuff up through the grapvine, try as I might to avoid it) that was something like, “White people call Twitter a ‘hellsite’ because Twitter is where black people hold them accountable.” This, like everything else that’s ever been posted to Twitter, was a terrible take for about a dozen reasons, but the main problem with it was this: I’ve seen thousands of people call Twitter a hellsite, and not one of those people was a white person who was mad that black people were currently in their mentions (which isn’t to say it’s never happened, just that it’s clearly not the main reason people think of Twitter as hell).
The problem with Twitter isn’t so much that people there will call you out and shame you for being racist; it’s that people there will call you out and shame you for literally anything, including unambiguously kind and thoughtful actions. This happens all the time, but the most recent example was when a woman decided to cook her neighbors a pot of chili—causing a (racially diverse) Twitter mob to lose their minds and abuse her for days.
Why is it immoral to cook a delicious meal for hungry people? Well, the mob couldn’t quite agree on that. She was…being ableist? Or maybe she was being antifeminist somehow? Or maybe she had a White Savior Complex™️? Or—wait—it was consent. She didn’t get consent. Or something. Look, the mob wasn’t really sure—they’d find the right pseudo-academic Tumblr buzzword to use as her scarlet letter eventually, probably—but what they knew was that she was a monster and had to be punished. (To make the whole thing even stupider, the woman in question identifies as autistic and asexual, making her the exact sort of person the Twitter mobs usually screechingly demand that you Be Kind™️ to.)
But anyway, in the real world, I’m sorry to say, these quick highs of inventing easily-punished villains are few and far between. If you randomly pick someone to go after for doing a normal thing like feeding hungry neighbors, you will most likely be served a restraining order, not a pile of likes and retweets. If you want to speak truth to power, you will have to find a truth that is actually true and an actually-powerful person to speak it to. (Yes, I know that’s scary. Sorry.) On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a power trip and an excuse to make other people miserable, you could try joining an HOA.
2. You are probably addicted to your phone.
This falls into the “Well, duh” column, but we need to address it. Smokers, when they quit, tend to find themselves desperately looking for something to do with their mouths, and you’ll probably be similarly desperate for something to look at on the glowing glass box in your pocket.
Now, just as a ex-smoker can replace the old habit with one nearly as bad, like constantly munching candy, you can easily end up replacing your Twitter habit with something even worse, like TikTok or Facebook or that Kim Kardashian game. Your eventual goal should be to replace it with something better, but for the moment, you just need the digital equivalent of a nicotine patch—something to give you your fix of immediate gratification without addicting you further. I recommend something stupid-but-harmless, like maybe a Klondike solitaire app.
In the long term, you should find a way to use your phone that will actually improve your life, like just throwing it in the trash. If that’s not an option, though, I recommend downloading an e-reader app and reading some books, which, surprisingly, are still a thing—and you’ll be thrilled to know that you can read a 50,000-word book in about the same time it takes you to read 50,000 words’ worth of your Twitter feed. As an added bonus, said book is likely to make you a better-informed and/or happier person. (Imagine if Twitter could do that.)
In my experience, one of upper-middle-class white people’s favorite things to do on Twitter is to post endlessly about how much they love to read, so this should be second nature to you, in the same way that all those people who used to post endlessly about how much they loved their spouses suddenly found themselves drowning in bliss when they were forced into lockdown with said spouses.
I know a lot of you have romanticized the idea of paper books (yeah, fine, you love the smell, whatever, you weirdo), but the goal here is to actually read books, not just feverishly moon over them, so the best policy is the one that results in you actually reading them. So:
Delete the Twitter app on your phone;
Download the Kindle app or some equivalent;
Put the Kindle icon exactly where the Twitter icon was on your homescreen.
Within a week—through sheer muscle memory alone—you’ll probably have accidentally opened the Kindle app hundreds of times. If you accidentally read a tweet’s worth of content each time, you’ll have read Moby-Dick within a month or two.
You probably won’t remember any of it, but the open secret is that nobody who’s read Moby-Dick actually remembers it. It’s about a whale or something.
3. More importantly, you are also addicted to the approval of others.
When I was fresh out of college, my friend Evan and I launched a movie review blog called MovieZeal. Something like half a dozen other writers contributed to the site at one point or another, but eventually one of them was revealed to be a serial plagiarist—the guy had just been copying and pasting whole paragraphs from the reviews at Slant and dumping them onto our site. It was wild to me that he thought he’d get away with it—but even wilder that he’d been doing it at all.
“Why’d he do it?” I wondered aloud. “It wasn’t a paid gig. He wasn’t under deadline. Why did he feel the need to steal?”
Evan shrugged. “I think it was just the praise of men,” he told me.
Something really clicked for me when Evan said that. While neither we nor our writers had ever made a dime off the site, Serial Plagiarist Dude had an army of reply guys who would reliably show up in the comments sections of his reviews with vapid remarks like “Excellent review, Serial Plagiarist Dude! You truly have a way with [other people’s] words!” You can’t eat compliments, of course, but they were apparently enough to keep Serial Plagiarist Dude shoveling coal at the Subterranean Hot Take Factory—even if he had had to steal some of that coal from someone else’s pile.
Back when MovieZeal was a thing, social media barely existed—Facebook was still mainly for posting kegger photos and hardly anyone had heard of Twitter—but Evan’s line has seemed strangely prescient in the decade-and-change since, as Web 2.0 has managed to keep us all running on its treadmill by dangling “the praise of men” in front of us like some sort of poisoned carrot.
Twitter in particular has developed the reputation of being a high school cafeteria, where the whole point of the enterprise is to be seen saying the trendiest things to the trendiest people—but just like a high school social hierarchy, it ultimately serves no purpose other than its own perpetuation. Online as in life, the actions that get you the most applause are rarely the right actions, and when they are, it’s mainly by sheer coincidence. If you really want your Twitter exodus to mean something, start by considering that.
4. The reason you can’t unclench your teeth is because you’ve spent the last decade staring into the human abyss.
Halloween last month was unseasonably warm in Madison, so there were a lot of people out. I walked behind my nine-year-old daughter, who was wearing a boxy shirt and a boxier mask, and I watched as she approached anyone and everyone to announce, “I’m Alex from Minecraft!” She was clearly hoping that someone, somewhere would find it interesting that she liked the world’s most popular videogame, but alas, her identity, while deeply fascinating to her, was of no interest to anyone else. Liking The Thing, it turns out, is not an accomplishment.
Social media, from what I can tell, is an infinite sea of kids on Halloween. We’ve spent the last decade or two running up to each other, loudly announcing our identities, and then wondering why no one else cared. Sure, that’s cool that you’re a disabled-neurodivergent-Latinx-gray-ace-femboy-girlboss-Brony-tradwife-who-suffers-from-DID, except not really, because we’ve already got a thousand other people who check those exact boxes—and when we’re bored of them, we’ve got millions more waiting in the wings with even trendier identities.
It’s not even that people actively don’t care so much as they can’t care. When you have an infinite supply of something, how do you value it? There’s an old Futurama episode where Fry spends a few hours immersed in online porno and then announces, “Welp, thanks to the internet, I’m now bored with sex!” It’s true of sex, and it’s true of everything else: by offering a literal infinity, the internet has made us bored of everything—including people.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news, though: Those random collections of cringey identities and clichéd opinions you see on your computer and phone screens? They’re not actually people. Not really. The actual people are the squishy, flesh-colored, breathing things around you. The ones in your home and your neighborhood and your workplace and your church and your synagogue and your coven and your nude yoga class. Sure, there are things about them that might annoy you—but you don’t even have to ask them about those things if you don’t want to. You can just do nice things for them without demanding to inspect their CVs.
In other words: Spend less time harassing people for making chili for their neighbors, and more time just making chili for your neighbors. That’s the only way I know of to move forward and rebuild in a post-Twitter world.
Good luck, live long, and touch grass. 🕹🌙🧸
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Ophelia, Alive: A Ghost Story, my debut novel about ghosts, zombies, Hamlet, and higher-ed angst. Won a few minor awards, might be good.
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Congrats to last month’s winners, under.perfect.mind and lgarner921! (If you’re lgarner921, please reach out to me! I emailed you twice and got no response!) I’ll run the next drawing on Dec. 1. 🕹🌙🧸
Quick reminder: Join me on Substack Chat!
There’s a new thing on Substack called “Substack Chat” that I’ve been experimenting with—it’s sort of a way to send quick notes to followers without jamming up their email inboxes. I’m not sure what I’ll really be using it for, but I don’t intend to start tweeting again any time soon, so the dumb thoughts in my head will probably be going there. Detailed instructions on how to get there can be found here (requires downloading an app, sorry), but you can also just click this button:
Stuff I’ve been enjoying lately
My most blazingly hot literature take is that horror cinema has ruined horror fiction (actually, cinema in general has probably ruined fiction in general, but that’s a whole other conversation). It’s just way too easy to scare someone with a movie: you show them something super gory or have an ugly guy jump out at them, and most people react viscerally—so, unsurprisingly, those kinds of scares tend to dominate horror movies. The thing is, though, gore and jump scares don’t really work in prose. Watch:
Suddenly there was a gory ugly guy over there!
Are you scared? Yeah? No? Yeah, it doesn’t work at all on the page, but since most people watch more movies than they read books (including far too many authors!), there are an awful lot of hacky horror authors who just don’t appreciate the difference, and spend far too much time describing jumps-n-gore.
Fortunately, there are still horror authors who use creepy prose to do what creepy prose is best for: making you question your very sanity. I recently came across Lynda E. Rucker’s 2016 short story collection You’ll Know When You Get There (republished in paperback last year), and was pleasantly surprised to see that Rucker is carrying on the tradition of gothic writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (in fact, there’s a story here called “The Queen in the Yellow Wallpaper,” which is admittedly pretty on-the-nose, but as far as I’m concerned, it earns it).
Featuring nine stories of characters obsessed with old houses, faerie curses, and ghostly presences, each tale is a slow, steady descent into madness—until you’re in so deep you can’t escape and your page-turning becomes compulsive and violent. You’ll Know When You’ll Get There has been legitimately keeping me up at night, terrified that I, like Rucker’s characters, may be dissolving into the void of my own consciousness (seems likely, tbh).
If you’ve read my first novel, you’ll know that I’m mildly obsessed with keeping gothic horror alive, so I don’t recommend You’ll Know When You Get There lightly. This collection is brilliant, dizzying stuff. 🕹🌙🧸