Since joining Twitter in 2015, I’ve never been comfortable with how to best use it. I initially established it as part of my author platform. Many writing advice columns tell you that having an online presence through which future readers can interact with you is a good thing. I’ll buy that. It makes sense to nurture your fandom, once you get one. They are the reason you are someone who would have a fandom after all.
Yet, I find myself ambivalent about the whole affair. Part of that stems from my military service background. Security is a major concern for the military, especially in certain disciplines and job fields. Service members complete annual training on the vulnerabilities and risks of social media and online activities, and from such I have developed a healthy weariness of these platforms and a cautious approach to what information I post.
Even now, I sometimes fear I’ve revealed too much, as anyone with enough time, effort, and interest could likely piece together bits and bytes of information from my digital dust and come up with a decent profile. The major concern is what they might do with that information other than just know more about me than I care for them to, like that I adore owl-cleaning cats, and that might not be valid enough to explain my paranoia. Having said that, identity theft is a valid concern and the reason I HATE the way almost every organization—from physicians to grocery store reward cards—insist you create online accounts. I’m not sure the convenience is worth the risk to me.
Another part of my hesitancy comes from a dislike of the artificial and potentially harmful lure of electronics. I try to limit my personal time expenditure online, because I always feel there is something more productive I could be doing. Whether that’s writing, playing board games with my kid, or chatting with my husband, it’s all stuff I’d rather be doing, or that I should want to rather be doing. Social media robs me of that organic interaction and personal productivity. At least, it does when I allow it to.
I’ve gone through phases in which I spend way too much time scrolling through Twitter, getting sucked down the deep, dark rabbit hole of this online existence. These bouts take place when I’m lethargic and unmotivated to write (which only further sucks away my creative impulses), or when something nationally sensational occurs, such as the November 2016 elections.
I spent weeks curling up on the couch with my iPad in the evenings and devouring every morsel of post-election news and commentary in the Twitterverse. It was a way to self-soothe from the devastating outcome of those elections, as it is for many who engage in online communities. They allow us to surround ourselves with like-minded people in one colossal digital commiseration party and mopey reinforcement loop.
I didn’t break myself out of this particular cycle until close to the New Year, but once I did, I felt a sense of relief. As it turns out, most of my Twitter experience wasn’t making me feel better. It was making me feel worse. My timeline was a soup of rants and accusations, people voicing fears of what the new regime would mean for our country, and posting constant reports of the awful things people do to each other. Negativity breeds negativity, and that’s what was happening to me. There are dozens of articles that discuss the effects of negative news on human happiness, like this one.
Because of the people I follow, and the people they follow and retweet, the experience I now get from Twitter is far from what I’d originally planned, and that’s okay. Some days, I have the emotional and mental bandwidth to take it all in, to absorb the anger, fear, and pain, to learn from others’ experiences, and to like and re-tweet a post or two to let those Tweeters know they are being heard. But some days, I don’t have that capacity. I simply want to check in, maybe tweet something inconsequential (usually something that apparently only I find witty), “like” a few astronomy photos and book posts, and make a quick and graceful exit.
I understand I have privilege that allows me to log out of those problems by logging out of Twitter. I also know that simply reading about them on Twitter and liking or re-tweeting a post here or there doesn’t relieve me of the moral responsibility to do what I can, or at the very least, to acknowledge and condemn those things.
This is where I get to the final point of my post, which is this: sometimes, I use my Twitter platform to express my views on important social, ecological, national and global issues. It’s perhaps the most valuable function of social media. And sometimes, I don’t. It’s not because I don’t care about these issues, but because ultimately my account is there to suit my needs, whether fruitful or frivolous. Afterall, if it weren’t for my perceived need for an author platform, I likely wouldn’t have a social media account at all. But my online presence is only small part of who I am and not the whole picture.
I hope everyone feels the same way about their own accounts. You don’t need to stop sharing and re-tweeting videos and stories of the ugliness in our society. We need to see it. We need to deal with it. But it’s also okay to like and re-tweet videos of cats cleaning owls, because we need to see those too. Those tender moments are what make all the other battles in our lives worth it.