Content note: this post discusses and describes street harassment
During my suspension from Twitter due to malicious reporting, I thought I’d take the week to do the thing lifestyle mags (and books that read like them) say changes your life and makes everything special: take a proper break from social media and put down my smartphone for a bit. I’m pleased to report that I’ve tried it, and I still think it’s some premium-grade hippy bullshit. Here’s some things I learned during my enforced absence.
You miss people
I’m not convinced that a lot of people “get” social media when they’re talking about how it’s toxic and hollow and the like. Because these people don’t get what a lot of people like me are getting out of the Twitter experience, I’ll use a little metaphor.
Imagine a park that you visit every day and go for a walk. There’s lots of other people who use that park, and you see them every day. Some of the park users are your friends. You hang out with them outside of the park. Some of them, you just see at the park. You might not even talk often, but when you see them, you nod.
One day, you’re not allowed to go to the park any more, because there’s some horrible people who litter the park, and you yelled at them, and they’ve been stopping you from visiting this lovely, lovely park.
You’d miss them, wouldn’t you? You can have a perfectly nice social life without going to that park, see all your friends who don’t go to the park, ever, or you know outside of the park. But you miss those people who you only know from there. You miss those people who you just give a nod to.
That’s how it was for me. I missed those mutuals of mine. I missed scrolling the TL and seeing what people I’ve never met in person have seen. I even missed those people I see quietly faving my tweets.
I think a lot of the commenters on social media being toxic are journalists, and they aren’t using social media socially. They’re using it as a big old professional megaphone, barking into it. You can do without that, easily, especially when you’ve got a newspaper column.
It’s all so privileged
A lot of the people I follow on Twitter aren’t the sort of people who get newspaper columns. They’re more likely to be disabled, trans, people of colour, not men. Their voices are more important to me to listen to, and they point me towards stories and articles I may have missed, and opinions that I need to hear, but wouldn’t usually get to hear.
Being without Twitter made it much harder to access these opinions. Since the tragic death of Google Reader (forever in my heart!) I haven’t followed blogs through RSS, and besides, that only gave me the tip of an incredibly diverse iceberg.
Off of Twitter, I was not just disconnected from fellow humans, but from the people we all need to listen to most of all. It’s not a very nice experience, having to view current affairs through the lens of the profoundly privileged people who curate the news.
I know, of course, that the voices with the biggest platforms are coincidentally privileged as hell. But it really sucks when it’s difficult to find voices outside of those who get the space to yell over everyone else.
Smartphones repel men
As part of my personal growth exercise, I decided to look at my smartphone less. That did not go well at all. The amount of street harassment I received spiked. Every man on God’s green earth was trying to talk to me and tell me I was beautiful or other such bollocks. One followed me and tried to grab me. The only way I could get rid of him was to disappear through the gates at a tube station and hop on a tube I didn’t really need to get.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, I tell myself. Perhaps it just so happened that the week I tried to take time away from my smartphone was open season on women out and about.
A smartphone does two things in repelling men: first, it means you don’t accidentally make eye contact, which men seem to believe means “I would love to talk to you.” And secondly, you have in your hand a means of calling the cops if needs be, because on a level they know what they’re doing is wrong.
In short order, I went back to staring at my smartphone all the time. Better to make wannabe Banksys tut-tut than to be literally chased down the street by a horny creep.
Don’t get me wrong, obviously Twitter is full of harassment, too. But there’s no block button for real life, which makes it harder to get away from harassment.
My anger management
Twitter people who meet me in the meatspace often express surprise that in the flesh I’m a rather jolly, smiley, easy-going person. I wasn’t always that way. I was one of those customers from hell who would be rude as fuck to customer service and service staff.
It is unfortunate that the week I was off Twitter also happened to be the week that I had to call a lot of customer service hotlines. Usually in this situation, I’d put out a tweet bitching about the interminable hold music and rage vented, I’d be fairly polite to the poor sod getting paid a pittance to follow a script, no matter how frustrated I’d feel. If it was particularly frustrating, I might tweet the fire emoji a few times to vent off a bit more fury.
Readers, it gives me great shame to admit I was very rude on the phone to somebody I know cannot help me and is trying their best with the unpolishable turds they’ve been given.
In general, without my usual venting space, I found myself generally more irritable in my day-to-day life, a less sunny person than usual who was prone to snappiness. I’ve kind of always had that streak in me.
I developed coping mechanisms, of course. Printing off pictures of people who had pissed me off and running them through a shredder was very gratifying, but ultimately, a snarky subtweet is free and better for the environment.
I can live without Twitter, but I don’t know why I’d bother
I didn’t die being off Twitter. I can live without it. I just don’t really want to, for the reasons I’ve outlined here. What I learned most of all in this little break was that for me, the positives of using the site outweigh the negatives. Sure, Twitter is a fucking hellsite. But to me, it’s also a place of friendship, connection and wisdom.