Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Twitter and the Art of Paying Attention

I was late to Twitter--I had heard so many horror stories about Twitter trolls and the horrible ways that people treat each other, and I thought, who needs that.  I also worried about adding another social media platform to my life that would take up time and not give much in return.  But in 2020, I decided to join, for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly unique; for more, you can read this blog post.

I thought about that blog post when I read Caitlin Flanagan's article in The Atlantic about quitting Twitter for a month.  Once again, I was struck by how different my Twitter experience is from hers. I can be away from Twitter without feeling any anxiety at all. In fact, there are days when I wonder why I joined at all. 

But I'm wondering if it's not about how we both use Twitter, but about the fact that I don't have a smart phone that I take with me everywhere.  I access Twitter from a computer, which means that there are chunks of hours during the day when it's much harder to access Twitter and the other social media platforms that are designed to be so addictive.

Or maybe it's because I truly do use Twitter differently.  I joke that I follow poets and left wing church folks, so a lot of Twitter ugliness is automatically filtered out of my feed.  I'm impatient with much political stuff, particularly if it can be expressed in less than 241 characters, so I can ignore a lot of the clickbait.

Twitter is different, for me, from Facebook, although I often make the same posts to both platforms.  I use Facebook to keep in touch with all sorts of people I have known or to keep track of them in some sort of way.  If I had to choose between the two, I'd keep Facebook.

I'm not on Instagram, since that platform seems to require a smartphone.  I don't do TikTok or the other types of apps that seem to captivate younger generations these days.  I likely wouldn't have added Twitter if it hadn't seemed important in some way to my future as a writer.

These days, it's hard for me to continue to think I have much future as a writer, at least the kind of writer who would need Twitter.  I feel the same way about my neglected website, but I keep it so that I control the domain name.  After all, who knows what the future will bring?

However I find Twitter valuable in other ways too.  Occasionally I get a nugget or two that's useful advice or life hacks.  But more than that, I like that Twitter trains me to stay alert to my own life.  Some of what I observe goes into longer blog posts.  Some parts of my life are good to distill into a 240 character Tweet.

It may not be the kind of staying present that a zen master would recommend--or maybe it is exactly the kind of staying present that we all should/could be doing.

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