Last month, my bosses suggested that I leave Twitter for a week. Completely. I wouldn’t be able to log on, let alone tweet or retweet others or check direct messages.
It may seem easy to do, dear reader. But there are Twitter users, and then there’s me.
I joined the social media platform in 2008 and since then it has been a giant roller in the proverbial mud for me. I love its immediacy, its randomness, its easy interface, its chaos.
For the past 15 years, Twitter has been one of the first things I check when I wake up in the morning. I check before going to bed. I check when I have downtime. I check and check and check, even though I no longer have a blue checkmark designating me as, well, me.
My wife and bosses keep telling me not to waste so much time tweeting – over 1,000 times in April alone. Waste of time, my ass. I gained friends and followers and writing gigs – without a doubt this work! – from my torrent of tweets. Great columns originated from thoughts that were released that went viral – the legacy of the late and legendary Mexican singer Juan Gabriel. Why In-N-Out is overrated. The Importance of Loquats in Southern California.
Twitter has also been a consistent digital banana peel for me. Alternative loser haters and to roast persuasion sent posts out of context to try and get me in trouble. I lash out at people for free instead of channeling my anger into my columnswhich understandably pisses me off bosses. The app admins suspended me twice for allegedly offensive tweets – once, for telling a guy he had a cactus on the forehead (a cactus growing out of your forehead, which in Mexican Spanish means you’re a redneck), and once for mocking a conservative activist in Orange County for the community college he attended.
Not only did I stick around, but Twitter is now the only social media platform I use consistently, even though many of my friends deleted their accounts because of owner Elon Musk. I stuck around because I believed the billionaire when he promised when he bought the company last year to improve the user experience and take Twitter back to its roots as a global marketplace instead of the cesspool of hate and spam it has become since the Trump presidency.
When I privately told my friends about my Twitter fast, they thought I was so addicted that I would give up within hours and get back on again. Shows how much they know me! There was no drama, no painful withdrawal like Ewan McGregor in “Trainspotting”. But like all addicts, I had a moment of clarity:
The pause made me realize how inconsequential Twitter is.
At its best, Twitter makes you feel instantly connected to the world that rivals like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can’t match. These platforms are just too thoughtful, too intentional, too complicated, when all you want to do is fire off a 140-character thought or silly GIF. Twitter is all about rambling, randomness, complaining – how you talk to friends in real life.
And that’s what I quickly realized during my break: I could replicate Twitter in real life, well, in real life.
When I had a sudden thought to share, I told my wife or texted my friends. When I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I went to the front page of this newspaper and our contemporaries or turned on CNN. If I wanted the latest gossip, I called sources. Honestly, the only thing I couldn’t replicate was a five-year-old thread and counting where dozens of strangers and I exchanged GIFs in a fictional conversation. Instead, I sent the GIFs to my friends, who responded in kind.
I admit I was curious about what was going on in the Twitterverse while I was away. I wanted to see how the GIF wars were going, or laugh at the accounts I follow that focus on sports humor. I wanted to throw out random thoughts to see what people would say – like I just realized that “I Dream of Jeannie” is a rip-off of “Bewitched” but with a better, more sexist theme song. Or how the oft-mocked musical artist Pitbull really is thoughtful and funny, which I found out after listening to his recent interview on the Howard Stern show.
I wondered what was going on… and moved on.
Quitting Twitter didn’t bring me back any extra time in my life, as my wife and bosses insisted it would. I finally don’t spend what a lot of time tweeting – half an hour a day maybe, which is less than it takes to do a really pointless task like, say, washing my car. When I returned, I thought my followers would have noticed and asked where I was.
Only one did.
Worse, the short period away highlighted the bugs on Twitter, which these days is worse than a dechlorinated swimming pool.
Phishing attempts flooded my inbox. There were more bitcoin requests on my timeline than ever before. Replies to my tweets by people I follow didn’t show up on my timeline, while accounts of trolls I muted started showing up regularly. Twice I couldn’t tweet from my phone but I could from my computer. The solution: Sign out and sign in again.
What should I do next to fix my Twitter issues? Blowing your icon into my smartphone like you used to do with Nintendo cartridges that failed when you were a teenager?
Be worried, Elon. If a fan like myself is starting to doubt whether Twitter is worth it, it’s not a bright future for your company.
If you want to keep your diehards and gain new followers, you need to make Twitter a place where there are no hiccups. You need to embrace what made Twitter so appealing in the first place – quick, succinct thoughts, photos and videos delivered perfectly. Don’t expand the character count or rotate to live audio, the way you ridiculously did for Republican presidential nominee Ron DeSantis. Stop spending so much money on truckloads of weak salsa or trips to the moon or hyperloops to nowhere. Hire your engineers back, focus on what works and discard what doesn’t.
If you don’t, Twitter will go the way of MySpace and LiveJournal and all the other things on the Internet that were supposed to change the world and did a little bit – until they didn’t. Right now it’s a fire in the Titanic’s dumpster – and I’m just about ready for a rowboat to take me far, far away.