How to quit Twitter + other questions
Greetings from Read Max HQ! After a weekend visiting family in New Jersey, we’re packing up for a summer trip to Maine. As last week’s newsletter forecast noted, Read Max newsletter production is currently under the strong gravitational influence of Vacation, which means rather than appearing with a sort of endearingly vague regularity in your inbox it will appear with little fanfare or notice, as a pleasing surprise, from time to time, over the next couple weeks.
Last week I asked for questions for a newsletter mailbag, and — as they always do — Read Max readers delivered. This week’s mailbag edition of Read Max covers strategies for quitting Twitter, making friends, programming cars, canceling your Times subscription, and reading Gene Wolfe. The first couple questions are available to all Read Max subscribers, but the funniest and dorkiest questions and answers are for paying Read Max subscribers only.
If I didn’t get to a question you submitted, rest assured I’ve saved it for a future edition of the mailbag. If you have a question you’d like answered, please ask away: email firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it in the comments.
Let’s start with a couple questions about social media in general, an Twitter in particular. Sarah wants to know:
My question would be - how do you stop using Twitter? (Sorry if that's too banal or if you feel you've talked it to death at this point). I thought your Bookforum piece on the Twittering machine was really insightful and I have definitely decreased my usage since reading it, but I just can't completely quit it.
I feel like I need to admit here that I haven’t myself completely quit Twitter. Despite everything I wrote in Bookforum in 2020, I still check in on three Twitter lists — one for tech and politics accounts, one for soccer accounts, and one for baseball accounts — a few times a day, mostly as a way of keeping up on news. My (forlorn, misguided) hope is that by eliminating my own production for the site entirely, and by keeping my consumption on the site limited to narrowly curated lists, I can make Twitter work for me, rather than the reverse. At least, to whatever extent that might be possible.
So, I wouldn’t beat yourself up if you find yourself unable to completely eliminate the site from your life. I think there are plenty of people — people who are, I suppose, working in industries and dabbling in hobbies still largely uncaptured by the Twitter feed — who manage to use the site with a degree of control and distance that is absent in, say, your average journalist. And why not? For all its manifest faults, Twitter is still quite good for a lot of things — keeping up with news, finding funny jokes, understanding the context in which meaning is produced and contested in the journalism-politics-entertainment complex.
For this reason I think rather than asking “how do you stop using Twitter?” we should ask, and sorry for the shameless self-help-type chiasma here, “how do you get Twitter to stop using you?” I am sympathetic to the proposition that there’s no truly “safe” way to use Twitter (or any social media), in the sense that, if you’re the kind of person who’s susceptible to Twitter’s charms, you’ll never really be able to protect your time or your energy or your sanity from being requisitioned by the endless scrolling feed. (Certainly not without reordering your brain and maybe your life in some relatively profound way.) And so for some people I think the answer to the question “how do you get Twitter to stop using you?” is “quit the app entirely, forever.” But even for the predisposed I think it’s possible to create usage patterns that can keep the site’s desires (to titillate and manipulate you, to render you slack-jawed and captive) at bay, and allow you to better control your time and engagement with the feed
I think you need to ask yourself: What do I get out of Twitter? Why do I open the app? Are there better ways of satisfying those needs and desires? If there aren’t, how can I limit my experience of the app to satisfy my specific needs without? I get that writing about an app like this sounds completely nuts, and it probably is, but I mean this on a pretty practical, strategic level, not in some deep therapeutic way. If you mostly open Twitter to kill time, put your ebook or read-later or crossword-puzzle app on your phone’s home screen; if you like the app because of the sense of sociality to engenders, join some Discords so you always have a casual chat — one unencumbered by the scale and structure of Twitter — at your fingertips; if you like having a place to shitpost, start a newsletter instead. At the same time, if there’s something you can only get on or out of Twitter, figure out how to force the app or site to give you only that (e.g., through Twitter lists).
I don’t think this kind of serenity-prayer attitude toward social media is anything like a permanent solution to the swiss-cheese-brain problems engendered by attention-economy platforms. I don’t know what would be a “solution,” frankly. Even when I was fully off of Twitter, I was getting tweets sent to me all the time, so, depending on your social circle, “quitting” twitter may not get you anywhere. But until we can GoFundMe a few Bayraktar T2s and start striking server sites from the air, trying to be bit more intentional about and attentive to platform use seems like a good way to slow our decay.
In a related vein, Casey asks:
I haven’t used any social media in 2+ years. In a month I’m moving across the country for grad school/hopefully “career”-related reasons. I currently know next to no one where I’m moving (just a few old friends/acquaintances I haven’t talked to in a while & with whom it would probably—maybe—be weird to reacquaint at this point?). How the hell do I—an internet-weary person in their mid-30s—make friends/network/date (ugh) in a new place? Do I HAVE to learn how to use Instagram again? Do I bite the bullet and join Tinder? Should I just be grateful for my grad school bubble and otherwise accept a life of hermitage in a big city?
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