Bye Bye Blue Bird

I think I’m mostly done with Twitter. My reasons for this are in no way unique – they amount, more or less, to the standard criticisms of Twitter that have been expressed many times over. It has evolved to the point where my timeline consisted mostly of promoted tweets; suggested topics (based on a laughably bad algorithm, I have to say); retweets from people I follow about things that don’t interest me; replies to and from people I follow, often involving people I don’t follow; the Discourse of the day; etc.

The result of this has been twofold. I’ve ended up having to wade through a lot of stuff that I don’t care about at all – Twitter’s trying to sell me on a lot of stuff so they can increase my “engagement,” and I’m tired of being that kind of customer. But also, and more significantly, Twitter’s tendency to amplify negativity has made my Twitter experience unpleasant. The sensation of my blood pressure spiking because some particular event or news story keeps appearing in my timeline has become more frequent than I’d like it to be.

While this general feeling had been percolating for some time, it actually took an unexpected forced break from Twitter to make me rethink my social media life. A few weekends ago, the boys and I went on what has come to be known as our annual “Dudes’ Camping Trip.” It turned that the cell reception in the campground alternated between bad (one bar 3G reception) to non-existent. Between that and the amount of work involved in single-parent camping, it meant going a couple of days (gasp!) without checking Twitter.

After we got home from the trip, I realized that going cold turkey was the break I needed, and decided to see how long I could go without checking Twitter. The first thing I did was unpin the Twitter tab from my browser; it had become my go-to time killer while awaiting some work task to complete or avoiding some work task I didn’t feel like working on. I left the Twitter app on my phone, but resolved not to open it. That actually worked out just fine, which seemed a good indication that the three-day enforced break had been enough to break the cycle. I deleted the app altogether after a few days.

As of today, it’s been three weeks since I last doomscrolled. In the meantime, as a replacement for Twitter, I’ve resurrected this blog and set up an RSS reader. The former is in part a means to get back to writing, but also as a way of reclaiming ownership of my data. There’s no reason for me to post a photo to Twitter when I can post it here, for example. The latter is an attempt to replace the good parts of Twitter: maintaining some awareness of current events outside my immediate area, and discovering something new (music, books, whatever). If you want a recommendation, I first gave Feedly a try, but switched over to Inoreader after it came to my attention. So far that’s been working great.

I’m still not entirely sure what it means for me to be “done” with Twitter. I will continue posting, occasionally. Chances are good that anybody reading this got here via Twitter since my blog posts are also posted to Twitter, so there’s that. And I will continue to post work-related things on Twitter, since it is admittedly a more effective means of distributing news about apps I’m working on, etc., than my own websites.

I’m also trying to turn the Twitter fire hose into more of a drinking straw. This means, first, a massive unfollow binge. Some accounts could be replaced with RSS. This was mostly news organizations (which tend to be fairly repetitive as well), but also included a few individual accounts. Otherwise, I was fairly ruthless and unfollowed accounts that had a low signal-to-noise ratio, where “signal” and “noise”are entirely personal definitions. For these accounts, the problem isn’t that I’ve lost interest but that Twitter isn’t the optimal medium for getting that information. I do feel somewhat bad about some of these, since they are people that I know or have met personally. My general approach has been to tweet about whatever I wanted and let people decide whether it’s worth their time on Twitter to follow me, and so I’m applying that principle here to the accounts I follow.

One thing worth pointing out about Inoreader is that the Pro (paid) account allows you to add Twitter feeds to your RSS feed, so if you’re looking to quit Twitter this might be a helpful alternative. Here’s how Bill Frisell’s feed looks:

This is pretty good. It treats a Twitter feed like an RSS feed so I can mark tweets as “read” and never see them again. It works best with Twitter accounts that are largely announcement-only. It’s less great with active users who reply/retweet a lot, but perhaps with creative use of filters that can be ameliorated, or perhaps those accounts will simply be left as Twitter-only. I’m still working on that.

I’m not sure how this will all work out in the longer term. When I quit Facebook, I just deleted my account, so it was a clean break. It was easier with Facebook since there wasn’t anything there that I wanted to preserve. It was not a source of information about current events or a means of discovery. The good part of Twitter is that it can be both of those things; I’ve have the former covered off, the latter is still in flux. We’ll see how it goes.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the mention. I’ve also upgraded to the pro version of Inoreader now. One thing I’ve found useful is creating twitter lists of accounts on certain subjects than subscribing to that list in Inoreader. So if I want to follow another account, I add it to the twitter list and it automatically shows up in my RSS feed. Not sure if there’s any real advantage to doing that over adding individual accounts, but it works for me.
    I’ve also started playing with filters and rules. For example, there are lists where I want to see posted images, but don’t want to see text posts. So I can filter out any posts that do not contain images. That’s working well.

    1. I don’t think it’d get to this point for me, but I wonder if the lists trick lets one do an end-run around the 30-account limit in the Pro version. That’s also interesting about the filters, I’ll have to poke at those a bit more one of these days.

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