The Blog

Why I Quit Twitter

I didn't use Twitter all day for 'journalism' - i.e. to source opinions and follow leads. I used it all day because I am a 'journalist' - i.e. a closet narcissist who believes everything he has to say always deserves an audience.

Fifteen, if you're interested.

That's how many days it takes to stop 'twinking' - a new term I'm adding to the Twitter slang book meaning 'think in tweets' (file next to: 'twanking').

Fifteen days into my self-imposed break from the site, I stopped reordering my thoughts into pithy 140-character paragraphs. Now my inner monologue ebbs and flows in a natural tide, rather than a frantic staccato of reconstructed wit. I am able to make a mean risotto, spot a fox climbing out of a bin or receive mail amusingly addressed to 'Pam Parker' without feeling so much as a twitch in my thumbs.

And like anyone at the peak of their new year's resolution, I am feeling pretty smug about it.

Since sending a 'bye for now' tweet on 2 January, I haven't logged into my Twitter account once. To moderate users, this might sounds rather unimpressive. But I wasn't a moderate user. I was an obsessive, first-thing-in-the-morning, last-thing-at-night-type of guy, who knew his follower count by heart and refreshed his '@' column like someone on eBay bidding for a new kidney.

To my friends, I'd dismiss this behaviour as 'part of my job' - which was true, just not in the sense I meant it.

I didn't use Twitter all day for 'journalism' - i.e. to source opinions and follow leads. I used it all day because I am a 'journalist' - i.e. a closet narcissist who believes everything he has to say always deserves an audience.

But who cares? As ego trips go, it's not like I'd gone on a killing rampage, or smeared my name on Big Ben in my own blood. No one was getting hurt.

Except: they were.

In a watershed moment just after Christmas, an upsetting game of football resulted in me calling an old friend a 'c**t' (and a bit more besides).

It's okay - he supports Manchester United so he's used to it. But the fact is, in a moment of weakness I'd become part of Twitter's dark side, the community's growing propensity for casual vitriol.

Back when it was just the kind of idiots who have always existed on the internet - those who get off on taunting swimmers about their dead fathers or revealing the name of a footballer's rape victim - it was easy to dismiss Twitter trolls as the exception to the site's normal clientele.

But in the last couple of years, 'Twitter mobs' have begun hocking up bile and head-butting their keyboards over the kind of issues you'd normally hear raised at a polite dinner party.

Suddenly, you couldn't log in without being knocked to the floor by a carousel of masturbatory outrage as people railed against this website or that advert or this comedian, like any of them were, say, as outrageous as third-world famine, or a government of millionaires imposing stealth taxes on the poor (neither of which I've ever seen trend as high as GQ's Lana Del Rey cover).

In a surprise twist, the site's sacred cows began to be slaughtered one by one. Charlie Brooker wrote a funny column about tabloids and got a day of abuse. Mary Beard expressed an opinion on Question Time and was chased out of the village. Caitlin Moran, a woman who has done a fair old bit to advocate feminism in popular culture recently, was savaged for not single-handedly fighting every good fight there is in the name of gender equality.

The problem was that Twitter began to fuel the news agenda, so gradually members who just wanted to have fun began to be drowned out by others who wanted to demonstrate to the world how right on-and-liberal, stoutly-conservative or just plain fucking OFFENDED they were all the time. Suddenly, no one could take a joke, and fair-minded concerns were twisted into tedious, hysterical witch hunts. I know more than one person afraid to say anything on the site because they're terrified they might end up being misunderstood and harassed - so much for the days when Twitter felt like the friendliest, happiest place online.

But aside from tiring of the increasingly hostile atmosphere, the reason I decided to leave Twitter for a month was more personal.

I began to wonder what precisely my motives were for spending my evenings watching TV shows I didn't like, Twitter perched on my knee like a cannon, waiting for me to reload and take aim at Andrew Neil's face.

As a writer, how much creative energy was I expending, 140 taps at a time? Wasn't it a waste, this constant chattering into a void? What else could I be doing besides constantly showing off to strangers?

The answer so far has been reading, writing, cooking, swimming, playing the guitar (badly) - doing all the things I enjoyed anyway, but crucially, with my undivided attention, freed of the constant, nagging sense I should be stood at a virtual party, sipping imaginary Prosecco and cracking jokes.

Now the month is up, I do plan to return to the Twittersphere, because when it's not having a tantrum, it's still the most enjoyable place on the internet to hang out, discover links and engage with people. But like any relationship, the time apart has given me a chance to reflect on what I want to do differently, and here they are, my new list of Twitter rules (Twules?):

  1. Log off in the evenings, and do something else.
  2. Don't care about follower numbers or RTs. It's silly. Twitter is just a computer game where followers are points and RTs are power ups. Neither should concern an adult.
  3. If an interesting debate turns into a Twitterstorm, ignore it.
  4. Never RT a fact without checking whether it is true.
  5. The next time your team squanders the lead twice to lose a game of football, go kick a wall instead. It worked for people long before Twitter was ever invented.