If you’re mutuals with me on social media, you may have noticed that I am on a Twitter break. It shouldn’t be such a big deal to me to fully log off Twitter for a week, but here we are. And this time, it’s not only seven days. This time, I’m going to see how long I can last.
This is almost a year to the day since my last one-week Twitter purge. Then, like now, the anime community was going through a lot of tension and even trauma. Both times, I knew I had to break the cycle of checking Twitter 100 times a day, and that for somebody as anxious as me, the only effective solution would be to go cold turkey.
It worked last time, after all. It took months for me to reinstall the Twitter app on my phone and nearly a year to feel like my habits had once again become so unhealthy, I needed to quit. As usual, the feeling of miserable withdrawal, of needing to know what’s happening right now, has dissipated after a few days. And in this newly blank space in my mind, I’ve realized that by stepping away from Twitter, I haven’t just undone a bad habit. I’ve also set new boundaries.
I’m an older Millennial, one of the first people to grow up both before and after the internet. I got my first AIM screen name when I was 11. I remember the first piece of advice I got from my parents and teachers alike: “Don’t talk to strangers online!” We laugh about that now.
I’ve spent ten years talking to strangers on Twitter with plenty of benefits. I got my first job in journalism because of a tweet. I have more than 8,000 followers, which feels like an accomplishment. I’ve had hundreds, sometimes thousands of people press “like” on a joke I made or an article I wrote and linked! That feels amazing.
Do you know what feels worse? Screwing up in front of that same-sized audience, and having to deal with the fallout. And even worse than that? Random attacks I didn’t cause and don’t deserve, like that time some Twitter users figured out I have Jewish ancestry.
For better or worse, Twitter makes it easy to reach out to strangers, and for strangers to reach out to you. You can tweet at people you admire and slowly develop a rapport with them simply by replying to one another’s tweets, and before you know it, you’re friends.
Or are you?
Right now I’m wondering if it’s so good to be so available to anyone who reaches out to me. Right now I’m wondering if the connections we make over the internet really run that deep.
2019 will mark the tenth year I’ve had this blog, which is only the latest and most enduring in a series of blogs I’ve had since middle school. If you send me an email through the contact form asking for career advice, I will tell you all about my own career and maybe throw in some issues I’m dealing with right now. I will work through a problem with one or three people I know mostly online. I recently tweeted about going to therapy, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but maybe not the kind of thing that everyone needs to know.
Now I’m wondering how healthy it is to give away so much of myself. How much trust or time should I give to somebody I met online? I tend to see everybody as a potential friend, every writer as a potential collaborator or colleague. But recent events have shown me that just because somebody likes the same cartoons as me, they’re not necessarily my friend.
Before I left, I experimented with cutting down my Twitter feed. Instead of looking at the feed itself, I created a list of Twitter users whose tweets I don’t want to miss, but that slowly got too big to handle. Interestingly, a lot of the people I put on the list are people I see only a few times a year at cons or even people I’ve never met once. Am I intuitive enough to really be as fiercely loyal to and supportive of these people as I have been?
Then I started using a tool called Block Chain that allows me to block a troll and all of his followers. I used to avoid blocking anyone at all because, as we all know, if you block somebody you “lose” because they made you upset. (After all, I don’t want to be in my “bubble” and refuse to hear “the marketplace of ideas,”, which in practice means letting anyone who wants to tell me I’m stupid. The future is dumb.) This got rid of interactions in bad faith, but then I started thinking about how real bad actors would be clever enough not to let me see that side of them.
Finally, I realized that the best way to extricate myself from all this is to just not participate. It’s a privilege to simply check out. It wouldn’t work if I were currently getting paid based on the number of clicks on my articles, for example. It’s not a perfect solution. But it works for me, for now, at a time that I feel like my intuition is broken and I’m not sure who to trust.
Here’s what used to give me alarm bells: when somebody would ask me a question about anime, or building Gunpla models, or writing about fandom which I’d promptly answer… and they’d immediately turn around and ask me three more. The more quickly I wrote back to this type of person—the more available I made myself to them—the more they’d take advantage of it. These days, if you ask me a question I tend to let it sit there for a couple of days and it’s not because I’m ignoring you personally, but because I’ve been burned too many times.
Anything and everything gives me alarm bells now. My alarm system is broken. So at least for the near future, I’m sitting this one out.