Mostly Quitting Twitter. Sort of. Again.
Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of books on productivity wrote a book in 2019 called, “Digital Minimalism”. He says that social media is a massive time suck, the benefits of social media can be found in other avenues, and everyone would be better off if social media use is limited or eliminated. I’ve listened to his books a few times, found his arguments compelling, and have tried a few times to put this recommendations to practice. And have failed.
And I have failed over and over again. And it’s okay for the most part. I get my work done, my prayer life and relationships are going well, and I rarely stay up late looking at Twitter.
Yet, with the hour or two a day I spend on twitter, what could I be doing with my time?
Before I answer that question, I was reflection on when my computer and social media use started. I went to kindergarten in 1989 and we had an Apple II E in the classroom. By the mid 90’s, I was a young teenager using Instant Messenger on America Online to talk to friends and family. Yahoo chatrooms were a great source of information about music, movies, and my other interests. For well over 20 years, computers and social media has been a moderately big part of of my social life.
Looking at the past helped me better understand where I am now. Instagram is nice for some photo browsing but I’ve mostly stopped using it. A year ago or so I deleted my account because I was using it too often. It was giving me FOMO (fear of missing out) for backpacking and cycling trips. Facebook is only used to post photos so my parents know what I’m up to. Then comes twitter. Beautiful and terrible twitter.
How I use twitter is a question I ask my self often. It started out as an attempt to keep up with news and quickly became a social interaction with mostly Catholics, but also the occasional WWE Superstar (I’m followed by John Cena) and a handful of other people. At times I used Twitter in a more “engaged” manor by trying to have conversations with people about important issues as abortion and economics. Outspoken abortion activists blocked me, some Catholics questioned/attacked my stances on some matters. Sometimes they did this rightly, other times I felt it was baseless. It left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.
St. Francis wrote in his Rule of 1223 that the friars are to fast from All Souls Day to Christmas in preparation for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. I thought it was a good time to take a step back from Twitter and examine my social media use. One of Cal Newport’s more popular books is called, “Deep Work”. The general idea is that in the current and likely future economy, there will be a great need for skilled labor in specific areas. Newport lives this out as a computer scientist and professor. “Deep Work” suggests that we can only learn new difficult skills by dedicating focused time, usually at least 2 hours a day, to learn that skill. Although I do not have a specific skill I would like to learn, I am going to apply this principal to writing. For a few years I’ve been meaning to write a book about my experiences with praying the Rosary.
Taking a step back from Twitter will allow me to write a book that I’ve been meaning to do for a while.
I’m only 4 days into this Twitter fast. The election is still being sorted out as I write this so I’ve been a little bit of a Twitter stalker. There’s some other good things going on too: my friend had a baby, there’s some sports stuff to keep up with, and there’s always a funny tweet or two a day that I find genuinely hilarious. My posts have been limited to holy stuff. 4 days in and it has been good. But I haven’t been writing like I’ve wanted to.
Will this be the one time my Twitter use drastically changes? It could be, it’s hard to say. But unless I use those minutes throughout the day (that add up to hours) for something more valuable, Twitter will continue to be a large investment of time with little return. One of the nice things about being a friar is that my occupation will change every few years. Teaching didn’t allow me to use Twitter all that much. My current job as formator and treasurer does allow a lot more time on social media. Either way, I hope to keep the good of Twitter: the prayers, social interactions, and hilarious tweets. I hope to get rid of the bad: time wasting, pointless arguments, and seeing anger causing posts. In the end, I value very few people’s opinion and only a fraction of those people are on Twitter. I need to take the good, leave the bad behind, and move forward.