Unsuspected revolution

A month without Twitter

Before

I do not have Twitter installed in my phone anymore. The last time I installed it was when I attended a conference back in June, as it is often used to give feedback or get in touch with speakers and organisers, but I deleted it days after it.

On my work laptop, I use Twitter on a separate browser, so that the icon is different on the task switcher and I can totally close it if I have things to do (which is often the case!). I also have an addon installed that tracks the daily time spent on certain websites and once you go past that it will block the site for the day.

On my home laptop I have no special setup for Twitter and no time limitation.

Day 1

I realise it’s October! A new month! It’s time for the challenge: a month without Twitter.

It’s also a Sunday, and I already have been avoiding Twitter on week-ends. So I haven’t missed it today and I didn’t miss it yesterday either.

I have to leave my bike on the workshop, and also have a lot of things to sort out at home and then we also have an event to attend, so I totally forget about Twitter.

Feeling: quite productive.

Day 2

I come into the office pretty relaxed. No wonder: my PT has basically annihilated my legs on the last 5 minutes. I just want to sit and work.

I knock a lot of things off my to-do list. I also attend an intern’s presentation. I get a bit distracted at the afternoon as I’m curious to check out the news (so many horrible things happening in the world). It only lasts 15 minutes, then I’m back to assessing OKRs, preparing for meetings tomorrow and doing various admin-y things. I also review a patch I’m working on and schedule a test run so it works “while I’m sleeping”.

My last meeting gets cancelled. Before I leave, I decide what I want to have for dinner, and get some groceries on the way from the tube. I rest for exactly 7 minutes as I stretch my back and look at tabs I had opened but not read during the week-end, and then I spring up, and prepare dinner.

Feeling: very much flowing. Satisfied.

Day 3

I feel a compulsive urge to check Twitter while I’m reading an article on a website, but I resist. I’m waiting for a delivery so I’m a bit distracted.

Day 4

Mostly quite focused, although people keep send me links to Twitter profiles where they are documenting their progress on activities such as Inktober or their favourite talks from a conference as a tweetstorm. I resist the urge to click through, also the urge to tell them to get a blog.

I am also writing a post for my blog and I am slightly agonising whether to automatically post to Twitter from the blog or not. I feel if I do post I will be compelled to go and check for replies, and maybe people will be upset if I don’t reply back? I decide I will not post automatically to Twitter and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Otherwise it might sort of defeat the purpose of this experiment, I also think.

Day 5

I wonder how did Twitter become so popular. Was it the early adopters or was it the alliances with news sites and ‘influencers’ (i.e. celebrities)? At the beginning it was fairly innocuous and had a good spirit… the community was pretty welcoming and you could talk to almost everyone.

I also have a lot of things to do and figure out, so not much more time to think about the causes of Twitter’s “success”.

I’ve updated my two laptops and the tablet today to their latest operating system versions. The error messages and updates you get during the process to do this are stupid in various degrees, but I chose to not to let them alarm me, and I read a book in the meantime. It is very nonsensical, but I’m simply adding notes to it and keeping the comments to myself.

I posted the article I was writing yesterday, with the “Tweet this post” option disabled, and I realised it felt so liberating to just post without any expectations of getting a reply or a like or retweet or anything.

Day 6

Argh, I published a short post I made to document an error I found while compiling Firefox, and I forgot that it automatically posts to Twitter. I don’t want people to respond to me on Twitter and I don’t want to engage with it! I decided to quickly go to Twitter and delete the tweet before anyone saw it. I also disabled the plugin that posts to Twitter, so this doesn’t happen again.

I debated whether this should be classified as a “failure”, but considering that I didn’t let Twitter distract me with notifications while deleting the tweet, and the whole operation was completed in 10 seconds, I will not consider this a failure.

On the other hand I got a lot of things done today, and I have mostly been focused on reading a book on my Kindle (in offline mode) during the breaks, and I haven’t felt like I wanted to switch to something else while I was reading.

I also realised that when I go to news sites I don’t fall in a ‘related news hole’ and so they don’t seem to be timesuckers anymore. But it might be totally unrelated?

Feeling: pretty focused.

Day 7

Had a great Saturday. Focused on nourishing activities for “mind and body”: delicious home cooked breakfast (including my own baked bread!), some blogging, sorting things out at a leisure pace, nice relaxing yoga (I’m pretty certain I fell asleep at the end) and a bit of sauna (as it’s getting chillier), then some food and drinks at one of our favourite hangouts, watching an amusingly terribad Hong Kong-ese movie (if only to see the locations), then happily falling asleep.

Not time for Twittering thoughts, other than the affirmative feeling that I’m happy controlling my medium. I wonder if I can keep it that way: only posting content on my site. Is it a breach of the Twitter community spirit to just post links to my content and not engaging, but alternatively, is there any community spirit left?

Feeling: very good, thank you.

Day 8

Reading the newspapers, taking notes of topics and books to check out later. Not feeling like I want to check my phone while reading. Put stuff away. Also we resumed watching a series we had left half-way last winter. We want to finish things up!

Additionally: thinking of giving things away.

Feeling: expeditious and satisfied.

Week 2

Day 9

A new week!

Started an hour earlier in the gym today. My PT tried to annihilate me again, but I survived. In the office, I was determined to fix a quite embarrassing bug that was filed last week. I am able to focus on this all day, except for a lunch break. By mid afternoon we have a patch, and I’ve also learned new things I wanted to learn for a while. Good stuff!

Feeling: brain-tired, but happy.

Day 10

Lots of meetings, but I managed to stay focused throughout.

Feeling: tired.

Day 11

Lots of meetings today too. I’m quite focused and easily follow what we’re discussing even if we’re digressing – we come back to the key topics.

Feeling: focused, but also tired.

Day 12

Slept really badly. I think I’m getting a cold. It’s hard to focus when you feel your head is swelling by the minute.

Feeling: meh.

Day 13

I definitely have a cold. I am very motivated to get stuff done though, but my brain can’t think straight today. I manage to do some stuff before my head eventually gets too hot to work, and then I stop, tired, but satisfied.

Feeling: no need to use Twitter in the last days.

Day 14

Everything still hurts and I’m weak. Very busy day with lots of errands to do and places to go, and we end up having lunch at 16h, in a truly Spanish way. I have no time to think about wasting time on Twitter.

Feeling: a touch better.

Day 15

We decide to take it easy today and rest and take care of ourselves. Newspaper reading, grocery shopping, brunch at the nice cafe, then a walk, and I’m off to a long yoga class. I’m quite focused and end up doing a binding I didn’t know was possible for me to do (what? my body can do this!?)

Feeling: still weak, but surprisingly reinvigorated. Twitter? What’s that?

Week 3

Day 16

My PT seemingly ignores my tales of feeling unwell over the week-end. I am knackered after my session, but feeling really cool about everything. At work, I am very diligent.

Feeling: focused, even after various meetings.

Day 17

Experimented with cycling a different route today. Waterloo Bridge is having some construction works and there’s only one lane in each direction, and it’s really unpleasant to be chased by a vehicle when trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to cycle against the wind. I didn’t get too lost or agitated, even if the route wasn’t always clear (the works in Farringdon and the connection with Blackfriars Bridge are ridiculous).

I was running an unusually early meeting as we wanted to catch up with the Taipei office at a reasonable time for them. I think I rambled and confused people a bit, but after speaking with them later they seemed happy with the outcome of the meeting.

Feeling: quite centered, but also tired. It was a long day!

Day 18

Some people mention there’s a “Twitter blackout” in protest for an actor’s profile being disabled after she’d denounced sexual harassment, and how hard they’re finding it to withdraw from the service even for just a day. I feel their pain, and I’m also happy I started this a while before the polemic started; I suspect I would have got into the #MeToo meme and relive bad stuff, and kind of get sucked into that “vortex”. I think I might be more effective in fighting the sexism and other systemic crap if I’m quieter inside. Also I’m happy I’m not making Twitter any money.

Some people also discuss about running Mastodon instances. I wonder if I want to do that. I speculate maybe I could spin one in a separate server for experiments. I have been wanting to run various experiments for a while but I don’t want to run them on the same machines as my web server, etc.

But I’m also fairly busy this month and it makes me reconsider whether I really want to partake in that kind of unsolicited, unfiltered and uncategorised stream of inputs—be it Twitter or a federated Mastodon.

Feeling: impossibly busy but productive.

Day 19

I read this article about how technologists are intentionally withdrawing from “the monsters” they’ve created. And I’m like: yep, we need more ethics in technology school, and in boards, and in product design, and essentially everywhere. This reminds me to Lena’s talk last year in JSConf Australia.

I also read a proposal that suggested new product ideas for our software, and how they would measure the success: not by the usage numbers we can already access, but looking for reactions on Twitter instead.

Also someone in the office talked about tweeting to support some product launch. It sounded to me like something I would have done in a very remote past. It feels so long ago!

I’m having more and more thoughts on the importance we’ve given Twitter and other networks, and what that means for product and marketing. When in the past you ran polls or conducted user research, we’re now kind of expecting people (consumers?) to Always Be Engaging with us through the Engagement Platform (either Twitter or Facebook, depending on the topic) and then we build success metrics that use data from the network. But what happens if the service provider stops letting us access the network inputs? We become dependent on a third party in order to learn about our impact.

But on the other hand, it’s easy for the consumer. You can @- as many services/brands/whatnot as you want with just one user account, whereas the traditional way of contacting customer support would involve finding phone numbers, or contact e-mails or even sending a letter! And waiting. Twitter has lowered this friction considerably, and now brands make sure they have a team of ‘community managers’ responding to users or risk being seen as unresponsive, etc.

So Twitter have, perhaps unknowingly, pivoted into a universal customer care platform.

I’m not sure where do activists or simply users of Twitter as a social platform to connect with friends fit in this strategy. It’s not a safe space. Not at this scale.

Feeling: very meta and full of thoughts from a distance.

Day 20

I’m going on holidays in three days and so I’m frantically knocking things out of my to do list. It’s very satisfying.

I’ve also realised I am not allowing myself to get distracted in a neverending click stream when I check news (once a day). Happy to have the time for myself, because I need so much of it!

Feeling: a bit stressed, but pleased that things seem to be under control.

Day 21

Last week-end before the holidays! Sorting lots of things out. Barely any time to even read newspapers, let alone think about the internet or even social networking. We have nice dinner at a new neighbourhood restaurant. The chef shows up, unannounced. I don’t feel the compulsion to tell anyone via my phone.

Feeling: active.

Day 22

Some yoga, some reading.

Feeling: like the storm is about to show up.

Week 4

Day 23

One day of work and then holidays!

Someone mentioned they ran a poll using Twitter. I’m really not keen to click, and it quickly fades away from my mind.

I have to pick my mum from the airport and the trains are all messed up. Instead of complaining about it in Twitter I choose to listen to music and calm myself down.

Days 24-31, and beyond

I got married and went on holidays.

I had no time to think about Twitter. During my insomnia moments I read a book and fell back asleep. During the post-wedding-break I looked at the Twitter app in somebody’s phone and it felt so far away to me. I didn’t make me want to check what is up in Twitter.

Feeling: happy and liberated this is all done.

Wondering: do I want to enable the post-to-twitter integration again? But those considerations are for another post, perhaps.

After

It might take a month to “detox yourself” from Twitter.

It takes about a week for the worst withdrawal symptoms to go away.

On the second week, some incidents might remind you of Twitter and make you want to check it out. It takes will to not to cave in.

Occasionally the addiction to a stream of new stuff is manifested somehow else, e.g. turning to news sites. Time boxing becomes easier as weeks pass, and you don’t get sucked in so easily.

By week four I no longer think of Twitter unless someone brings it up, and even then I don’t really feel compelled or intrigued to check out my feed.