Two Things: I Have a Love/Hate Relationship With Twitter. And We Have a Really Shitty Way of Discussing Social Media in This Country – My Take

So, a few months ago I made a realization. It came after I analyzed my morning routine one day. I’m sad to say that I, like most detached 20-somethings, immediately check my phone when I wake up in the morning. I don’t just check any messages or emails I may have though—I check Twitter. Truthfully, this was something I was kind-of unaware of for a while. It was so engrained into my morning routine that I didn’t even notice I was doing it, or think about what impact it may be having on me. But, then came my realization. After a little bit of pondering one day, I realized that the act of checking Twitter first thing in the morning was really fucking my shit up.

I first realized this was a problem when I began to take note of the fact that I frequently found myself annoyed before I had even gotten out of bed. That’s right, modern day technology allows us to be put in a bad mood before we reach our morning shower. That’s a problem. For me, it would happen almost on a daily basis. I would wake up, check Twitter, see a tweet that pissed me off, and then be like “fuck, guess it’s time to start my day.” Of course, after I actually got out of bed, I would find myself compulsively thinking about whatever I saw on my phone that put me in a bad mood. Then, throughout my shower and my drive to work, it would be stuck in my head. And I hated it. That is why I made the active decision to stop checking Twitter early in the morning, and to limit my time on it throughout the rest of the day as well. I was able to stick to that plan for a while, but then… quarantine happened.

As we all know, when the coronavirus pandemic forced us into a global lockdown, screen times went up. I’ve found myself spending more time than ever on my phone, and on Twitter, during quarantine. Which means—despite the fact that I know I’ve never in my life gotten off Twitter and felt better than I did before I logged on—I have been checking it all the fucking time.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This blog is entitled “I Have a Love/Hate Relationship With Twitter,” but I’ve come across as nothing but hateful thus far. The truth is, I honestly do want to examine some of the reasons why I, and so many other people, love Twitter—even if I may ultimately be dismissive towards many of them. Perhaps the main way in which people defend Twitter though, from a value standpoint, is by touting it is a worthwhile news source. There is a lot of truth to these claims too. Twitter has been one of the premier sources of news for millions of people since the beginning of last decade, and especially in these last four years. That being said, I think Twitter is similar to the internet at large, in that it has reached a point of diminishing returns when it comes to its limitless access to information. What I mean by this, is perhaps a never-ending scroll of sometimes important, but frequently unimportant, information is not the best place to receive news. Maybe, just maybe, we cannot properly process information when the world is screaming it at us through a screen. I’d argue that it’s better to know a great deal about a select few things, than very little about a lot of things. I’d also argue that Twitter encourages the latter rather than the former. Essentially, an abundance of unsorted information can actually be a negative sometimes. Previously on this site, I’ve stated that the “information” found on Twitter can “sometimes feel like nothing more than noise on top of more noise.” And I think that is an accurate description of Twitter’s value as a source of news.

Another problem with Twitter as a place for news, is the fact that it actively encourages bias. I’m not saying that the company itself is biased. Instead, I’m saying that people get their information from their feeds, which are primarily comprised of people they choose to follow. Therefore, people are going to receive a one-sided view of the goings-on in the world if they only look at Twitter. I like to call this problem, the “Why I Thought Bernie Sanders Was Going to Win The Last Two Democratic Primaries” problem. (I should probably think of a catchier name.) It’s true though. I had created a bubble for myself on Twitter, and surrounded myself with only likeminded people in the process. So, I had a slanted perception of how a majority of the country would vote. Now, this isn’t a problem if you have enough awareness to realize that your Twitter feed is not an accurate representation of society at large. But unfortunately, many of us do not.

Now, before I continue with my various Twitter thoughts, it’s time for a seemingly unrelated personal tangent that will ultimately make sense in a few sentences. I like to think of myself as a relatively smart idiot. This can be explained in a few different confusing ways. One being, I think that I know enough about the world to be absolutely certain that I don’t know shit about the world. But, another way in which my intelligent idiocy comes out is that I frequently am I able to recognize something as a problem, without actually knowing what the impact of that problem is going to be. One example of this is my opinion on dating apps. I’m smart enough to know that the act of constantly swiping “yes” or “no” on faces that a computer randomly generates on our phone is going to fuck up my generation, but I’m dumb enough to not know exactly how it’s going to fuck us up. The reason I bring this up, is because there is an aspect of Twitter that I feel very similar towards. (I must give credit where credit is due, I was originally introduced to this idea in an interview that Bo Burnham gave.) I’m referring to the sort-of democratization of information that has taken place as a result of Twitter and the internet. On its face, it is seemingly great that the internet has given us all a voice. However, a problem arises when there is no way to discern which of those voices are actually meaningful or valuable. On any of our Twitter feeds—we can see our friend, the president, Wendy’s, Kylie Jenner, our aunt, Stephen A. Smith, and CNN in no particular order. They are all given the same amount of space, and the same number of characters. Moreover, none of them are marked as important or unimportant in any significant way. I am not sure what the effect of that is, but I know it is having some sort of, probably negative, impact on us. Truthfully, I probably shouldn’t feel too bad about not knowing how that is fucking us up. I say that because, if one thing has been made clear over the past two decades in which the internet has loomed large in all of our lives, it is that none of us really have a clue when it comes to how this shit affects us.

The idea that none of us truly understand the internet or the effects that it has on society is something that has both frightened and angered me for a little while now. Truthfully, the public discourse that exists in this country regarding the internet, and social media specifically, is an absolute shitshow. I’ve discussed this briefly in the past, but I don’t think the majority of parents around the world have any clue about the massive role social media plays in their kid’s lives. Honestly, I’d argue that most over-40 adults don’t understand the idea that social media actively informs the decisions and emotions of entire generations. Instead, when they think of the effects of social media, they think of Good Morning America segments where they discuss how kids today are “so narcissistic because they post all these selfies.” In reality though, these apps and platforms are actively altering the brain chemistry of their children. To be fair, a lot of people in my generation don’t understand the impact of social media/the internet either. I remember taking a public speaking class in college, in which each student had to pick a topic that related to college-aged kids and give four speeches on that topic throughout the semester. Two kids in my class chose “the dangers of social media” as their topic, and they pretty much both spent the semester being like “Lol, aren’t selfies bad?? And make sure you don’t post any pictures with red Solo cups! Your future employer might see those!!” It wasn’t great.

The reason I chose to go after the selfies/narcissistic generation idea is because I think it is the best example to use, in order to show that some of us don’t understand how social media affects people, especially young people. And I think it’s important to focus on young people who are growing up with the internet, because they are the ones being affected by it the most. But getting back to the point at hand, I honestly don’t understand how an adult can see a 13-year-old’s Instagram page full of selfies and have their takeaway be “what a little narcissistic shit.” How can you not see that those picture aren’t of a mini egomaniac, but instead of a terrified young person—who society has forced to feel self-conscious all the time—presenting themself in their falsest moments. Here’s a PSA to all the out-of-touch parents out there: Kids don’t post a lot because they’re narcissistic, they post a lot because they have been forced to live in an environment that makes them feel like they don’t exist if they’re not active online. For the life of me, I don’t understand why we ridicule young generations for “constantly being online,” but we don’t focus on the tech companies in Silicon Valley who are fucking with the feelings of entire generations. None of this should be looked as the kid’s faults. Of course if you give a young person a tool to broadcast themself and their opinions all day, then they’re going to use it. That is true for every generation that has ever existed throughout time. The generations growing up today just happen to be the ones unlucky enough to actually have to deal with it.

Here’s the truly frustrating thing about social media; It is neither all good nor all bad. There are always going to be an incredible amount of positive aspects to it, as well as an equally large amount of negative aspects. Therefore, we can’t get rid of it, but we also can’t treat it like it’s not having real negative effects on society. The internet’s relationship to politics is a great of example of how it can sometimes be both a good and bad thing at the same time. Going back to Twitter for a moment, we have been seeing how valuable a tool it can be for important movements—such as the Black Lives Matter movement—to mobilize and inform during these crucial times. Perhaps the George Floyd video would not have led to everything it has led to if it weren’t for Twitter and the internet giving people a voice. That being said, we have also been seeing that things like character restrictions and impersonal, faceless communication make Twitter a fairly horrible place for nuanced public discourse to take place. This is a case where on one hand, social media is beneficial. And on the other hand, it is potentially damaging. Truthfully, I don’t know what the fuck we do about that.

Perhaps the biggest problem with social media is that it became an integral piece of our society before we could even figure out what it is, or what kind of impact it would have on us. When the medical community develops a new drug, they don’t just immediately make it available to the public. They conduct a series of tests in order to make sure the drug is safe, and to figure out what the side effects are. With the rapid speed with which technology moves nowadays though, by the time we think we’ve figured out the “side effects” of new advancements—like social media—those advancements have already carved out an essential place in our world. When it comes to the internet, we’ll always be playing catch up. And just when we think we’re starting to truly understand it, it will change again.

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