Sunday, 12 April 2020

I Quit Twitter At The Best And Worst Possible Time

It's not much of a secret that I love Twitter. There's something about the brevity and transience of tweets that appeals to me - I can use it to record fleeting moments and thoughts. I've also made a lot of online friends through the site, some of whom I've met but most stay reassuringly distant. There's something quite addictive about expressing your thoughts to a bunch of people you're not going to bump into on the school run or in the shops.

And addictive is the right word - at the start of this year I realised I was spending unhealthy amounts of time on Twitter. I tried limiting that time to 2 hours a day (yes, you read that right, that was a reduction) but I felt like I needed to take a proper break. So I decided that I'd give it up for Lent, only dipping in on Sundays.

When Ash Wednesday rolled around, coronavirus was a concern as the first cases in the UK had been recorded earlier that month, but numbers were still low and we hadn't had any deaths here. It's strange to think that was just seven weeks ago. I had no idea of the impact the virus would eventually have on our country. 

In one way, being off Twitter as things descended into dystopia was a relief. As much as it is a good place for a chat, it's often like you're having that chat in a very crowded room with lots of very angry, shouty people. Constant retweets bombard you with outrage and fear. It's not great for an anxious person. (The irony is there seems to be a lot of anxious people on there.) So not having the facts and opinions around coronavirus shoved in my face all day every day was actually really helpful.

But then, when things started to ramp up, I missed having my Twitter 'family' to talk to. When, on my birthday (16th March), the first significant restrictions of movement were brought in and I said goodbye to my mum not knowing when she would be able to visit again, I wanted to fire off a miserable tweet. As that week progressed and my autistic daughter's life was plunged into chaos with friends and school staff disappearing into isolation, then the announcement of school closures, I wanted to go where I knew there would be people who could relate. And as lockdown began with the loneliness it brought, I missed that connection even more.

One thing about the Twitter app is, it's needy. Even if you're not using it, it'll send you notifications alerting you to popular tweets. And this was another thing which made it really hard to stay off - the tweets went surprisingly quickly from the usual parenting chat to people who I've chatted to for years falling ill or even losing relatives. I felt awful for not responding to their tweets.

Ultimately I think taking a break was a good idea. I wasn't to know what was to come but it would probably have made me feel worse to keep reading tweet after tweet of bad news and criticism of our government's approach. On Sundays I would check in and retreat from the 'noise' very quickly.  And it's meant that I've talked online more with "real life" friends, who are the ones I'll need to connect with when this is all over.

Time will tell whether this break will change how I use Twitter, but I think I'll definitely become more selective about which tweets I read and engage with and focus more on the chats and friendships that make it a good place to be without paying too much attention to all the shouting.

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