Alan Rossi

On Twitter

Long hav­ing been rock sol­id against indul­gent and ram­pant self-pro­mo­tion, as well as ques­tion­ing the sup­posed basic point of things like Twitter and FB (con­nect­ing, shar­ing, friend-ing, re-shar­ing, etc), I have avoid­ed social media for as long as social media has exist­ed. And I’m not that old.  At thir­ty-three, I’m the same age as Jesus when he also denounced social media. Over the last year, I became aware of the pos­si­ble virtues of “social­iz­ing vir­tu­al­ly” (includ­ing self-pro­mo­tion), and thus ambiva­lent­ly inter­est­ed in social media, so I decid­ed to con­duct an exper­i­ment in which I joined Twitter for the peri­od of one month. The results:

Day 1: Thought it would be fun­ny if I began a Twitter account and devot­ed the entire account to tweets expli­cat­ing that I did­n’t under­stand how Twitter worked, tweets ask­ing for help on how to tweet, tweets about how to post pic­tures, how to fol­low peo­ple, and even­tu­al­ly, tweets about the pur­pose of Twitter, which I’ve writ­ten about here.  Followed some people.

Day 2: Quickly gave up on devot­ing an entire Twitter account to pre­tend­ing to be a per­son who does­n’t know how to use Twitter because, after a day, it was just exhaust­ing work. Felt like I had gone through the entire­ty of twit­ter and fol­lowed almost every­one in exis­tence on Twitter only to dis­cov­er I was only fol­low­ing about forty people.

Day 3 — 7: Tried to do some “actu­al” tweets.  While doing these “actu­al” tweets and let­ting them go out, like a brief farts that had to be con­jured through an act of the will to be expelled into the uni­verse, I sensed, intu­itive­ly, then deduced intel­lec­tu­al­ly, that if I was going to tweet more, I was going to talk less in pub­lic, because I’ve always been bad at small talk and unclear about “why” it existed.

Day 8: Because I was tweet­ing more, I was talk­ing a lot less, my wife notes, claim­ing that I had “become (already a dis­tant per­son) even more dis­tant,” as though some­thing (“prob­a­bly tweets”, she claims) were tak­ing up too much of my men­tal space.

Day 9 ‑11: From wife’s notes: “seems to be try­ing to find a bal­ance between tweet­ing and small talk­ing, and also, seems to be attempt­ing to make tweets that would have some real import to the uni­verse, would real­ly change things.”  My own feel­ing dur­ing this time was that through mak­ing impor­tant tweets, pos­si­bly I would feel more capa­ble of doing the small amount of small talk that I nor­mal­ly force myself to do in order to feel, be per­ceived as, and expe­ri­ence the world as “nor­mal.”

Day 12: Realized, sud­den­ly and via Twitter and arti­cles linked through Twitter my great place of priv­i­lege in this life (white, male, youngish, edu­cat­ed) and knew that I actu­al­ly have a sta­ble and unchang­ing self (white, male, youngish, edu­cat­ed) and will pret­ty much for­ev­er, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing why I was tweet­ing, because it occurred to me that my tweets prob­a­bly were, in some way, either delu­sion­al (due to the fact that I am white, male, youngish, edu­cat­ed) and/or tak­ing space away from a more impor­tant con­ver­sa­tion that has to do with either gen­der or race.  Tried to think of some tweets con­cern­ing the impor­tance of gen­der and race, but all I could think of was Christian Bale/Patrick Bateman’s “moral­i­ty” speech in American Psycho.

Day 13: From wife’s notes: “act­ing a lot less priv­i­leged, though still dis­tant, as if he has become an astro­naut explor­er, search­ing for him­self on some dis­tant lone­ly planet.”

Day 14–16: It grad­u­al­ly came to me, like a slow-rolled ten­nis ball from the cen­ter of the uni­verse with the answer to life inscribed on it, that I was learn­ing from Twitter, main­ly things like the fact that I was priv­i­leged and that Twitter gave peo­ple voic­es and that Facebook and its ear­ly incar­na­tion Myspace actu­al­ly allowed indi­vid­u­als (priv­i­leged or not), who were once iden­ti­ty-less and shape­less and body-less as the void itself, a sense of iden­ti­ty and uni­ty and strength: a real self.  And while the priv­i­leged, like me, often viewed self as a great prob­lem, many need­ed a self because they had always been self­less, which seemed, some­how, like a great para­dox of life, that those who have a self need to lose it, and that those who don’t have one, need to make one. Thus I real­ized that Twitter was teach­ing me how the uni­verse operated.

Day 17: Read some real stu­pid shit and “S” key on Macbook start­ed stick­ing, annoy­ing­ly, and felt that the world was some­how against me and the exper­i­ment.  Wife observes a par­tic­u­lar­ly unpleas­ant mind state in her notes: “seems unsta­ble, vis­i­bly hunched and invert­ed, as though reform­ing, through a thor­ough-going delv­ing into self.”

Day 18 ‑21: Confused about what to tweet.  Didn’t tweet for sev­er­al days.  Felt that oth­ers had been tweet­ing their entire lives, phones in hand at birth, and that I was still learn­ing how the device worked.  Very discouraged.

Day 23: Had my first tweet “favor­it­ed” and felt, with­out any exag­ger­a­tion, a great relief, accep­tance, and, while not near­ly as mind-alter­ing as pre­vi­ous Twitter ses­sions, still a ver­i­fi­able accep­tance from the larg­er uni­verse, again con­firm­ing that Twitter was some­how designed (per­haps with­out intent and through an acci­dent) to teach us all how to live.

Day 24: Stopped fol­low­ing a lot of peo­ple.  Just could­n’t take it.

Day 24 — 27:  Suddenly and with­out warn­ing, all tweets began to seem like the same tweets I had seen before.  Intuited, then intel­lec­tu­al­ly under­stood that, after “unfol­low­ing” a few peo­ple, Twitter would no longer reveal things to me (as though it were a con­scious enti­ty, spit­ing me).  Tweeted some­thing and it felt like noth­ing.  Didn’t learn any­thing.  Spent three days try­ing to under­stand why I was­n’t learn­ing any­thing.  Wife com­ments: “angri­er in gen­er­al after a peri­od of being great­ly dis­tant; opin­ions and judg­ments con­cern­ing almost every­thing, includ­ing pota­to chips, tex­ture of car­pets, types and pitch­es of dog’s bark­ing, raisins, sun­light, var­i­ous plas­tics, clouds, types of leaves, the mailman.”

Day 28: Experiment ends, can­not con­tin­ue: real­ize that hypoth­e­sis is cor­rect, only in a way I had­n’t fore­seen: Twitter, through teach­ings about my true, unchang­ing self, made me a less hap­py indi­vid­ual as com­pared to when I was delud­ed and liv­ing in a kind of bub­ble of pleas­ant­ness.  The world, for once, revealed by Twitter, was there, in all its hor­ror, reflect­ing back, in 140 word seg­ments, the being who I have always been but nev­er acknowledged.

Alan Rossi’s  writ­ing has appeared or will appear in The AtlanticThe Missouri ReviewNinth LetterNew Ohio Review, and many oth­er places, online and in print.  He lives in South Carolina, with his wife and var­i­ous wood­land creatures.