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 Atlantic, The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, New Ohio Review, and many other places, online and in print. He lives in South Carolina, with his wife and various woodland creatures.