The Sunday Times Magazine: Quitting Twitter led to terrible cravings, then the freedom made me chirpy

glass_w_1190232kI killed my Twitter. It felt like dumping my best bitchy friend — someone I relied on for outrageous gossip. Just sometimes, they got a little spiteful with it. Maybe that’s why I suddenly decided I was done. So I committed social-media suicide. Digital hara-kiri. The reality wasn’t so dramatic: I just deactivated my account and deleted the app from my phone.

Less than 20 minutes later, the messages began: “Hey Katie,” read the texts, “are you OK?” People I barely knew, some of whom I’d never met in “real life”, were worried something was seriously wrong. Which says less about how interesting my updates are (they are not) than how entrenched in social media our lives have become.

I’m embarrassed to say it, but I missed Twitter immediately. More than I’d have guessed or really want to admit. I missed the bad jokes and ill-informed opinions (mainly mine). I missed @DJsComplaining and spying on my nemesis. I even missed the social-justice warriors and trolls. I found myself composing tweets in my head that I couldn’t send, which must be the most modern of pathologies. I missed the never-ending ideas Twitter generally feeds me all day. Bus journeys, especially, became incredibly dull.

Still, after a day or two the withdrawal symptoms faded and I quite liked life without Fomo, clickbait and hashtags. The biggest perk was regaining my attention span. I liked how it felt not to waste emotion on other people’s arguments, weddings, politics and cat memes. I remembered what it felt like to sit in silence and think for 10 minutes, which I haven’t done since 2006. I reconnected with friends, spent time with them without phubbing (playing with my phone) instead and — shock! — I listened to what they said. It turned out they were pretty interesting. Ironically, off Twitter, I felt more connected.

The biggest perk was regaining my attention span. I liked not wasting emotion on other people’s arguments, weddings, politics and cat memes

Being off social media made me think of the photographer Eric Pickersgill’s portrait series Removed, in which he erased electronic devices from group photographs. So what remains are eerie images of people together, ignoring each other, staring into their palms — which is how I usually live.

Coincidentally, I quit social media just as a backlash against it was trending. Lena Dunham, sick of trolls, had left Twitter. Kate Winslet admitted she had banned her kids from social media because she believes it affects self-esteem. Most dramatically, Essena O’Neill, a social-media personality with half a million Instagram followers, abandoned the platform — and the income she made from it — saying it had become meaningless. “I was living in a screen, wishing people would value me… hear me… know me,” she said, confessing in tears that she’d been reduced to rating her life in “likes”. Now she realised how inauthentic social media was. For a while, I agreed.



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