I joined Twitter after a 20 mins long homily by a TV producer who told me that someone in my profession had to use the platform to make new connections, access information and promote ideas. Since then, I must confess, I have been hooked on Twitter, often spending more time on it than I should, thanks largely due to prolonged commutes and lonely hours spent in front of computer screens for writing deadlines.
In the process, I have learned a lot from what I read, and my interactions with people who had specialisms in areas I did not. I also made new friends, became aware of many people with similar interests that I did not know about. I stumbled upon some truly beautiful, unique and exceptional people, and even if I never directly engaged with them, they enriched my life. And yes, I did unashamedly use it for promoting my articles, and projects.
Then there was the darker side; anonymous trolls, personal slurs, random people who think you are obliged to engage with them and who think social conventions of respect and boundaries do not exist online. At no stage in my life have I received such personal attacks, and seen break down of cordial relationships simply due to differences of opinions expressed as complex developments unfold. The list of labels I got given ranged every spectrum of every political group and conspiracy theory characters. I often felt peer pressure to raise hands in Mexican waves of thoughts, out of proportion emotional outbursts. And when I didn't, even when I shared those particular concerns, I faced judgement for what I did not say and how strongly or weakly I said it. I also saw how what people said was being catalogued, and saved as an arsenal for a later use to slap them on the face. It was sad to accept that while I saw engagement and conversation as a chance to learn and grow, many did not. Each expressed thought was a test of whether you are with 'them' or the 'other'. Communication was merely taking a stand, and engagement merely a battle to defeat and mute an opponent, not win him or her. And being impacted by engagement and new ideas, thus altering one's own views and clear cut conclusions was a sin. If someone did in fact change positions, tweets from previous thoughts would always be thrown back at them with commentary of intentions, hypocrisy, weak mindedness.
I came to recognise how such interactions impact my own personal wellbeing. I recognised a disparity between my day to day life interactions and 'social media' ones. When my own expressions in tweets only reflected a tiny slice and often 'fresh out of oven' thoughts, the reader only perceived me as a picture, and a name, and whatever emotional signal those communicated to them. While seeing my name and pic regularly on their timeline brought familiarity, it always amazed me how much they assumed about me, my intentions, what my religious and political beliefs are, what issues I am sensitive about.
More worryingly, I came to realise that the medium is now shaping thoughts and language. Rather than enabling them to reach out, it is shaping them into its own patterns. This was a similar issue I had with excessive use of PowerPoints, that yes helped to share some forms of data, but by and large forced thoughts into single bullet points and visually expressible language patterns, increasingly dumbing down thoughts, taking more time and effort than the actual content. Nuance, complexity disappeared, brains were geared towards outwitting each other in catchy phrases. The medium only encouraged partisanship and amigos wanting to cheer crowds. Its reward system of follower, like and retweet numbers meant that it incentivised harshest, and most edgy statements. Its quick firing speed was helpful for quick thinking when news broke, but horribly harmful in helping with an actual understanding. These not only contradicted my entire academic formation, but also professional work, and most importantly personal outlook in life.
Alas, I shall leave Twitter for now, not in a Stephen Fry style frustration or due to a specific recent incident, but in recognition that it works for what it is, and for some people that is great. But for me, at least for now, it is time to take a leave. There is enough on-line print where you can, if you wish to, follow my musings and work. In addition to this website, you can follow me on Academia.edu and if you know me professionally in real life on Linked-In. Or perhaps, like in the old days, do drop me a line to ask for a cup of coffee if you are in London, email an article you think I should read or a project you are working on that you think I would be interested in. On the positive side, one less "mr know it all" on your timeline and one less loud voice telling you whey they are right but others are wrong..