I just finished reading Octavia Butler's novel Mind of My Mind, in which an immortal spirit that preys on human minds breeds telepathic humans together to produce more satisfying fare. Before the telepaths learn to control their power and shield themselves from the thoughts of other people, they are tormented by an unbearable flood of other people's emotions.
Last week, I was scrolling Twitter and caught myself thinking "That's a dumb tweet, why the hell did person I follow like that?" Because Twitter saw fit to stuff other people's likes into my timeline, I was having a reaction to my internal speculation about someone else's thought process. At scale, the mental chaos Twitter stimulates seems similar to the turmoil facing Butler's telepaths.
Perhaps I should just delete my Twitter account and accept that the thing that used to be valuable to me and fun is gone. I may end up doing that still. But for now, I've unfollowed everyone and I'm taking a little break. Before I come back (if I do), I'm considering what rules I can make for my Twitter usage that bring it back to being the useful stream of serendipity it once was.
The rules I'm considering (so far):
- Do not retweet. Retweets 9 times out of 10 are just amplifying an emotional reaction I would be better off getting thoughtful distance from first.
- Turn off other people's retweets. Same as above.
- Use a Twitter app that preserves a classic timeline, so I never see other people's likes, etc.
- Keep the people I follow limited to people that I will directly engage with.
- Use Twitter lists for accounts I want in particular information streams.
- If I see a particular topic blowing up on Twitter, I don't need to know about it in real-time. If it matters, there will be either a small number of high quality tweet threads that emerge from the noise I can read later OR a long-form article somewhere.
Frankly, I'm skeptical this will be enough. I've tried variants of some of these before and yet somehow my Twitter experience always devolves into more doom-scrolling and psionic assault.