I have a confession to make.
I don’t like Twitter.
It hasn’t always been this way.
In fact, there used to be loads of things I loved about it.
The ultra-live news coverage, often from the heart of the action.
The collective jokes, the hashtag banter.
And, as a writer, the ability to connect with readers and bloggers.
But over the past few months, for me, the negatives have started to far outweigh the positives.
I’d been aware for a while that I wasn’t getting nearly as much pleasure from Twitter as I used to but I pushed these feelings of unease down, listening instead to the fears in my head. Fears that typically went something like this…
You have to use Twitter.
All writers use Twitter.
The first thing a publisher asks these days when they’re thinking of signing you is how many Twitter followers you have #TrueStory.
If you don’t have any Twitter followers, you’ll never get a book deal again.
And then you’ll be homeless – and starve.
But then I got a grip of myself.
And it dawned on me that actually, life is way too short choose to do something that makes you stressed and unhappy.
So, I logged out of Twitter and Facebook and set myself the experiment of seeing how I felt after a couple of weeks social media free.
Would absence make my heart grow fonder?
Or would my temporary separation lead to something more permanent?
Here’s what I found:
The first and most obvious thing I noticed during my social media detox was how much time I had. All of those little I’ll just see what’s going on on Twitter interludes soon add up. And although at first I felt restless and twitchy without my regular scroll, I soon got used to it. And I soon grew to love the great vistas of uninterrupted time that opened up in front of me. I started reading books in one or two sittings – something I hadn’t done for years. I watched films on Netflix without reaching for the pause button every so often just to see what was trending. I was able to completely immerse myself in the story I was reading or viewing – and it felt great.
Greater attention span
This greater attention span spilled over into other areas of my life too. On train journeys, I took to gazing out of the window again and thinking and dreaming. Instead the slightly jittery feeling experienced when jumping between news feeds and notifications, my brain relaxed and expanded and new dreams rushed in.
This clear-headedness helped bring greater clarity to my work life. Choices I’d been mulling over for months suddenly seemed simple. My whole life felt more simple some how. And simple felt great.
Feeling clear-headed didn’t just help me when I was awake. I found I was sleeping a lot better too. Studies have shown that staring at a screen before you go to bed does the opposite of making you unwind. All of those dopamine hits. All of those, just one more minutes. I got back into the habit of curling up with a book and it was bliss.
But probably my favourite part of my social media detox was the change in my interactions with others. Funnily enough, this had been my greatest fear, prior to giving up.
Would I feel really lonely without a bit of Twitter banter or Facebook messaging with my friends and family?
The answer, was a big, fat, resounding NO.
Because coming off social media forced me to find other ways to communicate with people, you know, like talking, face-to-face. And on the phone.
When we ping someone a message or ‘like’ something they’ve posted we feel as if we’ve connected with them, so we’re less likely to call or meet up. But my social media hiatus made me realise that nothing beats the connection of a proper, social media-free conversation.
Hilariously, when I met up with my sister for a coffee and told her what I was doing, she started throwing pointed glances over my shoulder. At the table behind me, a woman was sitting pouting, while her companion took picture after picture of her on his phone, presumably for Instagram. They barely said a word to each other the whole time they were in there.
Then we looked around at the other people in the cafe. At every single table there were people tapping away on their phones. None of these people were on their own – but they may as well have been.
‘I think social media might be sending us all crazy,’ I whispered to my sis. And I was only half joking.
Isn’t there something a little troubling about a world that comes up with the concept of a selfie stick – because there’s an actual demand for a selfie stick?
Now, I know social media isn’t all bad.
One of the things I’ve loved most about Twitter is hearing from readers of my books and being able to connect with other writers.
And I know lots of people who’ve formed deep and lasting friendships online.
This is all good.
I think the real issue is the balance of power in our relationship with social media.
Are you the boss of it?
Or is it the boss of you?
Think for a moment of all the different forms of social media you use.
Picture each one as an actual physical venue.
What do you see? And how does it make you feel?
When I picture Facebook, I see a cafe full of lively conversation and loving friends.
When I picture Twitter, I see a huge hall, full of people. Some of them are lovely and kind and engaged in constructive conversation, but they’re being drowned out by the showing off or shouty mob (wielding hate-filled hashtags instead of pitchforks).
Now, for you it might be the other way round. Your experience of Twitter might be of one big happy family.
If it is, that’s great.
But if social media is making you feel uneasy or tense, try taking a break to clear your head.
Then ask yourself how you can be the boss of it rather than letting it be the boss of you.
Do you really need to be on both Facebook and Twitter?
Do you really need to go on every day?
How would cutting down on your social media change your life for the better?
When I asked myself these questions I realised that I’d be far happier focusing on my Facebook page.
Making it a place where people can come together to share inspirational posts and ideas.
A place where we can laugh and chat and experience a sense of community.
That feels good to me.
As does coming off Twitter for the forseeable future.
It makes my life feel simpler and nicer.
It makes me feel proud that I’m no longer going to do something I don’t enjoy, simply because I’m too afraid of what might happen if I don’t.
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