Becoming Dispossessed: Stepping Away from Twitter
A couple of weeks ago, I finally honored a prompting from God to give up my Twitter account and sacrifice what I had built. A brief account of my experiences thus far.
I encourage you to begin by reading Paul Kingsnorth’s short story, written in the form of a letter: The Basilisk. He makes the case that our smart phones are like the mythical basilisk, a beast which kills you when its eyes lock with your eyes. He argues that these devices, combined with the very addictive content created specifically for them, such as social media apps and games, grip us, grab our attention and in the end possess us. They open a portal into which we are drawn and through which we are assaulted with a constant stream of content. It goes beyond the merely physical dopamine release that the “likes” produce. They very much can and do take over your life. We do become possessed by them.
Kingsnorth’s warning is ominous. Once one accepts that there are realities beyond or veiled by the material world—a.k.a. the supernatural—and also accepts that these realities may not all be benign, it raises the question of temptation and deception. Classical Christian theological teaching tells us that that these malign supernatural beings can be very clever, wrapping what is detrimental in seductive, even positive, garb. There are always benefits and pleasures. But their true cost is always hidden until after one has bitten the apple. The cost almost always outweighs the rewards.
My experience after walking away from Twitter is frankly mundane. There was a profound emptiness, mixed with relief. It was hard to let go of what I had built. My account was reaching the threshold of really taking off. But as that point drew closer, I could feel the need and hunger for it grow. That frightened me. I could feel the possession deepening. But once that cord was cut, mostly what I felt was a sense of relief. It was done.
My screen time dropped by over 30% on successive weeks. At first I would reflexively pick up my phone and just open it out of habit. That has pretty much disappeared now. I intentionally replaced a lot of Twitter time with devotional time. Suddenly I did not feel like it was being squeezed in. I will say, I did not realize how much Twitter and especially politics, were pushing aside the felt presence of God in my life. And that does not come rushing back. Every day now I am reading at minimum five chapters a day in the bible and then spending time in prayer. At first it was hard. I did not realize how scattered my mind was becoming. But slowly I am again becoming sensitive to the presence of God again.
Over the course of the day, I would have thoughts, and still do, and the thought is, “I should Tweet that.” It is as if I was pouring myself out through the phone. That image in Jeremiah of the cracked cistern is apt. Now I feel as if I have more personal integrity, that is, I am not allowing myself to leak out continually into my phone.
I find I am reading more and understanding what I read more deeply. I have always read, even when gripped by Twitter. I have almost stopped reading political web content. Once your eyes have been opened and you have seen beyond normie explanations for things, you can’t really go back again. Most political commentary is just superficial and stupid. Most have their schtick that they make bank on. Much of it is just so pointless and much of it is just wrong. Maybe I will do some reaction here, we will see. I am enjoying not being gripped by the news. I expect I will continue to share insights from books here, but I am just not feeling the same compulsion, the same drive to produce content to generate likes and build my brand and all that.
I am also finding myself de-radicalizing somewhat. My politics was changing before Twitter and has been changed by the things I have learned from others on Twitter. But I am talking with real people now. This is one of the other important things I have been doing since leaving Twitter. I have been re-connecting socially with people, face to face. My wife and I even decided to host a neighbourhood open house over the holidays. I produced a flyer and hand delivered it throughout the community. We had between 15 and 20 couples drop by. One even brought their kids. I met several new people. The punch was awesome. I ended up with two more bottles of wine than I started with and I had a bunch of “ethnic” treats to sample in addition to the scads of goodies my wife and daughter baked.
In the end, there is nothing wildly earth shattering happening. And that is kind of the point. Twitter, like much of social media, promises to democratize fame and notoriety. But in the end, much of it is empty and meaningless or worse. It grips us and possesses us. Letting it go, one comes face to face with the truth that Qoheleth discovered:
“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”
So this is what being dispossessed has returned to me, the space to once again rediscover God in the mundane things of life and be content with this.
Happy New Year, indeed.
I’m still going to read you here lol
That's fantastic, good for you! I mostly avoid social media too depending how you define it. I go on Reddit too much. My issue is listening to too many podcasts, and youtube. Find myself multitasking stupidly. Listening to a podcast while also trying to read. Probably taking in very little from each. I stop myself sometimes but it's like a learned behavior, automatic sometimes. Cutting back on podcasts is probably one of the main things I should do. Maybe pick a time after which I have to stop listening to them.
Sorry to vent in your comment section. Have lurked here for a bit reading a few of your articles, first time commenting.