I just deleted my twitter account.
As the exceptional Paul Carr pointed out in a techcrunch article, microblogging turns a writer into a self-absorbed arse with nothing left to show for it aside from a stream of inanities which have recorded nothing about your life except what an annoying prat you are. Actually, Paul didn't write it like that, but that was his gist, and that was what my online presence became reduced to: a stream of inanities about myself.
However, even worse than this, I became an online lurker. I became one of those malignant, anonymous online crazies watching people in the wings. If we became romantically entangled, I'd check out your twitter feed, see if you were flirting with anyone else. You were. It's early days though. I'd give you a bit of leeway. Wouldn't react. Maybe I'd hunt a bit more -- keep tabs on that feed, mind -- always hovering around a mild, unpanicked amber alert. Perhaps do some Facebook digging to keep things interesting. Bit of Myspace, if you were still stuck in 2005. In the meantime, you had probably revealed you were a bit of a dick by your actual behavior towards me in the real world. Nonetheless, convinced you were a hero, I'd keep the faith in our virtual relationship, check twitter. Check twitter. It's something to do when you're bored, innit? Something to keep writers occupied. Check twitter. Funny tweet. Ha ha. Retweet. Check twitter.
Eventually: BINGO! You're dating other people and not telling me about it? I'd have a big old temper tantrum. I'd ditch you. Despite the fact you had a proven track record of being a bit of a twat and completely untrustworthy, despite the fact you'd boinked me, emailed me for naughty pics, and then acted like I was a stranger... despite all this real-world evidence that you were a fool and completely unsuitable to even lick my shoes, never mind stick your tongue in my mouth -- I needed verifiable online social networking proof of your transgressions, and I had them!
But having got this, instead of moving on effortlessly with my life, safe in the knowledge I'd successfully avoided wasting more time on a prick like you, having deleted and blocked you and blah-de-blah... I'd lurk some more, see what else you were up to. I'd feel (righteously!) justified in my anger at what an arse you were. I'd send you a sly, rude tweet or two, hoping that it would reveal your cuntdom to other online fans, maybe alert the girl who crossed over with me to the fact that you're a total dick. I'd cater my own tweets to the odd chance that someone might happen upon them, and then I'd...
Yes, I metastasized into an online cancer.
I went to my guru Paul for advice. "Ditch the social networking tools" he said. "It's just as bad -- if not worse -- than giving up booze."
He was right. Giving up booze, I could walk into the welcoming arms of a twelve-step fellowship group and find forgiveness and love. All the dirty secrets I'd buried deep in my soul, convinced that, revealed, people would run from me screaming, I could sob out gratefully over a Styrofoam cup of coffee. I'd be clasped to the moobs of a fellow sufferer, absolved in the tears of their love and forgiveness. But where's the fellowship for being released from the thrall of the 140 character tweet? Where's the coffee-breathed sponsor who'll tell me everything's going to be OK, even if I did slip and have a sneaky nose at ex-(nearly) boyfriend's new girlfriend's twitter feed? Where's the Higher Power who's going to reveal himself to me at the end of the Serenity Prayer, let me know that it's OK that I'm a completely poisonous neurotic nutcase? Where's the God who'll tell me patiently that some people might even find my patent insanity endearing?
Instead I'm left hopeless, self-loathing, sick, disgusted -- convinced that obsessive checking out of other people, my paranoid comparison of my own hopeless, poverty stricken existence against their shiny 140 character miracles-of-living -- has made me a pariah, an evil person whose soul has been tarnished beyond redemption by an addiction to social networking.
So I gave it up. About 4 hours and 45 minutes ago. After the irate new girlfriend of two-timing miracle man emailed me and said she knew what I was up to after I'd tweeted him something nasty and she'd seen it. I don't think she did know what I was up to, because I don't think I knew. Tweets weren't connected to people anymore, they were online fantasies, and I was messing with them, trying to see if these online people felt the same pain, the same despair, the same anger, that I felt. If I did a bit of poking, a bit of prodding, maybe I could manipulate a revelation similar to the horror I'd felt when I'd stumbled upon two-timer's tweet about his date with another woman. Maybe I could enact a bit of justice myself -- reveal boy to have morality of flea -- rather than trusting to the universe, and boy's own ineptitude, to do it for me. I was an online vigilante for retribution! A superhero of social networking! I was doing it for feminism, so that all women would know what a troll this man was! I was saving them from my pain and heartache!
But sneaking a look at other people's feeds felt like sneaking a bottle of booze into my bedroom after an AA meeting. It felt like devouring seventeen liquified chocolate eclairs after a gastric bypass, a pack of Parliament Lights after heart transplant surgery. I knew I should move on, cut loose, fly like a bird, not check. But I did anyway.
I'm only thirty-one, but I remember, longingly, the days when you'd call someone on a landline, and they'd have no voicemail. Fourteen years old and dialing a guy was like Russian roulette. Are they gonna pick up? Are they not? What if they react with complete disgust? What if you freak out and hang up? What if your words don't come out right and instead you end up grunting like a sow in labor? What if they hang up?
The point is that back then someone else's personal life was a beautiful, blank canvas of unknowing. You couldn't check out twitter and facebook to see what someone was up to, who else they were talking to, what was going on in their lives that excluded you. You didn't have to walk around knowing they had an iPhone featuring perfectly functioning caller ID, amongst a multitude of other instant online ways to access you -- all ignored. So you just had a bit of a worry for a day or so, and then got on with things, and your lives slipped gently apart, in different directions.
I left twitter because for a paranoid, neurotic obsessive like myself, I need to learn how to sit calmly in the blankness, and trust. Trust that my instincts about people are correct.
I never checked out the twitter feeds of boyfriends I trusted. I never freaked out about the iPhone-wielding good friends who took a few days to reply to an email or a text. I never had a sneaky glance at the texts of someone whom I knew, implicitly, to be honest. I never hovered on lovely, faithful Pablo's Myspace page, checking to see if he'd logged on, as I did with snake-like Tony who borrowed 2k from me for his SoHo house membership and fucked off to explore several Poles the minute we moved in together. But now instead I ignore the warning signs, and leave it until I have hard, 140 character evidence. And then it's not enough that I know. I want everyone else to know.
I don't really like who I've become. I ended up turning into the baddie. And I ended up pissing off the new girlfriend, who's done nothing wrong except fall for the same line I did, and is now going to have the added heartbreak, in a couple of months, of discovering her beloved is a total nob.
So I have to go cold turkey. No twitter. No iPhones. No blackberries. No social networking.
From now on, it's me, a cranky old phone and a laptop.
Grant me the serenity...
Follow Ruth Fowler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fowlerruth