Twitter is awesome. It’s given me a lot of fantastic things, put me in touch with people I would have never been able to interact with, and it regularly shows me pictures of kittens.
But here’s the thing I’m just recently coming to grips with: it’s kind of a misery vacuum. Two tiny things combined to fully open my eyes to this yesterday.
One, I was offline for a few hours because I’m kinda ill, and when I came back on, I found that I had missed a series of epic arguments about sexism and video games and harassment and etc. Normally these would be right up my alley, but I had missed them, so I started thinking about what I had actually missed out on. Further, these other people involved didn’t miss these arguments, they were front and center, and what had they gained from participating?
Not much, that I could see. No one had archived these Twitter battles and put them on a website as an example of great conversations. No one’s minds had been changed. No one felt they won or lost. All that happened, from what I witnessed retroactively, is that two people with wildly differing opinions typed at each other and then stopped. I had missed out on my opportunity to get angry and obsessively refresh my feed, waiting to see what the other person had for me this time. Was that missing much?
Two, my friend Shadi was in a Twitter conversation that I just happened to catch the tail end of, and some other guy kept tweeting at her long after the original conversation was over. She typed something like “Leave me alone. If we were in a public place I would call the police”, and that really struck me, both because of how true it was, and also because I thought “Well shit, you two would NEVER been in the same public place.”
Because this country is big enough and diverse enough that you never have to interact with most of it. And that’s not terrible. The Internet has changed that, for better and for worse.
I think it does us all a great amount of good to get out of our own experiences and see things from other people’s perspectives, people we have literally nothing in common with, to see why they feel the way they do based on all the millions of things that go into a life. I am all for experiences like that, but Twitter isn’t the place to make that happen. Going and interacting with people where they live is how you do that. Volunteering is how you do that. Eating in restaurants in neighborhoods you’ve never seen is how you do that. Making friends different from yourself is how you do that. Twitter isn’t about having eye-opening conversations, it’s about finding the people that disagree with you and shitting on them. Period. It’s about voicing your opinions, well thought-out or not, and then having those opinions picked apart by strangers.
And that kinda sucks. That’s not helpful to move any dialogue along, or make any changes, or come to any understandings. It’s just spinning its own terrible angry wheels.
So I’m gonna stop having debates on Twitter. It’s not worth my time anymore, and I don’t need more things to be angry about.
Further, I’m no longer going to click on links of compilations of angry, racist tweets about things like Indian kids being finalists in a spelling bee. I never had to hear from people who get that hateful over a spelling bee before, and I don’t know why I need to start now. Before Twitter, these people were gathering at work and at their various meeting places and talking about how the country is going to hell in a handbasket, and I never even knew about it. That’s okay with me.
Being witness to this kind of talk on Twitter doesn’t open people’s minds at all. It doesn’t do me any good to know people are racist in America- I am already aware of that fact, and experiencing their racism doesn’t educate me or them. It’s just more anger vacuum.
It’s not your job to bear witness to the hate of every idiot who managed to sign up for a Twitter account. It’s certainly not your job to respond to them and correct them. Focus your intentions on things that can actually bring about change, focus your intentions on seeking to understand and empathize rather than shouting someone down in 140 characters.
This is great, and exactly how I feel about the internet in general right now, not just twitter. I love thoughtful discussion and healthy debate, but it seems like most widely used venues of communication on the internet offer neither right now. I’m not sure what the solution is. A lot of the really toxic thoughts seems to come from venues that thrive on anonymity. I’m not singling out 4chan, I’m saying it’s still a trifling thing to create an anonymous account on twitter, tumblr, even facebook, from which you can hurl abuse and vitriol.
Say what you will about the negative aspects of presenting our identities online for public scrutiny, but it does provide a reasonable amount of accountability. Most people become far less radical in thought or aggressive in tone when the idea of their mother or their boss or their pastor reading their words becomes a real possibility. Perhaps we need to get more comfortable with our own personal transparency on the internet before we can be mature enough to let our voice communicate our views without malice or hyperbole. But hiding behind an avatar or string of numbers or even an assumed identity we find comfort in is giving the negative corners of our mind a too-accessible outlet to continue patterns of abuse.