“Elon Musk has announced a general amnesty for suspended Twitter accounts in a move that brought a warning that ‘superspreaders of hate’ will return to the social media platform.” – The Guardian
“Joan Didion’s 1967 essay ‘Goodbye to All That’ remains the permanent sunspot obscuring the center-vision of many maturing writers even contemplating leaving a place like New York and telling other people about it.” – Los Angeles Times
It is easier to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in my carpal tunnel finger constrict, when Twitter began for me, but I cannot lay my ruined finger upon the moment it ended, although it was probably when they reinstated @TruePatriotHangFauci4562847. And then verified him.
In retrospect, it seems to me that those days before I knew you could slide into Ted Cruz’s timeline and remind him about Cancun were happier than the ones that came later. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to have Mark Hamill like your tweet, how ten minutes can become ten hours with the deceptive ease of a TikTok dissolve, for that is how quickly precious time gets suctioned into the abysmal wasteland of the bird app.
I remember once, and by now I no longer knew what seasons or even weather was, suggesting to an offline friend that he join Twitter to help offset the impact of my being ratioed by a pack of trolls. He laughed literally until he choked, and then suggested I get therapy. I laughed with him, but it would be a long while before I would come to understand the moral of the story, or why SpaghettiOs sent that Pearl Harbor tweet.
It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with Twitter. I do not mean “love” in any kind of traditional way; I mean that I was in love with Twitter in the way you love someone who has never acknowledged that you exist while at the same time profiting off you and your freely provided content.
Nothing was irrevocable. Everything was within reach. Just under this tweet lay another one, some meme I had never seen before or a Distracted Boyfriend variation I hadn’t known about. I could go to trending topics and meet someone calling themselves Duchess Goldblatt or Devin Nunes’ cow, or I could interact with Chrissy Teigen or John Cusack or Tay Tay, or I could ask Lindsey Graham what happened to his soul, or I could get into an endless argument with someone live tweeting an insurrection. I could stay up all night and create a sock puppet account to mock Tucker Carlson and The Federalist, and none of it would count.
You see, I was in a curious position on Twitter. It never occurred to me that I was living a real life there, mostly because I wasn’t. In my imagination, I was always there for just another few months, just until the first warm day in May, or until the elections were over. Other people could take it in stride. To those with fulfilling lives, Twitter is just a social media platform, albeit the platform, a plausible place for people to exchange info, boost each other’s creative projects, or just share a random observation about Jungkook. But for the rest of us, Twitter was no mere platform. It was instead an infinitely self-indulgent and obsessive notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and politics and dysfunction, the shining and perishable social life itself.
Now when Twitter comes back to me, it comes in hallucinatory flashes. I remember sitting on a lot of couches with a slight headache at five o’clock in the morning, wondering WTF happened and how I could possibly still be scrolling. It is relatively hard to engage with your real life at six thirty or seven in the morning without any sleep, which was perhaps one reason we stayed up all night. We cherished the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given moment no one need know how we were squandering time so spectacularly. You will have perceived by now that I was not one to profit by any of this, that it was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing there was anything redemptive and began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to be conditioned to accept hate speech, to destroy yourself in 280 character increments, and to stay too long in the worst possible place on the internet.
I could not tell you when I began to understand that. All I know is that it was very, very bad.
The last time I was on Twitter was in a cold December, and everyone was ill and tired. Many of the people I used to know there had moved to The Hive or had gotten their Post.news invitations, or were pretending to understand Mastodon. I stayed two minutes while one thousand Elon sycophants explained to me why the Daily Stormer is a legit news source, and then I logged out, and I knew there was no longer any point in keeping the app I still kept on my phone. There were years when I called physical human beings, actual life, and the real world “offline,” but they seem a long time ago.