It’s been nearly a month since I last posted on Twitter and I’ve found the break very enjoyable and surprisingly easy. I thought I would struggle but apart from a couple of bored evenings Twitter hasn’t really crossed my mind. I check every few days for replies in case I’ve been sexually propositioned, but I’m not reading other people’s tweets (not much change there then!)
One of the reasons I wanted a break from Twitter was to regain some of the many hours I lose every day to pointless social media stuff. Twitter is great when you’re stuck in a boring situation (on a bus or in a meeting) but it had gotten to the point where I would wake up at 9am, think to myself: “Oh, I’ll just check Twitter” and still find myself glued to my PC for the rest of the day. And that would be fine if I had a job and was tweeting in the background, but my situation wasn’t like that. It was just a mostly unemployed man writing a series of one-liners to a load of strangers all day, whilst they polited applauded or replied or pointed and jeered. Which isn’t quite how I want to spend my life. It’s all very well killing time if you’re stuck in a 9-5, but when the 9-5 is your life then killing time just means wasting your life. And whilst wasting my life is sorely tempting, I do want something more.
So, what have I been doing with that glorious time I’ve recaptured from Twitter? Some of it has just been wasted on Facebook. Pornography has also picked up some of the slack. I’ve also read more books and watched more films. But mostly I’ve been fairly productive, on a social level, if not always creatively.
One of the oddly compulsive things about Twitter is that you always want more. When you have 5 replies you want 10 replies. When you have 500 followers you want 1000 followers and when you have 9000 followers you want 10,000 followers, as though that is going to make a material difference to the quality of your life. And it occurred to me that rather than desperately trying to get new followers, I should spend more time getting to know the people I’ve befriended over the last year or so. And so that’s what I’ve done. I tend to avoid big Twitter meet-ups because it inevitably means you spend loads of time chatting to people you don’t really know or like and not getting the chance to speak to people who actually interest you. I’ve just been having coffee or lunch or booze with people, talking about shit and seeing where it goes. I absolutely love Twitter but it’s quite nice being a human being for a while.
On the occasions when I do check Twitter, I find it slightly bewildering. When you are tweeting non-stop you don’t recognise how quickly everything happens on Twitter, and what an insular, self-referential bubble it is. If you consider a political issue (wikileaks or student riots) then in the world outside Twitter you have the time to weigh up the pros and cons, change your mind, remain uncommitted and ambivalent. On Twitter (at least within the particular Twitter bubble I’ve inhabited) within 5 hours of something happening, battle lines have been clearly drawn. People have immediate, concrete opinions and villify those who disagree. An “awareness-raising” hashtag is developed. Someone creates a satirical twitter account in the name of one of the main protagonists. An article by Johan Hari or Graham Linehan is endlessly retweeted as though it were the Holy Grail. A Daily Mail article is retweeted as though it were Mein Kampf. A backlash starts in which a few contrary tweeters pick fights. And you start really hating or loathing Twitter people based solely on bursts of propoganda. All of this before 2pm. One of the nicest things about my break has been allowing my brain to gently expand to the point where it can entertain concepts beyond 140 characters, where there is room for a hundred indecisions and a hundred visions and revisions. Where I don’t feel the need to have an object to hate or resent. It feels like stepping off a merry-go-round and finding my bearings. Obviously, after a while it gets boring in the real world because merry-go-rounds are fun.
When I was about 14 or 15 years old I was very unhappy at school. And I hung around a group of friends who weren’t really friends. I assumed they were friends because I saw them every day, but actually they treated me like shit. But it took me years to work out the simple fact that I didn’t have to spend time with them; that I could walk away and hang out with other people who weren’t evil twats. And my recent time of Twitter reminds me of that – not in the sense that anyone on Twitter was treating me badly, but just in the sense that sometimes you forget that you can take a deep breath and walk away; that the world will not crumble if you change friends or stop tweeting for a bit. And of course, whereas I grew to hate the “friends” at school, I really like most of the people I know on Twitter, and I love the sense of endless possibilities that Twitter offers. And yes, I will be back.
But when I return I want to be a little wiser in how I use it. I’m 35, am single, live in a room in a friend’s flat, and have no discernible career. Because I’m quite high-profile on Twitter people assume that I’ve well-connected and have some kind of media career. I don’t. I know almost no-one in the media and my job prospects are no better than they were 10 years ago. I see writers 10 years younger than me getting Guardian columns and sitcom offers – not because they are more or less talented than me, but because they make things happen. Meanwhile, I get by on odd bits of freelance work from the same old sources. But I wake up some mornings terrified that I’m on the scraphead, that whilst my peers have £60,000-a-year jobs, and homes they own, and wives and kids and cars, I haven’t acheived anything of note (aside from publishing a book 5 years ago that made me no money and was mostly ignored). And I suspect that if I want that to change; if I want to make something of my life, to feel that I have some sense of direction and purpose (even if I never make much money) then I can’t just kill the days on Twitter. I can’t just tweet endlessly in the hope that some Hollywood sugar-daddy is going to pluck me from obscurity and shower me with opportunities and riches. I have to make things happen. I’m not really sure how, but thats’ another story.