Twitter used to be good. We joked, constantly, about how awful it was — and it could be awful. There was hate speech, and misinformation, and a never-ending feed of nonsense. But, oftentimes, the good outweighed the bad: There were weird jokes, lively conversation for live events like sports, real-time news, and even the ability to form lasting, real relationships.
The thing is, under the stewardship of Elon Musk, those bad features have worsened. Hell, in the last few days alone Twitter has gone an ill-conceived makeover into “X” and Musk himself has spread vaccine conspiracy theories. Not great!
Soon, seemingly every tech bro rushed to clone Twitter in an effort to siphon-off the evacuees from Musk’s plummeting bird app. There’s Threads, which is mostly boring Instagram people posting boring thoughts. There’s invite-only Blue Sky, which has its own problems and remains pretty small — you certainly can’t rely on it for news. Then there’s all the others: Mastodon, Clubhouse (lol), something called Plurk, or whatever other social apps crop up.
The people who found love on Twitter
But if you want the solution to a Twitter alternative, it’s this: There is no solution. Just…log off. You can do it! You need neither Twitter nor its clones. You need to live your one life.
A confession: I don’t completely do as I say in this matter. I am, after all, a news professional and I do need to check Twitter, erm…X, and its rip-offs in order to keep myself appraised of the headlines for my job. But you’re almost assuredly not a news professional. You absolutely do not need to know the latest news exactly as it happens. Even my habits have changed.
When I’m at work, one tab has always been devoted to my Twitter feed. But post-work, when I closed my laptop, I used to then scroll Twitter constantly on my phone. It was a source of entertainment, a place to tell jokes, a place to make friends. No more.
So far this week, my iPhone tells me I’m averaging just 26 minutes per day on Twitter. That’s half the time I’ve spent per day on TikTok and the exact same amount of time I’ve spent on a sports app. I’ve spent just 2 minutes on Blue Sky and even fewer on Threads. I cannot express enough how much of a shift this is. Since the Musk takeover my Twitter habit has waned as features broke, users left, and the site tried desperately to pry loose my wallet.
It wasn’t like I stopped using it the second Elon got his sink in, but I found myself compelled to open the app less and less. There hasn’t been much need or reason. Apple doesn’t give you historical screen time data, but I can guarantee I spent far more time on Twitter in its heyday. I did anything but log off.
Not to get all Marie Kondo on you, but — to get all Marie Kondo on you — what about Twitter, or its clones, sparks joy? Very little these days, no? The days of a fun Twitter seem long past and the site hardly provides any utility any longer. It’s either misinformation, political spats, news, broken features, and, every once in a while, a good joke. But TikTok is funnier. Push notifications get you news quickly and whole stories afford a fuller picture than a tweet. Creating community is better on Reddit (well, maybe), or Discord, or Tumblr. Instagram is better for keeping up with old friends.
A few years ago, you might have felt obligated to check Twitter to see how the president last used it as cudgel against his perceived enemies and how they responded. But the Big Guy left the website and office long ago and that online chore is finished. I find myself logging on to Twitter less and less, and I’m better for it.
There was also a time where Twitter could help your career — media and creative fields especially. Comedians could build a following or writers could find an audience. The days of being found on Twitter are long gone; there remain folks clinging to what they built. And if you’re trying to become popular on Threads, God bless, because that’s a place for celebs to back-pat. Perhaps you can get in on the ground-floor of Blue Sky, but you’ll need to find an invite, which big Twitter accounts had from the jump, which gave them a leg up. And, oh yes, it’s the year 2023 and we now know that very few people made real money off a text-based social app. Chasing that is a fool’s errand.
TikTok, sports app, and Twitter time usage this week.
Credit: Screenshots: iPhone
Twitter is a shell of itself, a vestigial remain from a different period online, and its replacements are partial recreations. You do not need any of these sites.
Twitter once had a unique cultural relevance, back when the phrase “only on Twitter” brought to mind a distinctive sort of online experience. I think of, for instance, a specific day in my Twitter experience. The day Philadelphia 76ers-focused podcast The Rights to Ricky Sanchez instigated “Retweet Armageddon” — a day in 2017 where Sixers fans retweeted old, bad posts disparaging their favorite team. It was lighthearted, petty, and funny. Some six years later, how quaint does that feel? Lots of Sixers Twitter is less active these days and any attempt to be petty, on Musk’s Twitter, would inevitably spiral into some insidious fight. Again, just this week, news surfaced that an (albeit famous) 18-year-old kid suffered a cardiac arrest and Musk used that moment to question Covid vaccines. What are we doing here?
I’ve circled this subject before: The internet has become less and less fun. Musk taking over Twitter was an accelerant of that trend. We don’t need to wait for him to run it aground — or for the clones to get better — we can just stop. How do we replace Twitter is the wrong question. We should be asking: Why are we trying at all?
I’d be stupid to think we could entirely log off the internet or social media. But nobody owes their time to X, or Twitter, or Blue Sky, or Threads. The least we could do is imagine something better, rather than something dumbed down, or stripped bare, or remade in the image of rightwing weirdos.
Perhaps there was never much real joy or fulfillment in the endless scroll of Twitter. But at least there were laughs, and news, and friends that existed only in that space. Hell, there was the mind-numbing, reliable assembly line of new posts coming your way — with Musk, we can’t even count on that.
But this isn’t really an argument about Musk, or X, or Blue Sky, or…my God…how many times must I list all these sites. It is an argument in favor of walking away. It’s an argument in favor of at least trying. If there is precious little utility in logging onto these sites, then there’s plenty of reason to log off.
You could pull out your phone and tacitly endorse Twitter, or whatever form it has taken via Musk or some other such tech bro. Or you could remember that through some small miracle of love and humanity, you’re here on Earth with anywhere from one second to about 75 years remaining alive. Within you are the hopes and dreams of generations of people who toiled and chuckled and survived and then passed. You could remember that somewhere the sun is shining and that you are perfectly capable of enjoying that sunshine.
So, sure, I’m down to about 26 minutes per day on Twitter. And I’m beginning to think that’s about 26 too many.