Since I deleted my Twitter account a couple weeks ago, many have been wondering why I chose to walk away from the website at the height of my fame, abandoning my nearly 300 adoring followers who read all of my tweets in rapt admiration. I’ve had people approach me on the street and ask me: “Why, Josh? Why did you do it?” So even though I had no plans of making the cliché post about my departure, I figured I owe it to all the fans and kids out there who look up to me.
My reason had nothing to do with any individual people, except possibly Kanye West, but more to do with how the site was starting to function due to changes Twitter made to its service. I’ll focus on the two big ones that I feel fundamentally altered Twitter and turned it from a Reasonably Good Website into an Actually Quite Bad Website.
The Character Limit
Recently, Twitter doubled its character limit from 140 to 280, in order to allow people to “more thoroughly express themselves and engage in the discussions they love” or some nonsense like that. This was met with mostly anger, but the outrage largely subsided after a few weeks as I guess most people got used to it. I never did, though.
A moment of over-analysis: I feel like the 140 character limit was important not just because of brevity and readability, but because it made people think about what they were saying and how best to say it. Now even with 140, Twitter was not necessarily a beacon of intellectual conversation, but tweets were often funny, incisive, and it felt different from other social media and writing.
Right after 280 was installed, there was a noticeable downgrade in tweet quality. Now tweets often took up twice as much space on the timeline, and it’s not like the extra words actually accomplished anything. Tweets didn’t have more clarity, they weren’t funnier, and they didn’t provide more information. All this change did was give people the freedom to write poorly.
So that change was part of why I quit, since it made my timeline into a mess, but it wasn’t the complete dealbreaker that reason #2 was.
Our Algorithm Thinks You Might Like This Algorithm
No, the change that nearly singlehandedly destroyed Twitter for me was the switch to an algorithm timeline, which was unrolled a few months ago by a company that seemingly has no idea why anyone uses its service. This was the single biggest reason I found myself looking at my timeline and getting actively irritated, because the entire point of Twitter was that you got to curate your own timeline and choose who showed up in it.
Messing with the linear timeline and inserting tweets from people you don’t follow or care about was bad enough, but the way Twitter chose which tweets showed up in your timeline was the truly offensive part. Much like Facebook, it decided it based on how many “engagements” and retweets and likes a tweet had, which meant you were always getting garbage memes or popular tweets by famous people shoved into your timeline.
More over-analysis: part of what I (and I suspect others) enjoyed about Twitter is that it was an egalitarian medium. For a long time, a tweet from some nobody like me would show up in your timeline and look exactly the same as a tweet from a celebrity with 10 million followers. The cool implication here is that my thoughts and opinions are just as worthwhile as theirs, or at least just as worthy of consideration.
This change destroyed that concept of the site. Pretty much overnight after instituting the algorithm, the site turned into a popularity contest (well, more than it already was) and a place that became disproportionately dominated by celebrities who aren’t actually interesting or intelligent. And I’ve gone off on this subject before, but the assumption that the best tweets you most want to see are the ones with the highest RT/fav numbers is the opposite of correct. The stuff that gets RT’d is usually pandering, hysteric, or obvious, and people began to tweet more in those tones to get high engagement numbers.
A sentiment I used to see about Twitter vs. Facebook is that Facebook was where you were stuck with boring people you knew and Twitter was where you could meet cool strangers. The algorithm timeline turned Twitter into the worst of both: a site where you were stuck with strangers you don’t like. It’s worse than Facebook. It might be the worst site on the entire internet. I haven’t even mentioned Trump yet.
It’s all a bummer because Twitter was an enjoyable place for a long time. I met (kind of) some people there that I liked talking to, and I think I even became a better writer through crafting tweets and almost developing a character in a sense. But the site has turned into something dark and ugly and I didn’t want to be there anymore. I realized one day that I was spending a lot of time looking at this thing that I didn’t even like when I could be reading a book.
The decision to quit entirely was maybe excessive, but I’m a firm believer in giving up when things get tough or unpleasant. Knowing when to quit is one of my few real life skills. In this case, it just felt like the site wasn’t doing anything positive for me anymore. I was thinking about it too much (in case that’s not obvious by now) and it stopped being fun.
And on some level, I began to feel like maybe we’re not meant to have a constant stream of people’s opinions running on our phone at all times, and I was tired of spending so much time just reacting to things and reading other people’s reactions. So I deleted my account while everyone was yammering about the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and haven’t really missed it much since. I haven’t seen anything about Trump in weeks. I don’t know what Kanye is tweeting about. I barely know what that “Laurel and Yanni” thing was. I read a book last week and enjoyed it.