Last month, my bosses suggested I quit Twitter for a week. Completely. I would not be able to log on, let alone tweet or retweet others or check for direct messages.
It might seem easy to do, gentle reader. But there are Twitter users, and then there’s me.
I joined the social media platform in 2008, and it’s been one giant roll in the proverbial mud for me ever since. I love its immediacy, its randomness, its easy interface, its chaos.
For the past 15 years, Twitter has been one of the first things I check when I get up in the morning. I check it before I go to bed. I check it when I have down time. I check and check and check, even though I no longer have a blue check mark that designated me as, well, me.
My wife and my bosses keep telling me to not waste so much time tweeting — over 1,000 times in April alone. Waste of time, my behind. I’ve gained friends and followers and writing gigs — arguably, this job! — from my torrent of tweets. Great columns originated from tossed-off thoughts that went viral — the legacy of the late, legendary Mexican singer Juan Gabriel. Why In-N-Out is overrated. The importance of loquats in Southern California.
Twitter has also been a consistent digital banana peel for me. Haters of the alt-loser and wokoso persuasion have sent around out-of-context postings to try and get me in trouble. I lash out at people for free instead of channeling my ire into my columnas, which understandably annoys my jefes. App administrators suspended me twice for allegedly offensive tweets — once, for telling a guy that he had a nopal en la frente (a cactus growing on the forehead, which in Mexican Spanish means you’re a hick), and another time for making fun of a conservative activist in Orange County for the community college he attended.
Not only have I stuck around, but Twitter is now the only social media platform I consistently use, even as many of my friends have deleted their accounts because of owner Elon Musk. I stuck around because I believed the billionaire when he vowed upon purchasing the company last year to improve the user experience and take Twitter back to its roots as a worldwide town square instead of the sewer of hate and spam it has devolved into since the Trump presidency.
When I privately told my friends about my Twitter fast, they thought I was so addicted that I would buckle within hours and log back on. Shows how much they know me! There was no drama, no painful withdrawal like Ewan McGregor in “Trainspotting.” But, like all addicts, I achieved a moment of clarity:
The break made me realize how inconsequential Twitter ultimately is.
At its best, Twitter makes you feel connected to the world in an instantaneous way that rivals like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can’t match. Those platforms are simply too thought out, too intentional, too much hassle, when all you want to do is fire off a 140-character thought or a goofy GIF. Twitter is all about the ramble, the random, the rants — how you talk with friends in real life.
And that was the thing I quickly realized during my break: I could replicate Twitter in real life by, well, living in real life.
When I had a sudden thought to share, I told it to my wife or texted it to my friends. When I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I went to the home page of this paper and our contemporaries or turned on CNN. If I wanted the latest gossip, I called up sources. Honestly, the only thing I couldn’t replicate was a five-years-and-counting thread where dozens of strangers and I exchange GIFs in a mock conversation. Instead, I texted the GIFs to my friends, who responded in kind.
I’ll admit, I was curious about what was happening in the Twitterverse while I was gone. I wanted to see how the GIF war was going, or laugh at the accounts I follow that focus on sports humor. I wanted to throw out random thoughts to see what people might say — like how I just realized that “I Dream of Jeannie” is a rip-off of “Bewitched” but with a better theme song and more sexist. Or how the frequently ridiculed music artist Pitbull is actually thoughtful and funny, which I found out after listening to his recent interview on Howard Stern’s show.
I wondered what was going on … and moved on.
Forsaking Twitter didn’t win me back any extra time in my life, as my wife and bosses insisted would happen. I ultimately don’t spend that much time tweeting — half an hour a day, maybe, which is less than it takes to do a really pointless task like, say, wash my car. When I returned, I thought my followers would have noticed and asked where had I been.
Just one did.
Worse, the short time away highlighted Twitter’s bugginess, which is nowadays worse than an unchlorinated swimming pool.
Phishing attempts had flooded my inbox. There were more bitcoin solicitations on my timeline than ever before. Responses to my tweets by people I follow didn’t show up on my timeline, while the accounts of trolls I’ve muted were starting to regularly pop up. Twice, I wasn’t able to tweet from my phone but could from my computer. The solution: Log out, then log back in.
What’ll I have to do next to fix my Twitter problems? Blow on its icon on my smartphone, as I did with failing Nintendo cartridges when I was a teenager?
Be worried, Elon. If a fan like me is starting to doubt whether Twitter is worthwhile, it’s not a bright future for your company.
If you want to hold on to your die-hards and win new followers, you need to make Twitter a place where there are no hiccups. You need to embrace what made Twitter so enticing in the first place — quick succinct thoughts, photos and videos delivered seamlessly. Don’t expand the character count or pivot to live audio, the way you laughably did for Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis. Stop spending so much money on weak-salsa trucks or trips to the moon or hyperloops to nowhere. Hire back your engineers, focus on what works and jettison what doesn’t.
If you don’t, Twitter will go the way of MySpace and LiveJournal and all the other internet things that were supposed to change the world and did for a bit — until they didn’t. Right now, it’s a dumpster fire on the Titanic — and I’m about ready for a rowboat to take me far, far away.