Several days ago, after seeing my fourth fresh death on social media and the internet in less than a month — the second ISIS beheading of Steven Sotloff, preceded by an inadvertent click on a conflagrant, yet uncautioned link to the beheading video of James Foley, which still brings me to tears as I remember its middle images that will never be erased from my memory, which both came after staring at the endlessly wheatpasted bleeding corpse of Michael Brown and its subsequent days of astonished disbelief, that which also fueled my sobbing outrage during the video of the actual, senseless murder of Kajieme Powell on a St. Louis sidewalk — this all coupled with everything else that seems socially apocalyptic in listicles and 140-character chunks, from politics to drought to subjective journalism to everything, I decided, or rather my psychological wherewithal and its recent spat of nightmares and stress decided I had had enough.
In the last half of my Twitter residency — licensing my content to them, my stream-of-consciousness that I allowed to drip through the filter of my keyboard and onto their server in lieu of rent for a “free” table at their tag sale of ideas, a space I for a long time thoroughly enjoyed and admittedly truly valued as one which had provided me a cadre of contacts and connections within the art sphere — I became a serial deleter. Although, delete is such sleight of mind in internet UI. Anyhow, with regularity I would use a third-party service to delete all of my tweets in bulk at once. I have never been able to go fully back to zero, and this was also the case recently when I had to manually delete over 8000 favorites I had accumulated in four-years time. As of this writing I have 5122 favorites of which none can now be seen, and 207 tweets of which only one was published in the last few days, on August 31st when I said “Bye.” I find it weird you can’t fully delete to true zero, it’s as if the thought is, “Look your data is here anyhow, why leave?”
In November of last year, Twitter had its IPO and became a public company. Many Twitter users heard it as a death knell for the service. I did. I had already sensed, unlike in the early days of Twitter, that my feed was being … curated. On the night of the major earthquake in Japan that caused the tsunami responsible for major damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Twitter was a fury of information. My feed was constant. Updates never stopped coming for those first twelve hours. It was intense, and it reminded me of watching the initial attacks in Iraq that were broadcast live on CNN, in flashes of black and green, narrated from the inside by Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett, except this time it was the world reporting bit by bit from mostly the outside in. What a moment that was. And it was live. During that moment one thing was clear to everyone: Twitter was a force of information. It flowed. It wasn’t a faucet, it was a fire hydrant. And it felt free. We congregated.
I started deleting all my tweets with regularity when it became clear one day that “curation” had really kicked in. The tweets I would see in my web Twitter feed were largely different than the stream I saw on my phone at the same time, and in general I became aware that I was missing updates from pockets of people. After the IPO this phenomenon intensified, and recently it just became blatantly clear, when after DMing someone I hadn’t heard from in months to inquire what was up then received an all-good reply, and came a subsequent reappearance of their tweets, magically, in my day-to-day feed. Perhaps a large majority of Twitter users will never put two and two together, but there’s no question anymore anyhow that this will be the norm, as it was just reported that “a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Only two favorites.
Such poor engagement.
On September 1st, the day after tweeting goodbye, I had buyer’s remorse of the adieu, and thought to myself, “well, let’s just use it for art.” How many times have I said this to myself? I began a series of “…is dead.” posts that listed some bullshit of the day preceding that phrase, an attached link to a complementary picture and/or quote, and swore to do this till the new year, limiting myself to one tweet a day, as an experiment. No more retweeting, no more favoriting, no more rage du jour, no more interactions with the people I had grown to care about through the medium of social media.
Joan Rivers is dead. Nope, too ironic. Too soon.
Sympathy is dead, with a picture of Joan Rivers and a quote from her recent caustic diatribe about Palestinians. Nope, not enough.
Twitter is dead, with a picture of Joan Rivers and a quote about the … aw, fuck it.
I lasted four days.
I found myself perusing Twitter earlier, reading people debate Joan Rivers’ death — debating the deservedness of a celebrity’s death — and watching videos of homosexual, African-American CNN anchor Don Lemon deadpannedly pose racist questions about Islam to a panel of experts, surrounded by tweets of more pictures of the recently beheaded journalists, Gaza, Kanye man of the year, Koons. Did you know James Franco was recently roasted on Comedy Central? Endless. Even small doses of Twitter inject more “news” than one should handle in fifteen minutes. Twitter has become the Headline News Network of yore, now the home of Nancy Grace. Perhaps Twitter’s soon-to-come full-on curation is a good idea. It’ll probably save some customers and raise their engagement numbers, which is now all the rage with Twitter Analytics becoming the thing for users to watch. That the internet has convinced everyday people who do not own corporations that daily engagement rates are something we should even look at is a testament to how perverse social media has become. “Shucks, no one retweeted that.” I said that to myself this morning and then laughed as if it matters.
So, this customer is checking out. What does that mean? Will my web traffic go down? Will I lose invitations to pay-to-enter juried exhibitions? Will I not find out about shows? Will I see less art? Will the people with whom I’ve made connections slowly forget I exist? Does that matter?
Apparently it does because I’m announcing my departure with a blog post diatribe. Blogs — they’re still around, and that’s amazing. But, I guess it is because I do care about people. I care about all the art people I’ve connected with who live elsewhere, none of whom I’d likely know as a Californian without social media. I care about all my diffuse analog friends who I know more through face-to-face interaction, and now they’ve moved on to bigger cities or better things. And I care about people throughout society, insofar as I get enraged when I witness a murder of a black man 2000 miles away or I feel a wave of concern as I watch a livestream of an earthquake’s aftermath. Nevertheless, the endless stream of social media has just become too much. And my participation in social media during these endless moments does nothing to better any of those situations. Nothing. Getting the word out? Nothing. Rage! Nothing.
The constant reportage of everything happening in the world twenty-four hours a day. The constant sine wave between rage and unicorns, flip-flopping between the absurd and the absurder as if the latter sets of unicorns and kittens and retro were made to trump the often absurd unbelievability of life itself. Commercial messages advertising nothing, usually, or nothing beyond the trivial.
These words are nothing new to the world, there are plenty of other writers who have said them before. “It’s all about my usage, how I use social media,” it can be said. I sit on the bus and barely anyone acknowledges their surroundings. The past fifteen years have led us to become lost in white headphones and then some of us come home and get lost in white backlit keyboards. We’ve become asocial. We’re not anti-social, we’re not against being social, we’ve just — I just convinced myself I was being social in a different way, through a different medium. These platforms may be a utility but I’m afraid they’re not social.
Whether anyone hears this or not on the internet I suppose is indifferent. Some of you will certainly sigh and others have already closed this window in relief. I recognize that these corporate platforms demand presence to provide a repackaged society, and they’re not going anywhere, and that’s fine. The problems is, though, that I desire to live in a society uncensored by a central entity, one of the reasons I became so enraged during the astonishment of #Ferguson. To continue to yell on a platform about the very thing it outwardly does itself now just seems foolish. This was the same spirit of why I left Facebook. Curation (or censorship or algorithm, whatever you want to call it) of freely offered speech in a once-unfettered town square is actually anti-social, hypocritical to communication. I’m also not going to just sit there and be silent. And the fact that such platforms aggregate with speed all of the perils of the world in one funnel, especially given the internet’s recent obsession with freely posting pictures of vicious deaths — and have they come less in the past four years? — just lessens its allure.
I’m pretty sure one can thrive without the utility of the social media world and still find success, whatever that may actually be.
So, bye, asocial media. We’ll see how long it lasts.
Since writing this I’ve come across several others with similar feelings, yet taken different routes to address the state of affairs. Erin Kissane recently published her thoughts, Ditching Twitter, and the essay is worth a read. (Hat tip to Paul Soulellis.)