I’m back on Twitter for the first time since August of 2017.
I don’t remember the exact moment I left, in fact I imagine it had been brewing for some time. In essence it had to do with finding tangible connections between my thoughts and feelings, and what I was reading on social media (I’ve been off all the “social sauce” since about that time, not just Twitter).
Laura noticed it first. Around 2012 I remember lamenting a missed opportunity to her, something I could do instead of banging my head against the wall of building VNN, as I was surfing through my Twitter feed lying in bed. Another Tuesday for us, as VNN was hard work at the time. She ignored the subject of my comment, and said “you have to stop reading that shit.”
With distance, it was easy for her to see the impact that reading about someone else’s accomplishments (so helpfully curated at the time on my feed) had on my feelings of self-worth, and she graciously called me on it. I remember being righteously indignant at the time; it would take more time for me to come around.
The realization evolved organically into a sort of vague connection between my use of social media and an existential sense of inadequacy, which I was compelled to address through working myself even harder to get the next gold star. It was helping my business (I was certainly productive), but destroying me. And over time, as I got more accustomed to watching my thought patterns, I began to see clearly a causal relationship that looked something like this:
- Read about someone else doing something cool =>
- feeling of dread in my chest =>
- thoughts diminishing my self worth because I didn’t do that cool thing first
I’ve heard it said that “you see your competitors through their press releases, while you see yourself naked in the mirror.” It’s always an unhappy comparison, and at the time I viewed the whole world as competition.
From there, it was like buying a Volkswagon. Once I noticed that pattern, couldn’t stop seeing it. It got to the point at which every time I would check Twitter, whatever mood I was in would persist until I saw something awesome that my mind convinced itself I should have done, and then I’d feel like shit.
Getting off social media was hard, and not entirely because it is addicting. Besides that, in the startup and business world, there’s a lot of practical value in maintaining a broad and deep network, and social media is, by far, the easiest way to manage that. But, like any addiction once you realize it’s causing problems but before you decide to stop, it gets worse, and worse, like an elevator that only goes down, until eventually I quit cold turkey. The process of quitting social was actually pretty similar to that by which I quit drinking, back in 2007.
I didn’t see the pictures of my nephews during my time away, and I didn’t know much of what was going on in the world, but I found a sense of peace that had eluded me before. My tendency to measure my self worth by my accomplishments relative to others didn’t go away entirely, but at the very least it wasn’t triggered every day by a deluge of people humble-bragging.
That sounds awesome to me still, as I write this a day after rejoining the Twittersphere (is it still called that?). So why the hell am I back?
Well, that sense of peace, that space where the noise of the world used to be, gave me an opportunity to do the serious internal work of first solidifying my awareness of, and then slowly letting go of (or maybe even rewiring), my internal thought patterns. I’ve had the opportunity to spend significant time in contemplation and reflection, an opportunity that regrettably not everyone gets, and in doing so there’s been a fundamental change in the perspective through which I view the world. My sense of self has decoupled from my thoughts, and therefore my self-worth decoupled from value judgements about my relative accomplishments. So far as I can see, this realization is both foundational and irreversible, even though sometimes I forget in the moment.
I still catch my thoughts getting hooked by cool stuff other people are doing, but it’s easier for me to now dissociate with those thoughts, let them be just the random noise that they are, and move on. My thoughts have become, in most cases, pretty much irrelevant noise to me, much less capable of inflicting the kind of turmoil they once did.
So the danger that social media once posed for me has been neutered, or in any case lessened significantly, which has changed the calculus for me around participating. The bad aspects which once tipped the scale have decreased to the point at which the good shines through, not only in the human connections that I can build with family and friends, but also in the opportunity to help others; I look around me every day and see people caught in their heads, the victims of their own chaotic, self-focused thinking, and I know first hand how profoundly that can suck.
I’ve enjoyed my time on the mountaintop, away from digital society, and it’s helped me grow immensely. But all that time I was up there, I was sacrificing my one and only opportunity to connect with the other 8 billion humans in the world. From where I stood in 2017, that was a fair trade. But upon gaining that equanimity I sought, or at least some version of it, I feel better prepared to engage, and, hopefully, help.
I’ve missed you all, and I look forward to seeing what you’ve been up to.