What I learned from my month without Twitter

At the start of Advent I decided to take month long break from Twitter, the last remaining social media platform that I use. During the autumn I had noticed myself feeling on edge, running towards distractions, and I wanted to see if I could spend Advent focussing on its original purpose: anticipating the coming of Jesus.

Now, on New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be a prime opportunity to reflect on my Twitter fast and on any lessons I learned during it. But first a brief diary of my fast:

1st-3rd December

I have the nagging desire to update my feed and to check that no one has been in touch. I forgot to announce the fact that I was taking a break. On the third day, instead of going onto the site and updating it, I decide to post to my blog. I figure that since my blog posts get automatically posted to Twitter, this is a good workaround (cheat?) I make sure that my title is clear enough that even if no one clicks on the link, there will be some indication of where I have disappeared to during this time.

4th-6th December

I’m less twitchy. I no longer feel provoked by the Twitter icon on my browser home screen. However, I’m not totally over it. Instead of looking at my Twitter feed every hour, I’ve noticed that I’m hitting refresh more often on my Gmail account. I am expecting an important email, so it’s not entirely unusual, but it’s still not something I’m proud of. I decide to use these urges I have to remind myself to do something else: take a walk, read a book.

7th December

My wife Sofia and I have been reading the Jesus Storybook Bible with our daughter every night before she goes to bed. I downloaded an Advent reading plan, so each night we have a story to read. Our daughter is just about to turn two, so sometimes struggles to concentrate through the entire story, but not always. I’m really enjoying the way the stories are written and that they are woven together to make sense of the Bible as one whole story.

8th December

I’m doing more focussed reading. Instead of getting bounced about the internet by every new link that appears in my feed, I am taking control of my attention. There are books that I have started reading but haven’t yet finished:

  • You are what you love by James K.A. Smith
  • The Milkman by Anna Burns
  • Leap over a wall by Eugene Peterson
  • Millones Cajones by Rob Bell
  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling

I decide to read as many of these as possible before the New Year, and to avoid starting any new books until I have. One exception to this rule is Jesus Calling, which I start reading before bed each night with Sofia.

I find myself composing tweets in my head and then remembering that I can’t publish them. Each time I remember this, I have a sinking feeling.

9th December

My parents arrive tomorrow, so I’m busy getting ready for their arrival. This includes ordering the last of the Christmas gifts that are left to order. Life is a big swirl of hoovering, online shopping, offline shopping, dusting, and child care.

10th-17th DecemberMy parents arrive and our schedule becomes a bit busier. This is good because it means that I am distracted from my urge to think about what I would tweet if I were allowed. In fact the only online things that I think about are the important email that hasn’t arrived yet, and the message from the place I ordered my wife’s gift from saying that they didn’t actually have it in stock when they accepted my order (!)

18th December

The day before my birthday. I find myself thinking about the year that I re-joined Facebook because I wanted to read the messages from friends on my wall. I feel a pang of desire for the sense of connection that these platforms can bring, but then remember that people write messages because Facebook tells them to, not because they actually remember. I decide that I will be happy with the small number of genuine greetings that I receive.

19th December

It’s the day! My birthday! I do receive a few WhatsApp messages from my close friends. A few are quiet, but I know that I’ll see them later that evening. I break my no new books rule when Sofia gives me a copy of What are we doing here? by Marilynne Robinson and I start reading the introduction.

I mention to Sofia that I’ve received messages from some friends and she tells me that they probably got reminded on Facebook, that my account is still active. I have no idea if this is the case, but I really thought I closed it down several years ago.
That evening, my friends come around for beer tasting. Although we use our phones to keep score, we connect face to face, not through screens. It feels good.

20th-23rd December

The quietness descends. Although we’re busy celebrating Christmas, battling colds, and getting ready for a drive up to Sofia’s family in Småland, there’s a pleasant peacefulness about it all. Our toddler is fully embracing the extra sugar in Christmas food, especially gingerbread cookies. She’s a little more highly strung than normal.

24th-25th December

Kick back and relax. It’s Christmas! We’re a Welsh-Swedish family, so that means at least two days feel like Christmas. The schedule is pretty structured at my Swedish in-laws place over Christmas, but it’s mainly about eating and going for walks, and sitting. My old Twitter-urges seem to resurface during this change of pace. The news isn’t updated as regularly and no-one sends emails during this time. Should I just check Twitter? Advent is officially over, after all! But I don’t, and I haven’t.

Now several days have passed and I still haven’t checked Twitter. I’m kind of apprehensive that what drew me in before would draw me in again.

But what did I learn from this break?

That Twitter isn’t the problem, I am

It’s easy to demonise Twitter, to rail against it as some kind of corruptive force, but the reality is that it is just one of the instant distraction buttons that I have allowed to shape the way that I behave.

By using Twitter and other apps in the way that I have done, I have programmed myself to be low on concentration, low on empathy, and obsessed with what’s new.

Taking a break from Twitter has been liberating because it has given me more time and I have used that time to focus on activities that demand longer spans of concentration (like reading The Milkman).

You could say that my problem isn’t (or wasn’t) Twitter, but my misuse of time. I haven’t been stewarding my time well, and as a result have cultivated addictive behaviours.