The Hiatus Ends – Or Why I Didn’t Quit Twitter
Today is Epiphany. The sixth of January marks the end of the Christmas season, 12 days after most of us have given our gifts and eaten our epic meals, we remember the visit of the three wise men and with it the bizarre simplicity of the story behind Christmas. After this day, the decorations all go away for another year.
I love that Christmas ends with this slightly odd, somewhat cosmopolitan reflection on wisdom, where we put ourselves in the shoes of ancient, foreign travellers bringing lavish, exotic gifts, motivated by a universal human sense of wonder and curiosity.
Reflecting On Identities Real And Virtual
Today also marks the end of my self-imposed Twitter hiatus. I decided at the start of December to take a break from my favourite social media platform and since then, apart from the Instagram images and blog posts which both automatically get shared, I haven’t posted to or read my Twitter feed. It’s been a wonderful experience.
I’ve been frustrated with social media for some time now. If you read this blog regularly you’ve already sensed this. We’ve all experienced how nasty being online was in 2016. But, it feels like something deeper has gone wrong. Too often the experience of “checking Twitter” has been an invitation to dwell amongst negativity, snark, cynicism, and hyper-criticality. Despite my best efforts with lists, with muting words and accounts, it feels untameable, like a badly trained pet that no matter what you do, will still take a giant dump in the corner of the lounge room.
Taking Responsibility For Getting Social Media Wrong
As I was starting the hiatus I saw a tweet, asking me for information; café recommendations in two specific neighbourhoods of Tokyo. It irked me. It’s not my job to be a tour guide or concierge and why should people I’ve never met expect that kind of service from me?
Rather than get angry or reply, I cast my memory back to standing in the Brooklyn sunshine with my mentor and friend James Victore. We were chatting about social media and I was having a little gripe about how people interacted online, how I got the “wrong” kind of questions online. James stopped me right there and said it was my responsibility to train people in how they should treat me.
Damn, there it was. Don’t complain if people don’t respect you, train them to respect you. Show them the way.
Sure, I wanted to take a break from Twitter because I was sick of it. I also wanted to take a break to let people forget me a little, so I could come back a more like me, less like a concierge and more like an artist.
This Week I Didn’t Quit
Did I consider quitting Twitter. Yes.
In fact I thought about it often during 2016. But, that’s the past now. I’ve said goodbye to 2016 and all the angst that came with it. I quit a lot of things last year and I’ll quit more in the year to come. I also realised that despite the problems, Twitter is still a valuable source of connection and community for me. So, I’m restarting with a few new rules of engagement.
The first of which is the “discover Tokyo” phase is over for me. I’ve been here for 3.5 years now and while I still love love this city, I’m finding Twitter less and less useful for answering the questions I have left about living and working here. And, reading local, Japanese-language magazines and guidebooks (or at least, trying to) is giving me a lot more ideas about new cafes, parks, galleries and shops to check out than the reading social media feeds.
A Few Brief Comments On Trolls And Noise
One reason I’ve always kept an “open-door” policy on Twitter is because I experienced it as a great way to find new people. I’ve met hundreds of people via the platform and some of those went onto become friends, clients, collaborators, teachers, and so on.
Sadly, I’m not sure most people approach Twitter like that anymore. It’s less an open door for new friends to walk through than it is one for random strangers to lob in flaming balls of shit.
It’s hard to ignore some numbers here. A great many of the people I met through Twitter in 2009-12 now have 5-7 figure followings online. They are not anonymous, they are not hiding their face or identity, on the contrary, who they are in work and life is intertwined with who they are online.
Thinking about a lot of the noise that made me resent using Twitter – the snark, the put-downs, the cynicism, the thinly-veiled racism, generally troll-like-behaviour – so much of it seems to come from people I haven’t and probably never will meet. Typically, they have small, usually very small followings and they are usually partially, or totally anonymous. I don’t think there’s a coincidence there.
Living Well And Validating Less
2017 started like other recent years; skiing in the Japanese alps. I love the simplicity of ski holidays. Ski, eat, sleep, repeat. It’s a wonderful way to reset your mind.
On the train back to Tokyo, full from my final lunch of soba noodles and tempura and looking through the carriage window at Mt Fuji in the fading light of the day, I thought about my themes for 2017, the shape I hope life might take in the coming year.
For a few years now I’ve been thinking deeply about what the artistic life is really about. Not the acclaim and validation, the sales, the galleries, the interviews or anything like that. Rather, what it means to live a day to day commitment to bringing art into the world, the shape of it, the design, the physical poetry of it all.
Which increasingly is a question about how to live well.
With this in mind, I’m going to use Twitter (and also Instagram and YouTube) in a more focussed way from now on. I’m going to show you how I try and live well, not explain or justify, just show. I’ll answer questions, if I feel they deserve to be answered, which of course, means not always. Some weeks I might not even be around. You’ll understand I’m sure. After all, my mission isn’t to live online, it’s to live well in order to create abundantly.
I don’t know if I can domesticate Twitter in 2017, if I can tame the savage, shit-flinging beast, however I’m still going to try. There’s still too many wonderful things to share.