At some point in 2016 I opted out of most social media, especially Twitter. I don’t remember the exact day or what the final straw was that brought me to that point, but my response was to delete nearly a decade's worth of tweets, unfollow every account and just stop participating.
There was no major discovery from breaking away from social media. I didn’t find enlightenment, start drinking more water, or become a better person. I just stopped feeling bad about whatever micro-outrage would make its way through my network on a given day, only to be forgotten about as soon as the next day’s outrage arrived. I stopped arguing about stuff it turns out I didn’t care nearly that much about to have a firmly held opinion on. Developers are miserable people. We complain a lot. Being connected to tens of thousands of them throughout your day is probably not the best idea if you’re someone like me who isn’t great at letting stuff go easily. So I opted out.
This is the point where I confess that while I “quit” Twitter, I didn’t actually “quit Twitter.” While you may have seen the mass destruction of the @justin account as me signaling my desire to cameo in a Logan Paul video, I was actually still using the service, albeit in a much more pleasant way.
Private Twitter is the account I use to follow close friends, see sports GIFs, and get my news from College Football Twitter. More importantly, it’s a private account that only 80 of my closest friends have access too. These are the folks who I would be happy to see if I randomly ran into them at a bar or restaurant. It doesn’t include colleagues, casual acquaintances, or any random person who thinks I might be an interesting follow because I sit and stare at Xcode all day for the day job.
By limiting the follower list with such a heavy hand, I’m able to more freely share things that are boring, mundane, or only potentially of interest to me. I have no one to impress, no stats to juke, and no need to worry about being retweeted in to a viral hellscape of “Well, actually.” My friends who follow me on Twitter may not be super interested in seeing that I reorganized my kitchen cabinets or took apart and washed my keyboard, but that’s the type of mundane and boring stuff you talk about with friends.
Private Twitter is also not about reciprocating follows or worrying about the social awkwardness that can be caused by not following back. Some of my closest friends follow me on Private Twitter, but I don’t follow back because they talk about technology and whatever “iOS Community” drama there is on a daily basis. I have active iMessage threads with these friends daily, and that acts as a filter of sorts to bubble up the actual news I need to worry about.
Personally, I just do not care to see or hear about whatever is going on in the tech sector anymore, because it’s mostly noise and very little signal. If I want to dip my toes in for whatever reason, I search for a few friends’ accounts and read their timeline for the last day or two. I usually regret it because I get a headache from eye rolling, but it was my choice to make.
Is Private Twitter for Me?
The only reason I am writing this is because a week doesn’t go by without me talking to someone that hasn’t quit Twitter or is on the verge of quitting because the negatives far outweigh the positives anymore. My advice to them is usually always the same:
- Create a new Twitter account and set it as private by default.
- Follow a few accounts related to things you truly like. In my case that was college football, the greatest sport of all.
- Follow a few accounts related to your city, if relevant. I follow CDOT, RTD, and the Mayor of Denver so I can know if there are traffic accidents I need to know about or something interesting is happening in Denver.
- Follow your family, unless they annoy you. Follow a few close friends.
- Throw your old account into the sea.
My Twitter solution is definitely not for everyone, but it has worked well for me for almost two years now. I still take Twitter breaks periodically, but it’s rarely because I’m annoyed at what I’m reading or seeing anymore.
Back On Public Twitter
In January of this year I started tweeting again from @justin. I set a few ground rules. First, I try to only post positive things rather than just using it as an outlet to complain. I try to stick to this 100% of the time, but I’m sadly not perfect. My second rule was to not follow anyone on the account. When I use my public twitter account I think about it as throwing a note over a wall and then walking away. I’ll check the replies and interact occasionally, but that is an exception, not a norm.
People have described Twitter and social media in general as an avenue for people to shout their opinions out into the open while other people are shouting theirs. I now fully embrace that with my public account. You’re welcome to follow my public shouting if you’d like. Private Twitter, though? That’s for me and my friends.