The literary critic Fredric Jameson once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But what about Twitter?
Over the past 15 years, the microblogging service has created a remarkably enduring digital forum — and in it a new breed of Internet addict who consumes the world in 280 characters or fewer all day long. (Some of them even admit they have a problem.) Now, amid the chaos of Elon Musk’s early tenure as chief executive, some of them have begun to envision the previously unthinkable: ending their addiction to Twitter.
“If it were gone, we would all be better off,” said Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank. He estimates that he uses Twitter three to four hours a day.
“I would have a lot more time in my life,” said Molly Jong-Fast, Vanity Fair’s special correspondent and liberal media star.
“What if it just totally imploded?” said Jesse Singal, a journalist and co-host of Blocked and Reported, an internet controversy podcast who has himself been the subject of Twitter controversy for his writing on transgender issues. “I think I would feel a sense of relief. It would resolve my own troubled relationship with him by default.”
Founded in 2006, Twitter has quickly become a hub and platform for journalists, woks, academics and politicians, among others, interested in breaking news and commentary. Many joined out of professional necessity as the platform was a place to stay informed and build an audience. Soon, Twitter slang, inside jokes, and etiquette were driving users to stay connected lest they fall behind. Over the years, some of these people started visiting the site more and more—and then more.
“I keep thinking in the back of my mind that I need to check Twitter,” said Matthew Donovan, host of Neoliberalhell, a popular podcast about left-wing politics and internet culture.
During the Trump years, when President Donald J. Trump dominated the platform with his unfiltered style and unrelenting pace (he tweeted more than 25,000 times during his four-year tenure), some Twitter users with shortened attention spans, unfinished -Do- Lists and annoyed family members.
“I walk my parents’ dog,” said Mr. Ritz. “And when the conversation stops, I look at my phone. They are quite dissatisfied with it.”
Woman. Jong-Fast, who has built a million-follower audience on the platform, said she has become so merged with Twitter that even when she’s resting, she can’t pull herself away.
“At one point I closed my eyes and I could see the graphics of the site,” Frau told Jong-Fast. “It burned into me.”
Twitter’s potent concoction of breaking news, social competition, professional wrangling, banter, and personal abuse has always been a savor for even the most prolific of users. That it might not be healthy to spend so much time on Twitter is a common topic of conversation on the site itself. Long before Hr. Musk took over as CEO in October and joked that the platform was a “hell side,” which was one of the telltale signs of a hopelessly addicted user.
For some, the good thing about Twitter—instant access to the minds of millions of other people—is also the bad.
Journalism, said Dylan Matthews, a senior correspondent for Vox, “can feel like you’re screaming into space. What makes Twitter particularly addicting is that it tells you what the Void is thinking.”
But he added, “I don’t think humans were meant to be yelled at by hundreds of people at once and survive psychologically.”
Even by the masochistic standards of many longtime Twitter users, Mr. Musk’s reign has been an attempt: he has – erratically – overhauled the site’s verification system. He suspended some journalists, only to reinstate some shortly thereafter, and opened some of the company’s internal emails to others. And he has apparently left important decisions about Twitter’s direction, including whether to allow previously suspended accounts back on the platform and whether to remain as chief executive, to simply polling the platform.
Among the users who, prior to Mr. Musk’s purchase, thanks to the “general amnesty” Referendum is Andrew Anglin, founder of neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. (Mr. Musk separately reinstated Mr. Trump, although he has not resumed tweeting.) Thousands of Twitter employees have either been laid off or terminated, leading to speculation that the remaining workforce is no longer large enough to handle the to maintain the website in the long term.
Many of the site’s most loyal users are now reflecting on the possibility that the platform could lose its status as a central hub for digital media.
Mr. Matthews, who worries about Mr Musk’s banning of journalists’ accounts, was also seen as an intriguing prospect: “Maybe I’m the kind of journalist who could get banned too,” he recalled. “And maybe that would make me happier?”
Many users stay in the app and wait to see what happens. Giving up feels terribly final and extreme to her considering how quickly the environment is changing. On Tuesday, Mr. Musk said he will step down as CEO once he finds someone to replace him.
Micah Musser, a research analyst at a Washington, DC think tank, said that while “it feels like the site has gotten a lot worse,” he still hasn’t left. “But it would be good for me personally,” he said.
In fact, power users have a notoriously hard time quitting Twitter. In July 2021, writer Caitlin Flanagan published an essay in The Atlantic entitled “You Really Need to Quit Twitter”; As of today, she remains on the platform. And many of the prominent Twitter users who created accounts on alternatives like Mastodon and Post are still active on Twitter. (Mastodon has a reputation for being difficult to use, and both it and Post face the biggest obstacle of any Twitter challenger: laziness among users.)
Mr. Singal, who previously quit and came back, has deleted the platform’s app from his phone as a first step.
“If I was more mature or mentally healthy, I could drop it completely,” he said. “But I get dragged into fighting humans again, which is completely useless.”
Still, for those who think Mr. Musk has already taken or will take the platform past a point of no return – and cannot muster the will to leave just yet – there is at least one success story.
Jason Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works, has been a fixture on the platform for years, where he frequently tweeted about what he saw as threats to democracy. Along the way, he said, he became hooked.
“I can’t let go of an argument,” he said.
Mr. Stanley said he left Facebook after the 2016 election, which many liberals argued played a role in Mr. Trump’s victory. as Mr. Musk bought Twitter, Mr. Stanley said he had similar negative feelings.
“I’m on Twitter to talk about democracy and if it’s not going to be, I have no excuse for being in such a sad space,” he said.
Mr. Stanley resigned in early December. He said it was easy. One of the advantages: his children no longer draw pictures of him with his mobile phone in his hand.
“Being connected to my family is the first, second and third most important thing,” Mr. Said Stanley said. “Even more important than American democracy.”