It’s been nine months now since I stopped regularly monitoring Twitter and more or less automated my account. If you want to know why I did that, read this. If you want to know how it works from the tech side, read this.
Here’s what I’ve found: If you’re a writer engaged in public reflection and commentary on the world, then you are the kind of person who hears voices in your head all the time. You hear the voices of your enemies—and if you write long enough on enough things that matter, you’ll get those—and your friends. But if that’s all you hear, your work isn’t going to be worth very much. And because of how Twitter tends to work, particularly because of how metapositioning works, if you spend much time on Twitter, those will be the only voices you hear: Two large aggregate groups, one friends and one enemies, both becoming ever more faceless and abstract and detached from the ordinary realities of daily life and daily Christian piety. The former you’ll never criticize or even probably disagree with publicly, lest you send the wrong metapositioning signals. The latter you’ll never affirm or even agree with, for the same perverse reasons.
This is a sad, immature, and useless way of being if you aspire to be a writer whose work offers any kind of constructive value whatever.
So what happens when you get off Twitter and start learning to categorize those voices you hear in better ways? Well, the voices don’t leave you. You’re a writer and so you’re constantly reading people, thinking with people, talking to people, and so on. And when you sit down to write, you do it with those conversations in your mind and even, to some degree, with those people in your mind. It’s your assessment of the voices, the shape they take in your mind, your way of imagining them, that changes. You lose the clunky aggregates that you’re obliged to respond to in a thoughtless, automated way. You gain actual flesh-and-blood people instead. And once those voices belong to flesh and blood people, a number of things quickly begin to happen.
You’ll be reminded that these are people to whom you owe certain things regardless of how they behave toward you. You’ll be reminded that people are interesting and ideologies are boring and the people you stridently disagree with on x are actually quite good on y. Best of all, you’ll begin to develop intellectual friendships with some of the voices, particularly if you also start messaging with them privately via SMS or a group chat of some kind, like Discord or Slack.
So that line you have in one piece, you’ll read it on your final pass before submitting it or hitting “publish” and you’ll hear the voice of one of those friends warning you. And you’ll hit “delete” on the phrase or maybe even on the entire piece and you’ll be saved many headaches. In other cases, you’ll hear a friend’s voice as you’re constructing an argument and it will help you pick up on a weak point and tighten it down, improving it.
In short, removing yourself from the bird site and learning to hear the voices in your head not simply as friends and enemies, but as actual human persons will change the posture you write from, the rigor of your thought, and the precision of your arguments.
You’ll also learn to commune with the dead, as it were, through closer, more patient reflection on what you’re reading, particularly as the rapid-response habits inculcated by Twitter are abandoned and more slow, meditative habits of reading are either rediscovered or perhaps developed for the first time.
To be sure, none of this means your writing will lose its vigor or fizz; what I’m describing is not a mere collapsing down into a bland niceness. Rather, it’s acquiring the habits of non-anxious, meditative reflection—some of which will culminate in strong, aggressive writing. What changes is that you attempt that writing from a place of calm prayerfulness and, just as important, you learn that not all public writing need be combative writing. Much of it will be far better off if done as a kind of patient, developing reflection in which an argument or idea is allowed to grow slowly.
My wife put up a small painting by our front door a few years ago that shows two small children, one a few years older than the other, sitting and reading—the older reading a book to the younger. Below it there is text that reads “do not rush things that take time to grow.” When you spend time on social media, you can’t help but rush everything, including the things that are absolutely ruined by rushing.