A couple of weeks ago, I made the difficult decision to leave Twitter. I have a full statement here but I wanted to expand on this.
First of all, I haven't exactly "left". I am keeping the @RobertTalbert account around but it is "broadcast-only", meaning that I only use it to post snippets of interest such as blog post announcements, articles I want to share, reading updates from GoodReads, and so on. But I am no longer responding to replies and only occasionally checking direct messages. I have Twitter blocked on my laptops and removed from my phone. I'm done using it except for broadcasts.
Why am I doing this? In my full statement I said that there is much difficult work to do in the coming months, and "If I am not only to succeed personally but also help others to be successful – as has been my primary mission throughout 23+ years in higher education – I need to disconnect from anything that consumes more energy than it produces." To put it more bluntly:Twitter has, for me, gone from being fun and growth-inducing to being draining and depressing. It's way more noise than signal, and I can't keep plugging into it if I want to keep my sanity.
In particular, I am appalled at some of the behavior that is on full display on Twitter from many of my higher ed colleagues, particularly regarding Fall 2020. To look at many of the tweets from fellow profs who I otherwise respect and admire, the situation is hopeless. Things came to a head when one person I follow posted that they "can't" teach under the conditions they are likely to face in the Fall, and asked if others felt the same. I responded to this tweet saying that while it's going to be challenging, I'm going to go into Fall semester with an open mind and be prepared to learn and grow a lot; I ended the tweet by saying, "We're all learners -- let's act like it."
That one tweet, and particularly my call to act like learners, got a lot of pushback. I was accused of everything from being self-righteous and tone deaf, all the way to being a white supremacist. I was subtweeted, retweeted with negative responses, and so on. To be clear: My feelings aren't hurt by negative reactions. I used to blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education and was verbally abused by the best/worst that higher ed internet troll-dom has to offer, on a regular basis --- we're talking Olympic-level trolls. What I found so disturbing this time, instead, was the ease with which supposed professionals in higher education would adopt the very negativity, fixed mindset, and defeatism that we find unacceptable in our students. I kept asking: Where is your expertise as teachers? Where is your creativity? Where is your courage? Is this what you plan to offer your students? And why are you all so quick to go on the attack when someone suggests a positive, constructive approach?
In that moment it became clear that I needed to call it quits with Twitter. I feel though that I am not leaving Twitter but instead that Twitter left me. I'm sad about this because there are still good people and organizations there that do produce good content. But the cost-benefit analysis no longer comes out in my favor, or my students' favor, so I'm done.
And frankly, it's been nice to be away from the noise of Twitter. I have also been thinking a lot about what Cal Newport has been writing about in books like Digital Minimalism and on his blog --- about how social media forces us into the shallows and saps us of energy to devote to bigger and better things. I felt this after Lent, when I gave up social media, and being away from all of that led me into a profound sense of peace and quiet. Giving up Twitter now, over the last week since I did it, has started to lead me back there again.