The leaves outside of our apartment window has been reminding me of this same time, last year. I usually relish this kind of memory marking. What was I doing the last time the leaves began to curl? What was happening when the acorns began to roll around under foot? What did the purple asters bear witness to in last year’s October?
But this year, the yellow light that slants into my apartment in the late afternoon has been haunting me. Last October, I thought we were in the middle of the very worst part of a very hard year. I remember sitting at my computer feeling raw and wretched in the onslaught of campaign-related news, but I found solace in believing that soon it would all be over.
And then, of course, Election Day came and it wasn’t over.
We’re headed toward an anniversary. A year’s worth of months have come and gone bringing us closer to the day, not long from this one, when we’ll ask each other, “What were you doing this time last year?”
On November 8 last year, I spent the morning in Central Park. November 8th is James’s birthday and we’d decided to take the day off of work. Together we took Faye to a makeup Forest School class that we’d rescheduled for the occasion. We’d make a day of it, we thought. We’d bask in the fall sunshine and then we’d go as a family to cast our ballots. We’d show our two-year-old what democracy looks like. Later, we’d eat cake in bed and watch election returns.
More than being nearly a year since the presidential election, it’s also been a year since my social media binging spiraled out of control. Mostly the binging has been done in private and mostly on Twitter. I’m not a terribly prolific tweeter, but I’m fairly certain that for the better part of the year I didn’t miss a single tweet from anyone who I follow. In the past year, I’ve opened the Twitter app on my phone an uncountable—unfathomable—number of times. After being so gutted—and for shame, shocked—by the results of the presidential election, a part of me feared that something else unconscionable would happen while I wasn’t paying attention. For months and months I would wake up several times a night to refresh the app and scan my timeline for evidence of a new calamity. I’d nurse newborn Silas in the light of the January moon and an iPhone. Back to work, I’d pump at my desk while scrolling my timeline. (I’m not sure if anyone else has tried to pump breast milk while reading hot takes about the end of the world, but I can attest that it doesn’t make an already irksome endeavor any easier.) On my walk to the subway, I’d digest the tweets I missed since the last time I checked in. All day long, I’d compulsively refresh an app that actively made me feel terrible. I told myself I was using Twitter to say abreast of breaking news, but instead of feeling informed, I felt anxiety ridden.
Nearly three weeks ago, I deleted Twitter from my phone.
I was helped along by reading Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant. The book is based on the week-long challenge she created in 2015, asking listeners of her podcast to unplug from their devices a bit and tap into their creative potential. The book offers a much more nuanced look at technology than simply saying, “delete Twitter,” but for me, the part of the challenge that asked folks to delete an app from their phone was the most immediately impactful. Miraculously, I’ve started to feel a little bit better.
My Twitter diet shouldn’t be confused with burying my head in the sand. I still read the news. And, truth be told, I still visit my timeline during the week to check in. I use it to find my way to thoughtful commentary. I still send out an occasional tweet. But I don’t refresh the app ten times a day when I’m feeling bored or worried. I don’t scroll Twitter before bed. I don’t wake up repeatedly in the middle of the night to see whether we’ve launched a nuclear missile.
Deleting the app doesn’t change all that much, of course. Clearly, we’re still in the thick of a mess. No doubt we’ll continue to be rattled on a daily basis by a relentless news cycle. I’m not turning a blind eye to the goings on of the world around me, but I am protecting a bit of my time and a bit of my sanity.
How about you guys? Are you plugging in or out these days?