Sometime in 1993 or early 1994 I had this great idea for a science fiction story: what if television suddenly went away? All of the devices across the globe suddenly stopped working for no explainable reason. No one could figure it out. What would it do to society? According to my battered copy of the 2021 edition of The World Almanac the average American watched more than 26 hours of television per week in 2019-201 or about 3 hours and 45 minutes per day. What would they do to fill that time if the object of their watching was suddenly gone?
In the same battered World Almanac, I learned that in 20182 people in the U.S. spent an average of 22.5 hours online, or put another way, a half-time job based on a 40-hour work-week. If my kids are any example, I can’t simply add the 3 hours and 45 minutes of television time to the 22.5 hours online, because they sometimes do both simultaneously3.
The 2021 World Almanac does not list any statistics for how much time the average American spends playing video games. Suffice it to say that the 22.5 hours of combined time online and time watching television is good enough for our purposes here. If television-slash-the-Internet suddenly went away, what would society do? I could never make a story of this4 even though I still think it is a good idea. But in some ways, this sophomore fantasy of mine is coming true in a different form as the heat generated by Elon Musk’s mismanagement of his recently-acquired Twitter exceeds what can be removed by those Twitter employees that still remain functional, and the core of Twitter–its users–melts away.
Over the summer, I gave up on Facebook. As I said in that post,
Facebook used to be a great way to keep up with friends and families. Now, I see more ads on Facebook than I ever saw on TV, in newspapers, or magazines. Then, too, it is too addictive for me, especially the dopamine hit one gets from flipping through Reels. I am not deleting my Facebook account, but I have removed the app from my devices, and I don’t plan on logging in and checking Facebook for the foreseeable future.
I’ve been surprised by (a) how well I’ve stuck to this program and (b) how little I seem to miss Facebook. I miss the frequent updates from friends and family, but I get them in less frequent and more personal ways now. It makes me wonder: if Twitter completes its meltdown until it is nothing more than a slag of bots and fake accounts, will I miss it?
I use Twitter primarily as a means to (a) follow along with people and services that interest me; and (b) notify people who are interested about new posts here on this blog or occasional interesting things I think about. I don’t have a huge following, but the few thousand of accounts that do follow me seems to me mostly made up of real people, rather than bots. It means, that unlike some users I’ve read about, I haven’t lost that many followers over the last few weeks. (By my own count, I’ve lost 24, or about 8/10th of one percent.)
That said, many of the people I enjoy following are preparing for the worst. Quite a few of them are establishing a presence on Mastodon. Others are talking about fleeing to Instagram or some other popular social media platform. For me, I plan on sticking it out on Twitter, mainly because I am too lazy to learn something new right now, but partly because I have this fantasy that a newer, better Twitter will arise from the radioactive ashes and people will eventually come flocking back.
Look through my Twitter feed, the people posting aren’t that different from a few weeks ago, and with the exception of the topic de jour, my feed seems more or less the same. So I’m enjoying it while I can.
But what if Twitter really melts down? What then? I’ll admit that in the first panicked days after Musk began monkeying with the gears and levers, I grabbed myself a handle on Mastodon, just in case. But in the time I’ve had to think about it since, I’ve decided that if Twitter goes down, it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise for me. It is my opportunity to finally escape from the grip of social media once and for all. Instead of jumping ship to Mastodon or some other platform, I can swim off into the sunset, free of social media and the time I spent getting micro-dopamine hits from it. After all, it is not like I don’t have a place of my very own on the Internet: this blog right here. And I don’t see this blog going anywhere any time soon.
If the Twitter meltdown cannot be contained, then in way, my fantasy of television suddenly going away comes true, in a somewhat altered form. I’m a serious outlier when it comes to television: it is rare that I watch even an hour of television in a week. I would not be able to read as much as I do if I watched more television, and given the choice between the two, it is no-brainer for me.
On the other hand, according to the Screen Time app on my phone, I seem to average between 5-7 hours on social media per week. To make the math easy, let’s call it an hour a day. And since giving up on Facebook, that hour is primarily centered on Twitter. If Twitter went away, I would find myself with 365 hours to fill over the course of a year. How would I spend that hour each day?
An extra hour with the family comes to mind. While we generally all eat dinner together, they are often quick, makeshift dinners. I could use that extra hour to prepare more elaborate meals. Our living area is an open, combined living room/kitchen/dining room area and we are often all together in that space, and while I cooked dinner, surrounded by smells that can only be conjured with a little extra time, I could chat and banter with the family.
Or I could use that hour to do more chores around the house. This is appealing because I listen to audiobooks while doing chores and an extra hour a day pushes me into the 4-to-4-1/2 hours-per-day of audiobook listening time range. And since I generally listen to audiobooks at 1.7-1.8x speed, that 4-to-4-1/2 hours translates into 6.7 – 8.1 hours of actual book time per day.
My kids like going for walks with me in the evenings. We could take longer walks with that extra hour. Or I could use that time to write more. Or read magazine articles. Or just sit on the deck and listen to the wind blow through the trees.
My point here is that if Twitter goes away, I won’t be moving to Mastodon or Instagram. I’ll continue to post here and hope that people continue to visit and read what I write. But I’ll use those 365 extra hours to do things offline as opposed to finding some online alternative to Twitter to fill my time.
If you are leaving Twitter and Twitter is the primary way you find new posts from me and you want to continue to follow the blog without Twitter, there are several ways you can do it:
- Subscribe to the blog by email. There is a “Subscribe by Email” section on the right sidebar and the bottom of every post. Subscribing by email will send you an email version of any new post that I write.
- Follow the blog in WordPress. You can click the Follow Jamie Todd Rubin box in the footer of each post. It looks like this:
- You can follow the blog on my Facebook writer’s page. Since I am not active on Facebook, I don’t log in here, but each post I write is automatically relayed here.
- You can follow the blog on my LinkedIn activity page. Each of my blog posts are also automatically posted in my LinkedIn activity. I do check LinkedIn every now and then, but usually on a weekly, biweekly, or semi-monthly basis.
- You can subscribe to the old-school RSS feed for the blog and read it in your favorite RSS reader.
- Of course, you can also always just stop by and read the blog at your leisure. Leave comments. I enjoy engaging with readers in the comments.
I’ve always liked Twitter. I joined in August 2008 and some of my best social media interactions have been through Twitter. I’ve made friends over Twitter, sold articles because of things I’ve posted to Twitter, and my own Twitter experience has been generally positive. I hope Twitter survives as a place where people can continue to interact while feeling safe doing so. But if the meltdown has, as the Phantom of the Opera might say, passed the point of no return, I’m okay with that, too and I’ll use the opportunity to add an extra hour of something good and offline to my day.
Written on 12 November 2022.
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- Before the pandemic, but I am too lazy to go searching for stats since. ↩
- The most recent stat they had–again, too lazy to go looking for something more recent. ↩
- All three of my kids are better multitaskers than I am, and indeed my entire family, and just about everyone I have ever come into contact with has far superior multitasking skill compared with my meager ability to be able to think and type at the same time. ↩
- A good story, anyway. ↩