Off Twitter for Lent

The reason I don't have a television isn't snobbery; it's because I'm powerless to resist television.

Back in the 90s, I lost a spring and summer to Baywatch re-runs. In the backwater where I then lived, one of the three channels that my little black-and-white TV could receive played Baywatch re-runs all day long. When I discovered this, and discovered how fun it was to get drunk and watch Baywatch, I'd come back from a night shift washing dishes and watch Baywatch until I fell asleep. It was a simple, yin-and-yang sort of life: Dishes, Baywatch. After I was fired, life got even simpler.

The show's formula was so soothing-- I loved its predictability, its reliable, reassuring rhythm of narrative recurrence. Every episode followed the same pattern. Every episode was interchangeable. Every episode was a minutely varied iteration of every other episode. Each began and ended with someone needing to be rescued from drowning. Following, or as a consequence of that first lifeguard rescue, an interpersonal drama would unfold, a microwave-brief soap opera angle which would be resolved, instrumentally or merely chronologically, by the second rescue. In between, ITT Tech would urge me to take out loans and my homeboy Wilford Brimley would admit his diabeetus. So little in life is as we expect it to be; Baywatch always was. So little in life delivers on its promises; Baywatch always did, as faithfully as the sun (presumably) rose and set out beyond my closed blinds.

Although lying on a dirty mattress, drinking Mad Dog and watching endless episodes of Baywatch surely don't rank among the habits of highly effective people, I don't consider that summer an unhappy time of my life. I suppose at some level I must have been depressed, as I often am, and I remember I felt annoyed with myself for being poor, as I often do. I was aware of how frustratingly unlike Baywatch my own existence was, but mostly I think I was successfully, comprehensively numbed, lulled by sugared day-glo alcohol both literal and televisual.

When I thought about the few other people in my life, I contemplated them in terms of which Baywatch characters they were most like. The show began to seem archetypal, a useful lens for understanding the inferior-- or at least less sun-tanned & cheerful-- facets of the universe. Most of my dreams took place in a context either directly or indirectly drawn from the show. I didn't think it was awesome or healthy to be absolutely lost in Baywatch, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Baywatch didn't take itself too seriously, anyway; it wasn't ponderous or pretentious. It knew what it was, and it did what it did. I knew what I was too, and I did what I did. It wasn't such a bad way to be. If I hadn't run out of rent money, it probably would have gone on much longer.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I no longer own a television.

While I'm no less fallible than I ever was, I'm more mature now; I know myself better. I have experience (if not wisdom) and tools of analysis at my disposal I didn't useta. I came of age before internet "social media," thank heavens, and like all right-thinking people I abhor Facebook. I consider it as close to objectively evil as technology can be. Let's not get into all that right now, right here; suffice it to say Facebook is as vile a realization of Debord's idea of the Spectacle as famine is a realization of the idea of hunger. Facebook is almost everything I hate about the internet. I don't use Facebook, and I bullied my partner into quitting it as well. Twitter (I tell myself) is not as bad. It doesn't encourage or require the cultivation of a specifically capitalist-situated persona; it doesn't want to know what I look like or who my blood relations are.

Still, it's insidious. I began using Twitter for the same reason I built this website: because I'd like to have my work read, and it seemed a tool with which to build readership. Of course, I quickly settled into using Twitter the same ways everyone else does. In February when I "retweeted" something supportive of Christopher Dorner, however, I lost some "Followers," the first time that had happened. Losing followers (oh my god, the terminology!!) bothered me... and it fucking horrified me that it bothered me. I realized I was thinking of Twitter as if it mattered; I had given it power over me. So, while on a walk the first Thursday after Mardi Gras-- on Saints Cyril and Methodius Day-- it occurred to me I ought to give up Twitter for Lent.

Denying myself my desires is among my greatest gifts. It's what's made possible my perfect record as a monogamist & my years of abstension from alcohol, and is not incidentally why I haven't done most of the horrible things I feel myself powerfully moved to do every second of the day I'm around other people. That is, compared to the levels of self-control I must continually and consciously exercise in any social setting, refraining from Twitter is nothing.

My hiatus from Twitter does mean, however, that when I've penned a juicy piece for Antigravity Magazine, raining fire on the (it turns out super-crazy right-wing) Food Truck movement, I lack a convenient means to promote the piece. If you're reading this, let me assure you: it's a great article, anchored by some really shocking tip-offs from comrades about the powers behind the New Orleans food truck movement, enlivened by hilarious/brutal art by Ben Passmore. It's worth seeking out a print copy of March's Antigravity to see.

The editor says the online version will be up in a week or so. Since I can't "tweet" a link to my article, I'll have to post about it here again.

In the meantime, I'm relieved to find I don't miss Twitter too badly. Because I don't find myself fighting a strong compulsion to use Twitter, I'll let myself get back to it after Easter.

On balance, I like Twitter. It's interesting to follow a weird hashtag and read some distant Sam's Club employees shit-talking their manager. It's interesting the way younger people use Twitter to flirt; it's interesting how racially segregated Twitter is. I feel Twitter provides intriguing glimpses into other peoples' lives, and I think that's worth the trade-offs. Is Twitter inane? Sure. Is it ridiculous to attempt expressing anything worthwhile in 140 characters? Of course! Is it a time sink? Often... but christ almighty, it's not Baywatch.

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