Critic's Notebook: Why I — Mostly — Got Off Twitter (This Is Not a Thread)

THR's chief television critic explains how and why he went from Twitter believer to Twitter agnostic.
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If you've seen 'Black Mirror,' then you know that this is basically a picture of people on Twitter.

The urge doesn't come nearly as often, but when it does it can still kick in like crack, even though I've never been on crack. The latest was earlier this week when I wanted to write: "I'm fine with you calling Twin Peaks a movie rather than a TV series if you also call it a pointlessly idiosyncratic, indulgent garbage fire."

But I didn't write that.

On Twitter.

Because I'm barely on Twitter anymore.

And it felt good to skip writing that, not because I don't believe it  — if I wrote a Worst of 2017 list for The Hollywood Reporter, that would be my No. 1 — but because I no longer believe it's necessary to jump in on anything and everything as I once did, fun as that might have been in the past.

It's hard, though. Later that same day, I wanted to write: "I guess there's no longer a reason for Trump to watch the Winter Olympics."

In fact, I did tweet that out. See? It's hard to quit all the way. On the other hand, a mostly pointless and TV-critic-centric tweet about how Black Mirror not dropping until Dec. 29 was really going to mess up my Best of 2017 lists went un-tweeted because, well, I've learned that there are countless more constructive things I could (and sometimes should) be doing than squatting on Twitter and acting like AM radio on "seek."

But fear not, this is not an anti-Twitter screed. You do you. I still see the value of it in breaking news and rallying people to causes and magnifying important issues. Also, I'm still on it. I tweet out my links and, during the brief times I'm doing that, I'll retweet a few things that I see on my timeline at that point.

I just don't indulge or imbibe the timeline. I don't let the timeline suck all the time out of my life. That last sentence is the primary reason I forced myself to cut back on Twitter a few months ago. And believe me, "forced" is the right word — it felt like breaking an addiction, as stupid as that sounds. I'd been on since February 2009 and many times in that span was told — and felt it myself — that it was the "perfect" social media platform for me. But living a life that already feels like it's starved for any available free time, wasting what little of it I had on Twitter eventually became the worst trait I had to change.

So now I'd say I'm about 90 percent off of it, perhaps a little more.

But while using my time more wisely and effectively was the main goal, there were other major reasons for cutting it out as well. As a critic, I don't think Twitter is a good place to hang out, other than sending out links to stories. The platform has increasingly become a place where certain people will float what I'll generously call trial balloons of opinion before a review appears. And while group-think, either from peers or followers, mainly infects people without much conviction to start with, it can be particularly dangerous as it grows virally, especially as it pertains to controversial series or outliers where a critic's love for it might put that critic out on an island.

That doesn't affect me, it's just annoying to see that it exists. And engaging in debate about it — or so many other issues — is maybe something I would have done a long time ago but is now just about the last pointless endeavor I'd like to kick-start. I'm talked out. Doubling the character count just seems more exhausting.

There's also the issue of not really caring what other people think — an essential part of being a critic, I'd say — and yet being on a platform where that's pretty much all you get all day, whether it be full-blown reviews or constant comments about shows from other critics. It can be tiring. Trust me, I know that I can be tiring and trying as well. (I don't mind engaging with readers — many people have been thoughtful and appreciative and I rarely need to block people. "Reasonable people can disagree" is the adage I pass on the most.) But at some point, all the back and forth, whether mutual-agreement masturbation or snarky vitriol, ends up in the same space for me: wasted time.

Again, this is all personal — if you love Twitter for these things, that's fine by me. I'm not judging you. I'm being honest about my own perceptions.

One of those is that I wasn't growing as a critic or writer spending so much time tossing out alleged bon mots or even thoughtful, reasoned 140-character analysis (since doubled, but no less lost to the ether). I kept thinking, "I should write a column on that." But I didn't always do that, which is a shame. (And no, do not get me started on the hateful "thread" bullshit on Twitter. As I've said — on Twitter, in fact — write a damned column and tweet the link. Stop clogging up my timeline.)

And yes, I know about muting. But at some point, when you're muting so many people or hashtags or specific words on Twitter, shouldn't you really be off Twitter?

I had previously vowed to cut down on Twitter numerous times, most memorably during the run-up to the presidential election (when I could barely take it) and then after (when the rage and depression seemed like it was killing me).

It also didn't help that Twitter had become an echo chamber of similar opinions and people who all agree lecturing other people who weren't actually reading the tweets about how to behave. It was like we were all in agreement that everybody else was awful and here were all the links and quotes and references to prove it and it all got put in our timelines to choke on while the people it was aimed at were somewhere else reading their own self-confirming timelines in some parallel universe.

It could also be that I was doing Twitter wrong. I didn't engage with trolls or fools. I never considered my feed democratic. If someone pissed me off with their ignorance, I blocked them. Pretty simple. The same way I never, ever read the comments on any published stories.

On the other hand, I liked a lot of people I followed (that's more complicated and less obvious than it sounds). But even people you like retweet stuff you're not interested in. Sometimes endlessly. Or tweet constantly about shit you agree with but just don't want to read for the 879,000th time, because you're reading it pretty much everywhere else in your timeline.

Post-election, when things were at their worst — like yesterday, or any day since, as a workable example — instead of quitting Twitter or dropping people I followed or muting people and hashtags, I expanded the relatively low number of people I followed (yes, I know that was part of the problem from the beginning, but I don't really like people) and I chose a different path: I instead added tons of "music Twitter" options.

This was mostly a temporarily fantastic idea. The constant TV chatter was muffled and absorbed into constant music chatter. Then I got annoyed by all the music sites tweeting out the same video at the same time or finding out that NME has essentially made a cottage industry out of things Noel and Liam Gallagher from Oasis say about each other every day. Grumble-sigh. (All of this is one reason I've spent whatever allotted, guilt-free, quality-use time from social media on Instagram, where I prefer pretty pictures.) That said, lots of "music Twitter" has saved me, because music itself always seems to save me from the world.

But it wasn't enough to keep me wasting precious time (time I could be spending listening to music, for example — you see the circular problem).

Time. I'm tempted to make a reference to the first season of HBO's True Detective here, which would be very Twitter of me. (Followed, of course, by a dig at how terrible the second season was and how dubious I am about the upcoming, ill-advised third.)

But yes: time. The crux of the matter.

That part above about not growing as a critic and writer has a lot to do with lack of time and a little to do with the conditioning that Twitter provides — this belief that what you casually toss off without much thinking is also good enough to casually put in a column or review.

It's not.

And I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only critic guilty of tossing opinions into the ether without really thinking about them, which is counter-intuitive to the actual job.

I also found that my vocabulary was shrinking in embarrassing ways — another victim, in my case, of not reading all the beloved reference books that sit right next to me. Easier to read my timeline; easier to lose track of time while on that timeline. Harder to make up that time when, as a television critic, I don't have enough time to ever catch up on the work at hand. Churning out reviews in the particularly busy times can often lead to reviews that, upon reflection, read exactly as rushed as they were written, littered with the reduced, go-to vocabulary of the reviews written in haste just before them.

I found that to be a joyless cycle.

Freeing up time to be informed in ways other than my Twitter timeline will certainly sound less than heroic to anybody not consumed by Twitter. Those of you who are Twitter addicts can at least relate. None of this is revolutionary. I'm not pretending it is. But being on Twitter seems so tied to my job — whether it's been "brand building" for all these years or helpfully tweeting out columns and reviews that could otherwise be lost in a high-churn site like THR.com — that it seemed like the place to talk about it. What am I going to do — talk about it on Twitter?

As someone who doesn't read enough as it is, finding the time to do a little page-turning has been immensely helpful to my work (and should continue to help if I can manage to keep it up). Sometimes the job is so all-inclusive that TV all-the-time — and TV talk all the time, particularly on Twitter — leads to that bubble effect of lost perspective or the missing of outside ideas. Whether it's a book on philosophy, design, architecture or theories on the human condition found in fiction (or non-fiction unrelated to these other topics), the input is helpful. It's rewarding in and of itself personally, regardless if it goes on to be rewarding professionally in some way.

So, yeah, I'm trying to lead a slightly better life offline, just like countless other people. I can't do a complete digital detox, but I can at least pick and choose where I find a little time to save — a very little bit — in a harried life. And so I did.

Of course, when this is finally posted, I will tweet it out. Another time-suck in your timeline.

At least I didn't tweet it out as a thread.

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