Twitter Isn’t All Bad, It’s Just Mostly Bad

I still (mostly) enjoy Twitter. There are definitely times when I actively hate it, others when I feel like being on Twitter is watching the trainwreck of civilization in real time, and still more times when it just reinforces whatever negative spiral I’m in. To be entirely fair to Twitter, though, there are more times I actively hate existence itself (or maybe Humanity as a whole), even more times where I feel like merely paying attention to the world around me is like watching a more confusing version of the civilization trainwreck, and I am perfectly capable of reinforcing my own negative spirals, thank-you-very-much. Twitter is a slightly better version than all of the non-Twitter versions because it has cute pet pictures, neat art, and Conan The Salaryman. The world physically around me has none of those things.

Sure, I can go almost anywhere on the internet for pictures of animals being cute (that’s maybe fourty percent of the internet, let’s be real), but they’re hand-delivered to me by accounts I trust to ethically source and share their cute animal pictures. No content mills for me. It’s all shelters, animal rescues, and people who are single-handedly skewing the average pet-per-household numbers with a dozen cats, five dogs, an ever-changing number of rats, one to six snakes, and maybe an awkward bird wearing a sweater because it has anxiety that makes it pluck at its feathers. Also Jorts the Cat, who is an endless source of cute cat pictures, worker solidarity, and commentary geared toward furthering equality. This way, you not only get to enjoy pictures of animals, but you can do so with confidence knowing that no animals are being exploited for clicks, that no one’s content is being stolen, and that you have ready access to causes worth supporting.

Another twenty or thirty percent of the internet is various art-hosting sites, many of which are better suited to viewing art along specific themes. I like twitter, though, because I don’t care about themes or what specific fandom is being represented. I am not terribly interesting in browsing galleries of fanart from a specific TV show or of being guided through a series of artists who all draw sci-fi landscapes. I enjoy those things, but I like having a greater variety in my browsing, which means I prefer the slow aggregation that happens on my Twitter feed or the single-artist deep dive that occurs when I enter the media section of one of my favorite artists. Most of the artists I follow do a mix of fanart, original art, journal comics, and more. I like a good variety, you know? I don’t even have specific style preferences. I just want to see different stuff and I’m too lazy to be constantly searching the internet for it. I want to click a button and have it occasionally delivered to me via the “latest tweets” version of the Twitter app.

As a side note, did you know that if you browse via the app using only the latest tweets timeline, you don’t see the random shit that accounts you follow like (as of writing this, anyway. They recently added promoted tweets between the original poster’s tweets and the replies, so who know what other new bullshit is next)? It is the only way I’ve found to actually limit my Twitter feed to the stuff I’ve chosen to fill it. Sure, I get a bunch of retweets from streamers, artists, and authors I follow, but I tend to only follow people whose taste I trust enough to know that retweeting the actual tweet of some asshole only gives the asshole more of what they want (attention). I am incredibly selective of which accounts I follow and will not hesitate to unfollow someone who is bringing my timeline down.

Which brings me to Conan The Salaryman. Now, novelty accounts are nothing new. There’s all kinds of niche interest accounts that tweet about whatever random interest you’ve selected. Everything from the same gif every thursday to stories told in a single tweet to descriptions of feasts from Redwall books is available on Twitter if you take a little time to look for it. Technically, most of these are still content mills, generating tweets for likes and attention, but they go from being kind of dystopian to just entertaining when they don’t try to sell you anything. Like Conan The Salaryman. In all my time following the account, it has never asked me for money while keeping me entertained with one or two tweets a day written in the style of the Conan The Barbarian books but about Conan being an office worker in a giant corporation. It has tweeted in support of some good causes, but the account isn’t trying to generate money or sell advertisements. I’ve seen such changes happen in the past, for a variety of reasons (some of which I’ve supported and some of which I’ve disagreed with), but the power of Twitter is that you can just unfollow an account if it changes in a direction you don’t like. Worst comes to worst, you can just close the app. Or delete your account and start over. It’s free.

The last tool I use to ensure I have a good time on Twitter is blocking accounts. I get such an immense degree of satisfaction from watching Twitter struggle to put ads in front of me now that I’ve blocked most major advertisement accounts. Some of them are starting to get around my past blocks by making side accounts for specific purposes and advertising those tweets, but I genuinely enjoy those moments. I get to think “Not today, brand!” as I click “block” on this account and move on with my day. And that’s not even mentioning how nice it feels to block an asshole. I’ve had a few people get on my case during my time on twitter, and it’s just so fun to block them and never think about them again. I’d love to provide a specific example, but the whole “forgetting about them” thing means I only remember they happened at all, not who or why. It’s so simple. Can’t get outraged by whatever made-up bullshit is happening if you can’t see it.

Except, you know, for a few times. Like the recent celebrity trial. Given that it involved domestic abuse and a bunch of celebrities whose lives have no impact on mine, I decided I was going to do my best to ignore in pursuit of my own day-to-day peace of mind (it’s not like my feelings or opinions matter in regards to said trial), and put up my best defenses, but Twitter itself sidestepped those to keep throwing it in my face. And every so often people forget to not retweet assholes and I have to spend some time considering if this disruption to my generally enjoyable Twitter feed is counteracted by the enjoyment that account brings to my timeline. Usually the answer doesn’t result in an unfollow, but sometimes it does. I’d love to follow ever creator, writer, and artist whose products I enjoy, but I need to protect my mental health first and foremost. There’s room for reminders of how terrible the world is in something that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but if they take over and become the only thing left, it will quickly taint any chance you had of enjoying your experience. Which is why I left Facebook. And because the most fun I ever had with Facebook was that day in 2021 when it was down for a few hours, and I didn’t even have to break my streak of days not logging into Facebook to enjoy it. It was a true win-win for me (though I do understand that Facebook being down was troubling for a great number of poeple who rely on it for communication and access to anything not immediately near them in the physical world).

Social media objectively sucks. There’s no denying it. Many of the ills of modern society can be linked to how rampart use of online spaces has only strengthened that which divides us, but there are examples of how those spaces can still do good in the world and in the life of an individual. Like my Twitter feed, for one thing. And the Nerdfighter communities, that are still probably the only positive online community I’ve been a apart of that has surived popularity and expansion beyond a few hundred people. It just takes a LOT of work to make those spaces positive, healthy, and safe. It’s work worth doing, in my opinion, but it is definitely work.

Generous Reading On The Internet

There is this idea in literary criticism (also writing education and peer-to-peer creative writing) frequently called “generous reading.” The basic idea is that you assumed the best as you read something. You don’t ignore flaws or pass over opportunities to provide the writer with suggestions on how to improve, you just lead with the assumption that the writer is being satirical rather than an idiot. That someone writing about a topic that is typically deeply personal has knowledge of that topic in their own lives. The basic idea has started to creep into some of the more positive social media spheres I’m in, and I think there’s a lot to be said by reading the things people post and say on social media in a generous way.

I won’t deny that generous reading can be abused. It absolutely can and a lot of the worst elements of the internet rely on at least a fragment of it as a tool to bludgeon people who called them out for their clearly shitty opinions. As a result, practicing generous reading on social media can be dangerous if you’re not caught up on all the latest dogwhistles and trolling techniques. Even at my most hopeful, I always suggest taking the time to review a social media user’s history to make sure they don’t have a track record of awful behavior before extending the such generosity if you’re unsure whether or not they’re being an asshole while trying to pretend they’re not an asshole.

Most of the time I think it should be more liberally applied is in the lengthier writings of people on the internet. Blog posts, super long twitter threads, articles, and the various other places media is shared should all get a bit more generosity than most social media, since posting those places requires a good deal more effort. Which isn’t to say people don’t abuse those platforms to hide their dogwhistles and assholery, just that it’s usually easier to tell when they’re actually being awful and someone is less likely to build a whole website around the idea of being able to dogwhistle while flying under the radar.

There’s no hard and fast rule on whether or not you should read something generously, unfortunately. It is difficult to detect satire when it is done well and the longer the internet survives, the more it seems like the people being satirized are just taking the satire as a challenge. I’ve seen articles from The Onion that have passed from “clear satire” into “barely scraping the surface of the awful things we’ve seen in reality” in just the last decade. I spend a lot of time trying to decide if I’m willing to be generous in a reading on social media and I frequently find myself deciding against it. After all, it has been abundantly clear for years now how any attention is good attention on social media, so sharing things in order to dunk on them only helps the thing or person you’re trying to dunk on.

In longer-form media, though, I find it a lot easier. So often, readers know almost nothing about the writer of a work they’re enjoying. Only in recent decades has information about an author become readily available, and that looks like it might not last much longer as more and more writers turn toward anonymity and pen names in order to protect their identities from trolls and the various mobs of the internet. I feel like it is worth giving people the benefit of the doubt by default and only changing my mind when I find a reason they don’t deserve it rather than making them earn it in the first place. After all, we’ve seen countless examples on the internet of people being hunted down and castigated for something a group of people decided was inappropriate only to eventually learn that this person had every right to say what they said. Or that maybe they were right the entire time and people shouldn’t have been so quick to cast judgment.

I just think that trying to feel superior to other people is not a great way to use the internet, even though it seems to be the way most poeple use the internet. I prefer a bit of empathy and extending everyone the grace and generosity I hope they’d extend to me in turn. I just think that maybe most people trying to share something they thought important enough to make a specific statement about should maybe be given the benefit of the doubt about what they’ve said. I know I mess up and stick my foot in my mouth sometimes so I generally like to assume that other people do it as well.

I’m Just Gonna Unload All This Anxiety Over Here, By The Other Anxiety

I had an enjoyable day, today. Facebook was down for most of it and, as much as I’d like to say I got a lot done as a result, I definitely did not. Partly because I have already taken steps to disconnect myself from Facebook and partly because it was hard to focus while enjoying the feeling of being free from one of my larger, more nebulous anxieties.

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Saturday Morning Musing

As I’ve often said on my blog, I prefer to keep busy as my main method of dealing with my depression and various mental health issues. The thing is, I like to stay a certain kind of busy. I like a fair amount of social activity, but I prefer most of my busy is working on things or playing video games. Too much social activity and I wind up feeling stressed and exhausted because I don’t have the time to do the things I want to do. It can stress me out, which starts the vicious cycle of losing sleep and getting further stressed.

This past week has been a week where I’ve had a hard time balancing my social time and personal time. After a stressful Monday and Tuesday that not only threw my routines out of whack but knotted up my emotions, I’ve been struggling to balance out since then. On Monday, I heard from someone who I had removed from my life for my personal well-being. She wanted to apologize and I was willing to listen. It was just difficult because the way it played out and how I felt about it fell into line with some other, thornier issues I’ve been dealing with and all of that emotion hit me every time I talked to her. The other thing was that my roommate had some health issues and it took almost 12 hours for my other roommate and I to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t too bad–he’ll be fine–but it was super stressful and anxiety-inducing to be able to do nothing but worry and wait for him to respond to one of our messages.

Throw in my new Monday night D&D group wanting to meet again, the extension my usual weekday date night to cover two nights, my foam-fighting practice on Thursdays, today being my 6-month anniversary with my girlfriend, and it has felt like I’ve got no time to write or rest or be quiet by myself. I’m writing this blog post after the extra D&D session Friday night as I try to avoid falling asleep on my keyboard because I used up my entire buffer during my week of vacation and haven’t been able to build it back up again. All I’ve got in the way of a buffer is tomorrow’s post so I can get enough rest between the anniversary date and tomorrow’s Pokemon Go community day.

The worst part, at least what often feels like the worst part, is that I chose to do all of these things. I could have canceled on D&D. My girlfriend would have understood if I had asked for Wednesday night to myself. I didn’t need to fight at Foam Fighting practice, I totally could have just sat and talked with the non-combatants. I wouldn’t cancel today’s date for anything but a major emergency, but I definitely don’t need to do the Pokemon Go event tomorrow.  I could have been writing and resting instead of doing stuff, but I keep choosing stuff despite telling myself that I was going to make my writing my first priority this year.

I don’t regret my decisions. I had a very nice time with my girlfriend, visiting my roommate in the hospital, playing D&D, and getting my butt kicked by fellow nerds, but I’m tired. Despite more than my usual amount of sleep, I am tired. I want to just spend a week or at least a weekend quietly by myself, doing quiet things. I already want another vacation and my last one isn’t even two weeks old yet.

I know this feeling will pass. By the time I wake up tomorrow, I will feel better. Not entirely better, but somewhat better. That’ll be enough to enjoy six months with my girlfriend and to make the most of the Pokemon Go event. I’ll be just as tired again come Sunday night, as I scramble to get my blog posts written for next week. All I need is a little time to rest and I’ll feel better. I just wish social situations and generally being me weren’t so damn exhausting.

Talking to Strangers on the Internet

When I was growing up and first got to use the internet, one of the biggest rules I was given was that I could not talk to strangers on the internet. Around that time, tales of child abductions, predators, and catfishing had started to gain prominence, so my parents’ concern makes sense. It made sense back then, too, because I wasn’t supposed to talk to real-life strangers, so why should I be able to talk to internet strangers?

The funny thing is, now there are entire platforms for talking to strangers. Randomly-paired video and/or text chat, Twitter, Imgur, Reddit, Facebook… Pretty much everywhere you can go to on the internet, it will have an endless stream of strangers you can talk to. Sometimes, you even wind up making friends. One of my closest friends in my freshman year of college was someone who was a friend of a friend of a friend, that I’d maybe seen in person once. In the entire time we talked and were close friends, we met in person once, when I was back from college for winter break and we wanted to be able to stop making jokes about either one of us being a fat old man in a fake mustache.

Hell, even most video games pair you with strangers these days and all the team-based ones require some degree of communication, even if you only ever use emotes/macros to ask for healing or to show off your character’s mighty muscles. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I started getting more involved on Twitter, most of my interaction with strangers came from playing Overwatch. I’d queue up for a match by myself or with a friend and we’d get stuck on a team with random strangers. For the most part, communication with them stay in the realm of healing requests and indications that we need to group up.

Sometimes, though, people start using text chat. Sometimes, people even use the team-wide voice chat. While myself and the friend I usually queue up with don’t generally join the team voice chat unless the team asks us to, there have been a few times when we have and it went well. One time, we did so well with two other groups of two that we all teamed up to make a group of six and went on to win another four matches. Another time, one guy spent the whole match whining into the team chat about how no one was playing well or helping him and it created such a thoroughly toxic atmosphere that no one would work together.

Most of the time, it’s just normal chatter. People talk about what they’re going to do, call out enemy positions and maneuvers, we coordinate our movements, and trying to work together for a common goal before moving on and never talking to each other again. I’ve had mostly neutral experiences with team voice chat, but the negative ones stand out so much that I generally try to avoid it if I can.

Text chat has been the opposite. There have been a few negative experiences, including one lately that made the match so negative that people on my team started throwing the match, resulting in an embarrassing overtime loss to a team we should have beaten easily. For the most part, though, people are friendly and at least neutral if not positive. If you play as a part of a group, there’s a high chance of playing with other groups and sticking with them for a while, across several matches. As that happens, people start friendly conversations, congratulate each other on good places, and all report/shout-down the one asshole trying to ruin everyone’s good time. Then you inevitably wind up fighting against a long-time ally and tears are shed on both sides as you ruthlessly exploit your experiences with each other to try to beat each other.

Good times.

I always kind of marvel at the casual nature of human connection via video games. You can meet someone new, bond over your shared enjoyment of a game, and then part ways without ever expecting to meet or talk again. If you do, that’s great! If not, then you’ve lost nothing. Or have you? It is so easy to connect over the internet, but we’re still so guarded with most of our personal information. Games all use usernames, most social media allows the restriction of personal information so only friends can see it, and most people who know anything about internet/identity safety recommend keeping most personal information completely private.

This attitude (which is still entirely sensible because the people who want to exploit personal information are ruthless and entirely too common) keeps us from connecting with friendly strangers. We don’t even share our names. We keep ourselves hidden behind the masks of our characters and our usernames. We connect with people, make friends, and them go our separate ways. It always makes me kind of sad when it happens, even if I’m not really willing to be the one to try to break the pattern. For the most part, anyway. I use my real name here, and on my Twitter. Those aren’t terribly brave, though, since most people also do that.

 

Saturday Morning Musing

I’ve been using Facebook since 2007 and I did a lot of growing up during the past 11-ish years. I never really did much social media posting with specifics to my life, but I sure did plenty of whining. And posting song lyrics. There are also the broken links to blogs I’ve run in the past that I ended years ago. Worst of all, at least to my mind, is that I did tons of “vague-booking.” For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is what you call a post on Facebook that complains about something without actually indicating what is wrong or why you are upset. I’m sure urban dictionary has a better definition, but that is basically it and it annoys me these days.

It can be weird to look back on posts from the past and see myself upset about something that was clearly a big deal at the time but that I can no longer remember. Most of the big, lasting problems from my life during my later high school and college years are things I never posted about but still remember quite clearly. The break-ups, the betrayals and loss of friends, the fights between friends that shattered friend-groups, my attempts to act as a moderator to some dumb shit in college that only convinced both sides to turn against me since I wouldn’t pick a side, and more. There’s nothing on Facebook that is painful to remember mostly because I can’t remember anything I was complaining about.

These days, I maintain a bit of a “digital persona,” I guess you could call it. Maybe “Digital Identity” would be better. Either way, it isn’t an act or a fake personality. I just strictly maintain a certain self-identity across platforms. I try to use similar usernames if not my real name and be consistent in profile pictures, the things I support, and how I voice my thoughts. My blog is currently where I voice most of my thinking while Twitter tends to get more of my moment-to-moment impressions when I feel like they’re actually worth recording. Which isn’t to say I tweet everything that comes up. I try not to complain too much and don’t generally post anything that isn’t a part of my mission. I do similar things outside of the internet as well, so my online identity reflects my offline one. I just feel a little more aware of the performative aspects of being a person and constantly working toward a goal when I’m doing it online. Offline, I just want to make the world a better place however I can, so I generally try to look on the bright side, share things that are good, and generally be a positive influence. In the end, they pretty much work out to the same thing.

That being said, I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine online. I deal with my depression and anxiety a lot on twitter, posting about the weird sort of negative/positive mix of my thoughts that results from my depression and anxiety pulling me down and my attempts to avoid being ruled by them pulling me up. It is also a good exercise in making me focus on things I enjoy, setting my mindset for the day, and looking for the good that comes from everything going on in my life. My twitter isn’t happy, but it is positive and affirming. It represents what it is like to be someone who is active and creative, who refuses to stop doing anything less than literally everything he can, while struggling with depression and anxiety. At least it represents what that means to me, specifically.

My life’s goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it. To be a positive influence on the world, even if it means just making one person’s life better for me having been here. Angst-y Facebook posts from years ago don’t really support that. Plus, they’re kind of embarrassing. I thought I was so clever just sharing song lyrics instead of posting about how I felt, but the themes of the music and the specific lines I chose paint a pretty clear picture of my emotional state at the time of posting. I have to admit that the desire to get rid of these transparent references to transient, ultimately meaningless problems is a part of it.

If I’d actually posted about the real problems I was facing, if I’d shared anything like I do now, about facing life with depression and the constant struggle of managing my anxiety, I would keep it. People benefit from knowing other people out there have shared similar struggles. Something is easier to deal with when you know you’re not alone. The desire to let people know what it is like to be depressed or anxious, to have to struggle to get through every day even when you know you’ll manage just fine and aren’t a suicide risk, that is why I’ve chosen such a public forum. The few random comments I get on this blog from time-to-time make it all worth it.

I don’t really feel like it is self-censorship to remove old posts that no longe represent who I am. My social media should reflect who I am. While some of my past problems are a part of who I am today, none of the whiny little vague posts are. It feels a lot more like cleaning and maintenance to me.

 

Saturday Morning Musing

One of the biggest problems I face from day-to-day is where to draw the line when it comes to investing my time. I like to keep myself busy or entertained, so I’ve constantly got a large number of projects I can work on, games I can play, and books I can read. I could also put in the effort to get my friends together for a movie or some kind of activity, there’s always the option of staying at work longer to get some more overtime, home improvement or cleaning projects, and almost my entire family lives three hours away, so visiting them is always a bigger investment as well. I also occasionally need time just for myself, I want to spend time with my girlfriend, and I am constantly on the verge of forgetting stuff like birthdays and Christmas present shopping. Lastly, (the fact that it is the last thing I’m listing definitely says something about my priorities), I need to make sure I get enough sleep and take care of myself.

Ideally, I’d find a way to do everything, perhaps by combining things like time for myself and my projects, games, and books, or those same things but as time with my girlfriend instead of just by myself. As long as I’m talking in terms of ideal situations, I would also clean in my sleep, take care of all birthday and Christmas stuff during drives to visit my family (along with audio books, of course), and my friends would take on the burden of planning stuff that fits my schedule. Also, I’d be a millionaire and never need to work another day in my life so I can do nothing but write or spend my time studying literature and language. Might as well dream big if I’m going to dream, right?

I want to do everything, but I’ve only got so much time an energy. Additionally, because feeling tired or over-committed for long periods of time can cause my depression and anxiety to spike, I need to make sure that I’m not constantly using all of my energy. I need to balance recharging with video games, books, or spending time by myself against things that drain my energy like large social gatherings (including family), tracking and doing chores, and working more. Too much recharging can leave me feeling like I’m wasting my days, but not enough leaves me tired and barely capable of doing anything that’s going to be draining. If that drained feeling persists, then it causes a flare in my depression and the feeling of tiredness to advance to full exhaustion. This quickly snowballs unless I can catch it, which is always tricky because managing myself in order to catch it can be tiring and discouraging at well.

As a result, I tend toward habits and repeatable planning in order to take some of the burden off of myself. Monday night is a free night to play video games online with people or read, whatever I want. Tuesday is often date night. Wednesday is my weekly gaming night. Thursday is either a social activity or reading. Friday is usually chores and a social activity or chores and time with my roommates. Saturday is all of my obligations, like grocery shopping, non-weekly chores, pre-writing for my blog, and home improvement projects. It can sometimes be a date-day. Sundays are for laundry, reading, preparation for the week, time to myself, and usually D&D. Scattered throughout is work, writing when I’m not too tired, and family on major holidays. It’s a loose system that can change as needed, but my habits from weeks past usually give me enough of a nudge so that I’m never sitting around, bored and trying to figure out what I want to do. That feeling, being bored and entirely uninterested in everything I have to do, is responsible for more depression spikes than anything else I’ve ever felt. I avoid it at all costs.

My problems always come in when someone wants to change my habits. I have some degree of flexibility and usually enough energy to add it into my week, but not always. I’m not always good at saying no, either. Not in a “people make me do things I don’t want to” sort of way, but a “I’m not very good at advocating for my own needs” sort of way. I’ll almost always go along with what someone suggested and then spend a couple of days feeling extra tired. It isn’t always bad. If I’ve done an alright job of managing myself earlier in the week, I’ll be able to bounce back just fine. If I’ve been extra stressed or away from my habits for a longer period of time, it can take a while to get back to feeling well.

I’ve struggled for years with this feeling of constantly using my energy reserves to get through the day thanks to my depression, and I’ve only ever really gotten it to go away when I get invested in some big project like National Novel Writing Month. The problem is that, when it ends, I’m super exhausted and usually spend a week or so fighting against my depression. Feelings of low-energy and minor emotional exhaustion can persist for almost an entire month afterward. I can usually deal with it by taking extra time for myself and cutting out some of my social engagements, but that often presents problems of its own. Most of my friends get it, they know I might be a bit of a hermit for a while but I’m fine as long as they can actually communicate with me via the internet.

Most of the time, I alternate between wishing I could just become a hermit and never need to worry about it again or wishing I was never alone and was constantly surrounded by people who energize me. It isn’t a good feeling, since it is a part of the “I wish I wasn’t like this” feeling that makes it hard for me to accept myself and my mental illnesses. I try not to think about it too much, but every so often I need to take the time to look at how I spend my time and double-check that I’m spending it not only in a way that balances my energy but in a way that I feel is consistent with my long-term goals and values. If I’m lucky, I need to do that only at major life events, holidays, and every few months. If I’m not lucky, it is a lot more frequent. A high frequency is usually indicative that something else is wrong, so I get to spend a few days putting it off and then my weekend trying to figure out what’s causing me to constantly reconsider how I spend my time. I’ve got a lot of driving to do this weekend, thanks to the holidays, so hopefully I’ll have something figured out by the time I’m home.

It’s like an itch you can’t scratch or the quiet, nagging certainty that you left something important behind that you won’t miss until you absolutely need it. This is going to be all I can think about today. Hopefully your holidays are going better than mine are, so far.