The Last Days of Disco
Twitter, from the sublimely mundane to the revolutionary
When I joined Twitter in 2007, I was lonely and living in the middle of nowhere. I was in graduate school in a very small town in a part of the country where it snowed for seven or eight months out of the year, often more than 300 inches. It was beautiful but isolating. So very isolating. I loved what I was learning in school. By virtue of geography and being grad school broke, I wrote all the time. I had started teaching, two years earlier, unlocking a skillset I didn’t even know I had. My youngest brother was my roommate and I got along well with my fellow doctoral students. And still, I was lonely sometimes and desperately shy so I naturally gravitated to any kind of social situation where I could talk to other people without actually having to talk to other people. As someone who has been online since 1992, I’ve always felt comfortable in virtual environments where I can lead with language instead of other social skills.
At first, I mostly read other people’s tweets, marveling that I had such unfettered access to people’s sublimely mundane thoughts. I rather enjoyed sharing my own sublimely mundane thoughts. Back then, Twitter was a charming repository for all the mental detritus we once used to keep to ourselves. I had yogurt for breakfast and yogurt is so great. My toes are cold. I’m watching House Hunters. My boyfriend just brought home a dead deer and he, the boyfriend, smells very bad. It was a wonderful time, really.
I co-edited a literary magazine with my friend Matt and started tweeting about the work we published. I shared news about my own writing and some minor successes with placing work in small literary magazines that few but enough people read. I talked about what I was reading and why I enjoyed it. I followed some of my favorite writers and, of course, Channing Tatum and HGTV and Lifetime Movie Network, which is to say I followed the most important Twitter accounts.
After graduation, when I moved to rural Illinois and knew no one for the first couple months, at least I had my imaginary friends on Twitter who were always around, whether it was nine in the morning or half past midnight. It was a great comfort to have that connection and still is, even though now my life is so much different.
Amassing the number of followers I have happened slowly and then all at once. When I had 2,000 followers I thought it was probably time to unlock my account because when you’re sharing your thoughts with that many people, privacy is but an illusion. One of my favorite writers then as now, was Mat Johnson who had tens of thousands of followers. I remember thinking, “How does a writer get that many followers?” It seemed impossible and very, very impressive. I never imagined I could have that many followers. And now, what started as a dorky locked account with maybe two hundred followers has blossomed into this unruly but mostly sincere community of nearly 900,000 people only a fraction of whom are hate-following me.
I don’t have many regrets about my time on Twitter. Certainly, I’ve said some stupid things that were, mostly jokes, bad jokes to be clear, but fairly harmless. I’ve shared some unfortunate opinions that I no longer have. I made a few mistakes and Lord knows haters have gleefully reminded me of those mistakes from twelve or ten or seven years ago, every chance they get. It’s fine. I have no problem taking responsibility for both the good and not so good I’ve said. I have dealt with breathtaking cruelty and stupidity from trolls. I have been aggravated to no end by pedantry and unsolicited advice. Mostly, though, I have had fun. I have met some of the most important people in my life. I have connected with other writers and marveled at how lucky I feel to be writing at the same time as my contemporaries. I have connected with readers and learned so much about what they have taken from my work. I have tweeted at Dwayne Johnson and received a response that was maybe, just maybe, written by him. I have adored pictures of children in pumpkin costumes and seen many of my friends start families and go from tweeting about late nights at the bar to late nights with a colicky baby.
Many people love to complain about Twitter but I’ve not once referred to it as a hell site as the parlance goes, because I’ve never thought of it in those terms. The worst parts of Twitter are truly terrible, but if you curate your feed and find some community, the best parts of Twitter by far overshadow the worst. I wish we could talk about that, more.
When it was first announced that Elon Musk would be buying Twitter for $44 billion, I didn’t really believe the deal would go through. It seemed like an ill-conceived impulse buy and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. I decided to save any dread or panic or prognostication until billionaire whimsy became an actual purchase. After the weeks of Musk trying to back out of the purchase and the legal maneuvering that only the obscenely wealthy can do, the sale did go through and then I decided to save any dread or panic until it seemed like it might be time to send up a flare or hold a wake.