Just after sunset on a beach. Several uncertain rectangular shapes loom in the near distance.
“Sunset” by victimiser13 (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Years ago I wrote about my personal practices for Twitter hygiene. While I still agree with all the principles I advanced there, I admit that the list predates the well’s poisoning by the current American president, and all the distraction and despair carried in his wake. As such, I strive to add to that list a new principle of limiting my consumption of Twitter, which despite its tragically increased toxicity remains a crucial source of information and personal connection. After a year and a half of failed self-control strategies, I feel hopeful that I’ve found one that works for me.

This past Sunday, July 1, marks the first full day that I successfully applied this new rule: I allow myself to browse Twitter only between sunset and sunrise. I also allow myself write-only access to Twitter no matter the time, using tools like Wren or my own Alisio in order to make announcement-style posts (or, yes, the occasional non-sequitur). I have remained on this path over the subsequent two days, and feel bullish about staying on it for the rest of the month.

Twitter has provided an unwelcome source of anxiety since the 2016 election, but this awareness alone has done little to temper my use of it. In May of this year, for example — according to my Timing app — I spent just under 35 hours actively using Tweetbot on my Mac. A conservative estimate has me doubling that figure to account for all the time I spent swiping through Twitter on my phone, whether in hour-log couch sessions or little bites in the grocery store line. One finds it tempting to decry how this represents two full-time work-weeks of making myself miserable marbled all through everything else I did that month. But I know that the marbling itself has layers: I keep sipping the poison because it has so much good medicine mixed in, still. Even though I read newspapers more today than I did two years ago, Twitter remains a primary source of contact for countless friends, acquaintances, and other voices I respect.

And sometimes, yes, I just need to check that I’m not the only person seeing this shit.

All this has value to me. There’s too much baby in that bathwater to simply throw out. Sometimes, since the election, I would delete Tweetbot or locally block twitter.com’s website on a whim, and that’d feel good and cathartic for a little while. But the pressure to reconnect would inevitably build up so swiftly that I’d have to reset everything within hours, and I’d only end up feeling like a chump.

Modest goals, then. The deal I drew with myself on Sunday states that so long as the Sun cannot see my sin, then I can bathe my red-rimmed eyes in Twitter all I like. Come daybreak, though, I close Twitter on all my devices, and when I notice my fingers summoning it back I command them to go pull up the Washington Post or something instead. And unlike every other time in the last 18 months I’ve tried the cold-turkey Twitter, my fingers obey this redirection. The short period of my self-denial, and the knowledge that my own rules will let me cannonball back into that siren cesspit within a few hours, make this rule far easier to follow than all my previous attempts to stop marinating in Twitter all day long.

Furthermore, AND-gating my desire to check Twitter to the caveman-basic boolean of Is the sun up? somehow makes this a far more straightforward exercise than my past attempts, suggested by my therapist, to limit my access to specific clock-time windows. My need to connect, I suppose, remains so strong that it overwhelms even the simple higher-brain puzzle of determining whether or not the big hand and the little hand say that I can have another cookie. My brain’s design spec keeps the single-bit sun-up-or-not variable automatically updated throughout the day, letting me NOPE right out of Twitter with near-reflex speed the very moment my traitor fingertips once again try to slide it into my visual field.

This plan, of course, takes inspiration from various world religious and cultural traditions of diurnal dietary fasting during certain times of the year. So I lazily appropriate the vocabulary for this exercise as well, and I will also borrow these ancient observances’ calendar-bounding rule: rather than declare my daytime Twitter attachment as forever past, I state that my Twitter fast shall last the rest of July. Maybe I’ll make it all the way there and want to keep going, but I’ll leave that as an option to pursue at that time.

My hypothesis, my hope, is that I can extract the same volume of good stuff from Twitter in abbreviated daily visits as I would by sitting up to my waist in it all day long, but without the terrible cost of absorbing every piece of like-as-not awful news as it appears. This ever-unfolding disaster lulls me to just stare at my timeline, my finger sometimes making a scab-picking gesture on my phone screen while I beg for the next poisoned crumb. Let me instead consume the whole howling mix in a single, sour shot before bed, and let me rise into the next day refreshed and willing to help change the world, rather than battered over the hours into ineffective weariness by the ceaseless insults and assaults by the world’s worst elements.

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