The 280-Character Damage, in Hindsight

Finding my way back into long-form writing. Thank you and RIP, Twitter.

Nicola
Human Parts

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Photo by Brett Jordan

I created a Twitter account back in May 2009, which means I’ve been on this social platform for close to 15 (!!!) years now. However, I haven’t been active since the start of 2023, a few months after Elon Musk took over, eliminated most of the Twitter team, reactivated banned accounts of problematic personalities, and essentially let the house burn.

Considering the ever-evolving digital landscape, with hundreds of apps launching and eventually closing, the staying power of Twitter is pretty darn remarkable. And I’ve been on it for almost 15 years — that’s a long time to be invested and engaged in any social media platform, let alone any sort of relationship. But I’ve intentionally kept my distance this year given that I didn’t want to be close to anything that involved Elon Musk and I was already noticing the degradation of the site in late 2022.

You’d think that being on that platform for so long would make the separation a lot harder, but when I find myself opening my Twitter account every now and then, I close it no more than 2 minutes later. I realize that I don’t miss it, which is shocking to me, and I’ve been trying to unpack why that is.

You see, I loved Twitter. I wouldn’t have stayed and remained active for so long if I didn’t like it or didn’t find value in it. I thought it was the best social media out there. I felt the conversations were higher quality than the chaos and garbage on Facebook. I felt that the content was more authentic than the filtered, curated world of Instagram. Most importantly, I felt that Twitter was the kind of platform that fit my personality and interests the most.

As an introvert, I loved the brevity of it all, the ability to say your piece in 280 (originally 140) characters or less. Back then, I felt like I could never have maintained a blog because what on earth did I have to say that necessitated long-form writing? I am not necessarily a chatty, meandering type of person, so I found the constraint in character count to be perfect for when I found myself needing to just shout something into the void — a story, an opinion, a rant, a cryptic message, a reaction to current events, a cynical or hopeful reflection.

I also loved the real-time nature of Twitter. Yes, it was my primary source for breaking news, more so than actual news and media outlets, but it was also my go-to place to see people informing each other about (or reacting to) what’s happening in the world.

It was the place to check if there was indeed an earthquake and if classes were suspended due to typhoons. It was the place where I and many others live-tweeted reactions to UAAP college basketball games, Hollywood awards ceremonies, and episodes of Glee and Game of Thrones. In the best of times, it was such a welcoming place to feel connection and belonging.

All that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the damage that a platform like Twitter has caused (and continues to do so) in terms of failing to have stricter controls and policies around fake accounts and trolls, and the widespread misinformation and disinformation on the site.

To be fair, this isn’t only a Twitter problem; other big social media platforms are just as complicit. But because information spreads so quickly on Twitter, it did play a significant role in spreading unverified information, conspiracies, and just outright lies that have had major consequences on the state of democracies across many countries globally, including my home in the Philippines.

So part of me does believe that I don’t miss it because of how passionately I feel about democracy and how Twitter contributed to the erosion of our institutions, even if, ironically, it’s meant to democratize voices from any individual.

Another negative impact of Twitter that I’ve only recently realized as I’ve found myself falling back into long-form writing is that, for the past decade or so, I’ve conditioned myself to “think in tweets” — to be deliberate about being concise in my writing because Twitter was the virtual platform that I spent most of my time on.

Not that everything I ever tweeted lacked meaning or emotional resonance, but I am willing to admit that a sizable volume of them were simply reactions, soundbites, or hot takes. I can hardly remember a time in the last 15 years, outside of school and work, where I wrote longer pieces and intentionally made space to pause, reflect, and unpack my life experiences through personal essays.

That’s the real loss that I mourn when I think about the last 15 years.

My 20’s were so ripe with growth and learning opportunities — my first job, traveling to over 15 countries, getting into grad school, moving to and living in the US for the first time, finally acknowledging and coming to terms with my sexuality. I wish I had stopped and taken a moment to take it all in and captured these life milestones in writing outside of the 280-character constraints of Twitter.

At the start of this year, I set a goal for myself to “Write more.” I had a creative itch, but didn’t exactly have the clarity back then on my motivations for writing — I just felt that I had more I wanted to say beyond the confines of social media posts.

Little did I know that the degradation of Twitter, coupled with my move back to the US and some severe mental health challenges, were the forces that were nudging me toward the direction of long-form writing. In the past three months, I dove head-first into longer-form writing — both personal essays and fiction — and have never felt more fulfilled. I feel like I am reasserting agency and finally reclaiming my story.

So thanks for the memories, Twitter. You were the companion that 20-something year old me retreated to in the good and bad times. It was a good run, but I’m not looking back.

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Nicola
Human Parts

Personal essay & short fiction writer. Writing about the ebbs & flows of this one beautiful life. Making space to craft stories and cultivate curiosities. 🧠⚡️