Friday, August 19, 2022

Mindful Twitter

Analog, through Twitter?

The pandemic has been hard for digital minimalists.  

Even "going back to normal" hasn't really been normal with repeat infections from a brain-shrinking, immune system-destroying, clot-forming virus that is still out of control. Many of us are still somewhat hunkered-down, masked, avoiding crowds. Those of us who can work remotely are at home most of the time. Some who are back in offices or public settings choose to spend non-working hours mostly at home because getting Covid sucks. Sometimes it continues to suck in ways that have nothing to do with an acute phase of coughing or a runny nose. Just ask the many who ended up with post-Covid heart problems or Long Covid, who are now trying to prevent getting infected again.

It's easy to understand why people have turned to social media as a way to connect. 

It's a lonely pandemic. Sometimes our screens are wonderful virtual campfires. But, just like in the before-times, the ever-flashing screen is addictive, and it can become a source of bad news, misinformation and countless displays of the very worst humanity has to offer.  

I returned to Twitter in 2020. I wasn't going back to scroll cat videos or argue politics. At first I needed information on the quickly-changing pandemic. I used Twitter for news and updates. I also used it to join virtual hands with others in our strange, locked-down world. I used it to watch the daily Covid livestreams from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. I used it to mourn death after death after death, all announced in the same 240 character format, from famous people as well as friends.  

Twitter was a window to the world -- foggy and mud-splattered at times, often ominous and dark, but sometimes lit up with stars or rainbows. I managed to find an analog/digital balance. I didn't spend endless hours scrolling Twitter, but I used it -- along with Zoom -- to connect with real people and organizations in my life. I called it analog through digital.  

As Delta surged in the spring of 2021 and the official media downplayed infections, I saw people in my own social and professional circles take off their masks and promptly get sick, in spite of vaccines. Some of them got very sick. I began to use Twitter to find epidemiologists and infectious disease physicians, researchers and Long Covid activists, educators and investigative journalists who presented studies and data on the disease that despite media claims to the contrary didn't seem to be going away. Because of information from doctors and scientists, my family kept our masks on. We've managed not to get sick, even in Los Angeles. (Knock analog wood.)    

Before Covid I used Twitter to promote work, read authors I loved and keep track of artists and activists. I checked in once in awhile, but didn't mindlessly scroll. Sometimes weeks would go by without logging in. But in June of 2021, I started using Twitter to forward the medical studies and articles I didn't see in the news. I put together a list of scientists and experts. I created threads by topic, and added to them as new studies and articles were published. 

One of my niches as a copywriter was medical copy. I wrote a lot of health content and patient materials, and I know my way around PubMed. In July, 2021 I began organizing, compiling, and highlighting articles from JAMA, NIHNIJM, and other medical journals. I also included many articles from publications like Nature and Scientific America.  Nobody in traditional media was doing much much more than saying "Covid is over! Pay no attention to all the people who still keep getting sick!" I wanted to share valuable information, and Twitter was a good way to do it.

A social media platform doesn't have to be mindless.  It can be a tool for change, for outreach, for information and for comfort during times of uncertainty and sorrow.

But going back to Twitter has taken a lot of discipline.

There are a lot of pandemic grifters, and many bad takes on good data. It takes a lot of time and effort to sift through mountains of information, a lot of it bad and some of it fabricated. It also takes a lot of will not to get caught up fighting with trolls. In order to keep Twitter from becoming all-encompassing part of my life, I've had to adopt some hard rules.

1.  I limit my time. 

As a freelance writer, I must schedule time wisely. I now think of Twitter as another client. I feel morally compelled to present accurate, organized threads on varying aspects of the pandemic--my first writing job was for my college newspaper, and I've never lost the soul of a journalist, and the heart of an activist--but I could easily lose entire days tweeting. I don't let that happen. I set daily time limits, and I log off when my alarm rings. I often take 3-5 days off from even looking at Twitter, even if I have new studies or articles to share, even if I want to see comments on a particularly interesting thread. I wait, decompress, and go back after a break. If you use any social media platform for education or outreach, I suggest adopting a similar strategy.

2. I still keep Twitter off my phone.

One of the ways I limit the urge to endlessly scroll is to only access Twitter from my desktop computer or my Fire Tablet. (As I've written before, my Fire tablet is mostly used for offline media consumption, but I now have limits set for online Twitter access.) My phone is used as a phone, a text app, a camera, a map and and access to Instacart and Door Dash. I suggest removing all the other apps, but if you can't handle something that drastic, at least put apps in a folder several screens away from your home screen.

3.  I take plenty of time to destress from Twitter dystopia.

In a lot of ways, Twitter is a direct pipeline to hell. It reveals some of the worst, divisive, most extreme aspects of our culture. I want to remain hopeful, productive, and happy in my life, so I do things to soothe the hellscape burn. For me, a good life means lots of analog things: reading books, drawing, cooking, enjoying my garden, playing fetch with my dog, as well as analog-through-digital activities like watching films, shooting pictures and videos, accessing library e-books, and listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks. 

Mindful, intentional digital minimalism is ever-evolving, and what worked before the pandemic has changed. 

Zoom is a regular part of my life. Many in-person activities have gone online, and some are improved by it. (I think telemedicine is one of the greatest gifts of the internet, and don't get me started about digital library offerings.)  I'm no neo-Luddite, but dedication to living in the tangible, touchable world permeates every decision I make about digital space. 

Twitter, for me, is a way to publish information. Reading, organizing, and compiling medical studies is something I'm good at, and I'm happy to have a way to share useful information. Pandemic Librarian is an analog archetype I'm pleased to embrace -- even though my shelves are virtual. (If you want to see all of my topics on the pandemic, click here. Just don't stay on Twitter too long.)

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For great analog things, here's my master list.

For my guide to social media alternatives, click here

For great books to conquer digital addiction, click here

Log off. Tune in. Opt out.