What’s the first thing you do on your phone when you wake up? After turning off your alarm, how long does it take for muscle memory to take you to a social media app? Three, four swipes? Now, ask yourself: What would happen if you didn’t? You may miss out on a funny meme or the latest trend or a few morsels of juicy sports gossip. Worse case is you lose your sense of connection to accounts you consider friends, but that relationship is one-sided, and as close to an imaginary friend as adults can get.
Best case is you don’t spend hours of your day wasting time scrolling through an endless stream of bullshit, aren’t subjected to the massive amount of hate that powers the internet, and avoid arguing with @PhillyFan23891 about whether the Process was successful. Trust me, the worst day of the best case is better than the best day of the worst case, and I should know. I’ve been Twitter-free for over a year now.
For the sake of transparency, I left all major social media platforms a little over a year ago for the sake of self-preservation and my mental health after I made an egregious, and embarrassing reporting error that went viral. Be that as it may, even before my mishap, I was long gone from Facebook, and had Twitter, and Instagram removed from my phone. That didn’t stop me from checking the latter two apps via browsers or on my tablet, but my feeling of “Fuck this shit” had been growing for years since I realized how aggravating it became to simply play on my phone.
Sure, the reactions to huge moments from my favorite players, and teams were fun to see because who doesn’t love their rooting interests validated on a national level? And that validation is really what we’re seeking on social media. Likes, retweets, shares, reshares, responses, and the rest make us feel seen. Yet once that post falls out of circulation, the happiness ebbs, and you’re left trying to think of the next post, picture, or video to pump endorphins into your brain. (I’m not sure if endorphin is the correct word, but I’m trying to sound smart so let it go/don’t Google it.)
Social media is a recurring cycle, and one that people would probably be happy kicking to the wayside if it wasn’t so damned addicting. I can say it was easy to quit social media and that my quality of life immediately improved, but it took serious discipline, and a few months to stop thinking about what’s happening and what I’m missing. (I do have a LinkedIn account, but that’s the NA beer of social media platforms.)
It’s similar to a breakup in that at first it’s all you can think about, and then little by little, it’s on your mind less and less and less before you come to the realization that you’re happier and better off without that toxicity in your life. I’m all for removing toxic aspects of my life, and nothing is more noxious than Twitter. (I was off Facebook before the 2016 election, and haven’t tried Truth Social, so don’t quote me on that.)
Journalists think they need it for their jobs, and I thought that, as well. While I might miss out on a batshit crazy highlight, story, or idea for a column, I’ve found that if a story is immensely important, it’ll get picked up by whatever schmo ESPN pays to comb social media, and I’ll see it when it hits Google News. And honestly, most Twitter stuff is better off left aggregated rather than trying to squeeze 700 words out of it.
An agonizing experience
When I was on the Tweeter, I found myself hesitating to speak on a subject because the angle had already been taken by another writer. A year removed, my approach has done a 180, and there are two main reasons for it:
A. I’m not so important that anyone is going to care about overlapping opinions. Also, it’s not contributing to the echo chamber if the plebs are parroting me — or at least that’s how I rationalize it.
And B. I feel like I can write better than most of these jackasses, which wasn’t the case a year ago as I was vastly more crippled by insecurity.
It’s hard to believe B while you’ve still got a Twitter handle because there is a detractor for every tweet let alone column. I remember I wrote an article gushing about Justin Jefferson and got called a moron or another insult to that effect. Who knows if I was wrong — Jefferson’s 2022 season makes me feel like I wasn’t — or if homedude was a bitter Packers fan, having a bad day, or both, but it’s difficult not to dwell on it.
My current approach to reader pleasing is the opposite, and I don’t care who’s offended as long as it gaslights the intended target (usually Philly fans). Obviously, I want to be accurate and avoid discrimination. Common sense keeps those two in check for the most part, and my editors flag things that slip through the workflow.
It’s impossible to tell if I’m a more popular writer, and I definitely don’t think I’m a few columns away from impacting the national discourse. I don’t have access to page views, and I’ve had zero recruiters knock down my door looking to hire me. What I do have (I think) is the respect of my coworkers and the confidence of my editors.
Judging by my quarterly reviews and the growing creative freedom afforded to me, I believe I’m doing a pretty bang-up job and am absolutely furthering the career that I want. Perhaps if I had stayed the course and remained a Twitter user, the added exposure would’ve accelerated my brand and footprint. At the same time, that’s more about being good at the internet than it is about being a journalist. If you want to make a career off of social media, pivot to influencing.
It’s extremely difficult to gauge progress without the accompanying rise in followers and likes, and part of me wonders how big of an audience I could attract had I stayed on social media. Most journalists would be lying if they said, “It doesn’t matter if my work reaches a million people or just one.” However, you have to live by that, or else the important stories get pushed out to make way for clickbait.
Sports journalism existed long before social media, and it’ll be around long after Elon Musk fully transitions Twitter into his own personal plaything. You can either stay aboard a flaming, sinking ship, and bitch about how it’s destroying your career, or you can carry on like me, and all of the other people who have opted for blissful ignorance.