Rusty Niall
Rusty Niall Podcast
Can Substack save me from Twitter?

Can Substack save me from Twitter?

I am exhausted and numbed by Twitter. Can rekindling my blogging help me to put the bird site to bed?

There was a time in the past when I used to leap onto whatever platform was newly available. This probably came from the fear of missing out, of not carving my niche with the next big thing before it properly kicked off.

I used about four different blogging platforms before I settled into posting semi-regularly on my website for around a decade before I was smote by a corrupted database and all my content vanished. I’m still not sure what happened and the charming but clueless call centre workers for my website’s provider couldn’t get to the bottom of it either.

Fancying myself to be quite the pragmatic little stoic, I knuckled down and retrieved all of the content that I still cared about from google’s cache and the Internet Archive. I then took a few online courses in html and css and rebuilt the whole thing myself.

I felt pretty smug, writing up blog posts in html and posting them when I felt inclined. The problem was that, with each post being a combination of coding and writing, that inclination waned considerably.  I missed the conveniences of a dedicated blogging platform. All I had to worry about was the content and they took care of the rest.

But something else had also factored into my going quiet on the blogging front — social media. Specifically, twitter. It wasn’t so much that I spent all the time on social media that I could have spent on being more creative and productive — I don’t use social media as a proper time sink that swallows up hours at a time like a good video game can. It was more a habit, something akin to biting my nails or any other momentary distraction that I fall back on whenever I’m bored or distracted. It didn’t swallow up my attention as much as it fractured it. I could feel how damaging and unsatisfying the occasional scroll was.

I almost deleted my twitter a few times before. I downloaded my personal archive, deactivated and waited those thirty days for the automated coup-de-grâce. Each time, I found myself halting the self-destruct procedure with the resolution that I would be the one that made use of the platform rather than the platform making use of me. I think you can guess how that turned out.

What dragged me back? Probably my ego. My youtube and soundcloud accounts didn’t boast over three thousand followers like my twitter did. But follower counts can be deceptive, with the response to each post (barely exceeding ten likes on most occasions) providing a more accurate picture of my twitter engagement. The word “follower” is deceptive. A better term would have been “connection”.  In my particular case, that follower count was more of a hangover from days when I was a bit more of a big shot within the poetry and literary scenes. Most of those followers weren’t that engaged, they probably thought that following me might have been helpful with their own ambitions and hustles. If they hadn’t got round to unfollowing me it was probably because they used the mute function instead or the algorithm had done the job for them and pruned my posts from their feeds.

The other function of twitter, its real strength as a platform, is as a release valve. Rather than write a long screed about the thing that just set my neurons alight and compounded my “aha!” with a surge of dopamine, I could condense my thoughts into 280 characters, or a thread if I couldn’t curtail my loquaciousness. The process of sharing was quick as was the feedback; the conditions create a captive audience, scrolling through their feed as they waited for notifications to pop up for their own posts while on a hair trigger to respond to whatever appeared in the interim.

In recent years I have managed to stay relatively calm in all manner of stressful situations. Maybe because of  parenthood or my nondualistic practice (which I might write about in the future), I am able to remind myself that I don’t need to get stressed out or angry in certain situations, and this includes twitter. That said, it’s not much fun being the only calm person in a stadium full of maniacs. That’s not entirely fair, I do understand the many good reasons to vent on twitter and I don’t think that activism and social media are an either/or dichotomy. I just think that I’d function better as a creative person with a fair few responsibilities if I ducked out of the social media rat race.

So here’s my plan. I’m not going to delete my twitter and other social platforms. I’m just going to stop using the sites and apps. This means that I’m only going to use them to share content that I create elsewhere via the share button. Hopefully this will lead to more Rusty Sonnets podcast episodes, which I’ve been back to researching for the past month or so. This also means a return to blogging about poetry and other cultural happenings right here on my substack page. If I have a big ‘Aha!’ moment, I’ll probably blog a few short paragraphs rather than head into the algorithmic breach of that bloody bird website.

I’ll post poems here too. Real proper poems, because I don’t send to magazines and I can’t see myself bringing out a new book for a while. It took fourteen years for my New and Selected to appear in the world, I hope the next slim volume appears a bit sooner in a post-pandemic environment where I can shift a few copies at readings.

I’ll also keep my website but make it more of a static hub for all of the content and publications that I create elsewhere, though I have at least one fun idea for a feature that depends on how quickly I can learn javascript (I managed to teach myself the basics while home schooling my kids during lockdown before backsliding when they went back to school).

I might miss out on what you’re posting though. So, if you have any platforms, be it a blog, a website, a podcast, a stream or a YouTube, I’d be very happy to keep up with what you’re doing. For now I’ll keep my comments open if you want to say hello, feed back or share what you’re doing with me.

I’m sure I’ll miss out on all kinds of shenanigans within my online communities, all that drama that stems from all the fragile egos within the literary twittersphere. I’ll probably miss that more than I’m willing to admit. Maybe that’s how I’ll get pulled back in, a little message tipping me off to the latest beef.  I’ll just have to do what I have chickened out of countless times in the past. Thirty days deactivated and mere oblivion. I’ll do it this time. I swear.

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Rusty Niall
Rusty Niall Podcast
A monthly podcast where I read out and chat about my personal highlights and talk about other stuff too.