Few things in life, other than my son (and my new 2022 F-250 Platinum 7.3 4×4) (and my new(ish!) 2019 Radical SR8 Generation 3), have given me as much joy as watching the much-ballyhooed Twitter Quitter movement among automotive journalists (and other completely feckless people) completely implode inside seventy-two hours. Jimmy Page regularly went without heroin during the Seventies for longer periods than these voices-of-a-generation could keep themselves from posting “hot takes” on the Internet. Let’s be real: if you can’t do without something for three days, you’re addicted to it. There’s one exception to that rule, and it’s “water”. Going 72 hours without eating is hard, but it’s not impossible.
I first observed Twitter Addiction firsthand about eleven years ago, during a weekend I would later describe in fictionalized form for TTAC. A relatively well-known female autowriter had agreed to travel with me in under-the-radar fashion for a few days. We had sound reasons for this secrecy: I was living with someone at the time, as was she. Plus she was trying to build a career in autowriting that would have been irreparably damaged were people to realize that she and I were an item. We flipped a coin to see which one of us would stay off social media for the four days we would be together, and she lost.
Two days later, she had a full-fledged mental breakdown in a junkyard because she wasn’t allowed to Tweet.
Her outburst caught me by surprise, to put it mildly. Even though: I’ve been online longer than almost anyone else, having started writing on USENET in 1989 and opening my first personal literary website in the summer of 1997. (The earliest archive of it, from 1998, is here.) I’ve literally made a couple million dollars, and have traveled the world, writing for outlets that were just dots on a monitor. I’ve also been party to all sorts of shenanigans that had an online component to them. But I’ve never taken social media all that seriously. As DC says, “Twitter is not a real place.”
The things that matter to me — parenting, friendship, fast cars, beautiful women, bespoke tailoring, $13,000 mountain bikes being ridden very badly — all happen in real life. I don’t write online because I want clout online. I want money, resources, and experiences in the real world. Writing online has been a path to that. I like having “online friends”, but only so far as they are likely to become real friends. I quit Facebook eight years ago, and Twitter four years ago. Didn’t miss it. The only social media I use is Instagram, largely for the purpose of keeping in touch with real people who aren’t geographically convenient to me.
My single-serving girlfriend didn’t feel that way. She was engaged in any number of highly intense personal relationships with… what, exactly? People she’d never met and never would meet. Faceless cowards who hid behind fake names or handles. Meaningless enigmas who dealt primarily in snark or inanity. Many of them were part of that, ah, unusual group of individuals who refer to themselves collectively as “Car Twitter”. I would go on to meet a few of them in real life over the years that followed; with one or two exceptions, they were deeply flawed and hugely disturbing individuals who would have been better off retaining their status as anonymous posters.
As worthless as I thought my friend’s online relationships were, they were nonetheless deeply important to her. Back in 2011, she was unemployed and living off her parents in a remarkably expensive SoCal home paid for by her ex-husband. Her “real life” wasn’t much to write home about; there wasn’t a lot of extra money for fun stuff and she often struggled to connect with her pre-teen daughter. (For the sake of my always-empathetic readers, I hasten to add that it all worked out in the end: she got a few high-profile jobs then eventually inherited a ton of money and moved in with the love of her life.) On Twitter, however, she was the queen bee, a belle of the ball. She had just the right amount of wit. She photographed well. In an era where “understanding the algorithm” wasn’t yet a thing, she understood the algorithm. She was super-fun when she was in the mood to be super-fun, and her love of cars was truly genuine.
The contrast between her difficult “real life” and glorious “Twitter life” led her to disappear from the former into the latter, to the point where the vacuous blather-beasts of Twitter became all-important. I would wake up hungover at 4AM in some five-star manufacturer-provided hotel to heed the request of my oft-damaged kidneys, and I would see her full lips parted unconsciously in the light of her BlackBerry screen as she scrolled and scrolled through a night without sleep. She had “friends” in other time zones. She would excitedly recount episodes from their lives to me. Like they mattered. Like they were real.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when she started screaming at me about not being able to Tweet our trip, but I was. To me, all those Extremely Online people were just sad sacks who were better off not knowing about our blissful affair. To her, by contrast, they were the vitally important support system that kept her from self-harming. Going four days without them was painful. It was almost like solitary confinement. She had gone from a world in which she was constantly surrounded day and night by hundreds or thousands of admirers and well-wishers to… a rental Town Car with a sullen and not always sober 39-year-old Jack Baruth as her only companion. It was the comedown of all comedowns.
Six months later, after I had reluctantly terminated our relationship due to frankly insane behavior on both of our parts, she told the Internet all about us, of course. As John Updike once wrote, no act is so private it does not seek applause. Her Twitter and Facebook friends breathlessly reinforced the idea that I was a monster, an (emotional, mind you) abuser, and just the worst person on earth.
I didn’t care, because Twitter is not a real place.
But it certainly made me any number of sorta-real enemies, mostly among the dudes who had admired her from afar and her YASS QUEEN YOU GO GIRL female friends. Some of them are still complaining on Twitter about me today, using snarky terms or putting asterisks in my name so I don’t find what they’ve said. Even today you can go on Twitter and read the most hateful comments about me from people whom I have never met, with whom I have never interacted. They are not real to me, but I am very real to them.
Many of these people are Extremely Upset that Elon Musk has purchased Twitter. And why not? Over the past fifteen years the Twitter “Trust and Safety” team has worked tirelessly to turn a relatively stupid idea (TEXT THE WORLD IN 140 CHARS ZOMG!) into a focused and dedicated machine for bullying, abuse, and echo-chamber stupidity. People lose their jobs over Twitter. They commit suicide over Twitter. They also reinforce the worst ideas and most hateful rhetoric endlessly. If Twitter were not staunchly Blue Team, with 98.7% of political contributions going Democratic, the platform would have been nuked into nonexistence years ago, the way that every potential Red Team rival to Twitter is immediately doxxed, hacked, bank-account-canceled, and credit-card-denied.
Twitter is the electronic manifestation of the Two Minutes Hate, where people ALL CAPS SCREAM about the current thing until their fingers are sore. It is a vicious purity spiral where the slightest deviation from pure progressivism is punished with personal threats and endless doxxing. As far as I can tell, the average Twitter feed is ninety percent socialist agitation and ten percent corporate-branded inanity.
Elon’s purchase of Twitter threatens to disrupt this cozy state of affairs. I hope it does. I hope Elon drastically changes Twitter into something better, more interesting. Or he could shut it down entirely, which would be a net benefit to society. Twitter provides zero value to society. Its lopsided political activism aside, the very concept behind Twitter is inherently evil.
There is no room for nuance in a Tweet. No room for thoughtfulness. No room for balanced approaches, which are immediately shouted down as “bOtH sIdEs” or “whataboutism”. A Tweet is (now) 280 characters, no more. You can barely fit two lines of Wordsworth in there. Is it any wonder that we never find beauty, or literary merit, flowering on such parched ground?
Twitter is the domain of the “hot take”. The purpose of the “hot take” is to make people angry and therefore obtain their attention. There is no room in 280 characters to explain your hot take, to support it. Which is fine, because you don’t want that. You’re not trying to convince anyone. (And how could you, with such a stupid and self-destructive “take”?) You’re trying to upset them. You just want attention. Nothing more, but also nothing less. The best “hot takes”, like the most successful pornographic videos of the modern age, are pure trash aimed at immediately eliciting the strongest visceral response. So Twitter is a place where phrases like “defund the police” and “build the Wall” are all-powerful. Where you must choose a team then immediately start screaming the cherished catchphrases of that team louder than anyone else.
The thoughtful internal deliberation one experiences while reading the ancients or even the best of the twentieth century thinkers is replaced in the Twitterverse with the relentless stomach-sick shock of battering high concepts designed to humiliate you into acquiescence. The average Spectator of Addison and Steele would use 2,500 words to make a point. The longest possible Tweet is less than two percent of that. No serious person can engage with it.
Which is not to say that there are not artists of Twitter, the same way there are artists of mumble rap or abstract painting. Elon Musk is one such artist. Donald Trump was another. The “Twitterati” hated them, despised them for being masters of the 280-character format. Elon’s decision to buy Twitter is the ultimate stunt-on-these-fools, the ultimate punking of these people who, like my girlfriend of long ago, only feel alive when they are babbling into the void and hearing it babble back. Elon might take that away from them. It is easy for me to sit here in the real world and laugh at that, but then I recall seeing a beautiful face collapse into tears because she couldn’t be with her online friends for a few days, and I feel more pity than triumph.
Jimmy Page didn’t give up heroin until he’d lost his teeth, his self-respect, and his ability to write a song. Which I can understand, because heroin is wonderful. It’s the opposite of Twitter in many ways; it takes a brutish world and makes it beautiful, while Twitter takes the subtle beauties of the real world and shellacs them with human shit. It should be easier to quit something bad than it is to quit something good. My advice to all you addicts out there is to go cold turkey on the Tweets, difficult though it might be. Make some real friends. It won’t kill you. Ask my ex-girlfriend, who appears to have written a total of six Tweets in the past two years. She’s living a real life now, away from the Internet, with someone she truly loves. You could do the same. And if you know that you can’t, maybe you should put down the Cheetos, unplug the keyboard, tape over the forward-facing lens on your iPhone, and work on that.
For Hagerty, I wrote about a very real Mercedes-Benz.
For Hagerty Insider, I wrote about profoundly unreal investments.