Patton Oswalt is, arguably, as famous for his Twitter account as he is for any of his stand-up specials or movies. This is the guy who turned trolling into a carefully constructed explosive art. His TV reaction tweets are better than almost anything actually on TV. But as most of us know—being people who spend time reading and writing things on the internet—dedicating your life to social media and the Sisyphean goal of perpetual relevancy can cause real damage to your mental health. Patton has apparently been feeling the weight of the internet, and is checking himself into Twitter rehab, otherwise know as “actual life.”
He announced his social media detox this weekend on his Facebook page.
Summer is upon us, and I’ve got a bad case of The Spurts.
I’ve gone down an internet/Twitter/Facebook rabbit hole and I need to engineer a summer spent in nothing but humid, skin-to-air reality for myself. If I don’t, I feel like my psyche is going to suffer permanent slippage.
I’m going to try to keep this short. And this isn’t going to be a diatribe against the Internet or the information age or Twitter or anything like that. It’s going to be a gentle, winking diatribe against myself, and my ego and its appetites.
I was reading some — not all — but some of Camus’ THE REBEL. At an airport, waiting for a flight. And this line hits me like a ton of bricks:
“Tyrants conduct monologues above a million solitudes.”
I’ve become my own tyrant — Tweeting, and then responding to my own responses, and then fighting people who disagree with me. Constantly feeling like I have to have an instant take on things, instead of taking a breath, and getting as much information as I can about the world. Or simply listening to the people around me, and watching the world and picking up its hidden rhythms, which crouch underneath the micro and the macro. But I’ve lost sight of them. And it’s because of this — there’s a portal to a shadow planet in my right hand, the size of a deck of cards, and I can’t keep myself from peeling off one card after another, looking for a rare ace of sensation.
The Spurts: I’ve aggressively re-wired my own brain to live and die in a 140 character jungle. I’ve let my syntax become nothing more than a carnival barker’s ramp-up to a click-able link where I’m trying to sell something, or promote something, or share something I had no hand in making.
So — I’m engineering a summer. From today, June 1st, until Tuesday, September 2nd. Radio silent. No Twitter, no Facebook. There’ll be a few announcements here and on my Twitter feed — mostly for shows and some movies I’m about to appear in — but I scheduled these to drop weeks and months from now, without me having to do them on the day. The chairs are up on the tables, the floor’s been swept, and I’m locking up my tiny, personal online nightclub until the leaves turn brown. If Chili John’s in Burbank can thrive while still closing for the summer, I ought to do just fine.
I want to de-atrophy the muscles I once had. The ones I used to charge through books, sprint through films, amble pleasantly through a new music album or a human conversation. I’ve lost them — willingly, mind you. My fault. Got addicted to the empty endorphins of being online.
So I need to dry out, and remind myself of the deeper tides I used to be able to swim in — in pages, and celluloid, and sounds, and people.
Another writer I read some of, before nervously refreshing my Twitter “@” mentions or updating my e-mail Inbox, was Garret Keizer. An essay in Harper’s from 2010. Luckily, Keizer writes the kind of sentences that, even in the all-night casino floor of a world we live in now, can punch through the din like God’s gun. The line that stuck with me was this:
“For fear of becoming dinosaurs we are turned into sheep.”
I don’t want to be either. But whatever options are left? They’re on the other side of the silence bath I’m about to take.
Have a good, safe, fun summer. It’s upon us. Stay cool when it comes down.
Vivian Kane usually feels like Twitter is more a Promethean punishment than Sisyphean, if she’s being honest.