Parking Twitter

Last week, on Thanksgiving Eve, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. I haven't quit the service, but for the time being, I'm restricting myself to desktop and browser access. So far, so good.

A number of considerations went into the decision. One that's been on my mind a lot lately is the ease with which Twitter lends itself to tuning out your immediate surroundings — including people just trying to engage with you. The bite-size scale of any one tweet makes it relatively guilt-free, but because they arrive in a continuous stream, it's easy to accumulate time, building up a debt of inattention.

All the same, I might have held on a bit longer with the mobile app had Twitter not helped the decision along. For whatever reason, mobile has been the company's platform of choice for rolling out changes to the basic service. So while the timeline that rolls through the desktop app is recognizably the one I meant to build, the same list of followed accounts produces a notably different timeline when I would check it on my phone. I've always regarded the occasional ad as a reasonable price to pay for an otherwise free service, but lately ads have made up only a fraction of the material the phone app inserts into my stream. More frequently, the algorithm was interjecting non-promoted tweets for no explicable reason other than that someone I follow had at some point clicked the like icon. As a result, my mobile feed was increasingly overtaken by unsolicited material, sometimes days old, that either wasn't really relevant to my interests, or I had already seen organically. That junked up timeline had persistently lowered the return on investment I was getting from Twitter, where the return is broadly defined as interest, and the principle investment is time.

There are still times when it's nice to have a ready diversion available on my phone. Twitter can be genuinely useful in that regard, but deleting the app let me put additional steps back in the way of casual mobile use, putting temptation farther out of reach. For now, I'm filling the genuinely idle moments with longer format writing — articles and blogs and such — that I've saved to a bookmarking service or subscribed to via RSS. Because they demand more time and attention, I'm less prone to pick them up at inappropriate moments, and on the whole, I'm finding them more rewarding.