Last week, the British novelist Mark Haddon wrote an essay for the Financial Times about his recent decision to take a break from Twitter. What I liked about this piece is that it unpacked a nuanced back-and-forth thought process about social media.
Many of the narratives surrounding these services stumble toward an extreme: social media ruined democracy! social media is more important than the printing press!
The people I talked to while researching Digital Minimalism, however, tended to report a more conflicted experience. Not unlike a once happy relationship that’s begun to sour, they can easily list things they like about services like Instagram or Facebook, but ultimately, with a shake of the head, they conclude that keeping it in their life is no longer sustainable.
This is the story Haddon tells.
The bulk of his article lists the many novelties and happy swerves of attention that Twitter provided him. But he still felt he needed to walk away. Why? Here’s his pithy explanation:
“I am taking a long break because every tweet had begun to feel like a peep of steam through my whistle — Listen to me! Listen to me! — which reduced the boiler pressure I needed to write another novel.”
And so it is in the real world with many who find their patience wearing thin with social media: it’s nice; it’s sometimes spectacular; but in the end, it has a way of bleeding away the steam of life, one interrupted moment at a time, until you find yourself no longer tackling the harder, analog, striving endeavors that make a good life good.
Speaking of the pros and cons of social media, my friend (and immensely talented filmmaker) Rob Montz recently released a powerful, short documentary on the harm Instagram is causing among teenagers. Take a look.
19 thoughts on “Novelist Mark Haddon Quit Twitter. Not Because It’s Terrible, But Because It Prevents Him From Being Great”
Great, Cal. Just kind of succinctly sum up what you’ve been saying.
I have quit Twitter too and am never going back. However, YouTube has quickly become a dominant social media in my life. I am finding myself sucked into its vortex for long periods of time….
Corey, I had same happen to me. I quit Facebook and Instagram and realized that I quickly found ways to justify letting YouTube fill that void. By paying more attention to how I was using it and how it made me feel overall, I realized in many ways it’s the same or worse than the others. I’ve since gradually used it less as well, opting to try and get books and reading and off-screen activities to fill the void. I think the point is to really try and be present and attentive with any media you’re consuming/platform you’re using and take the time to ask yourself questions about why you’re there and how it makes you feel/respond. Good luck.
Yep. I’ve had the exact same experience.
I make a career out of this anti-attention economy work (CEO of Readup), so I’m super careful about what sites I use and when and why. Plus I’m completely off of all social media and I don’t even have a smartphone. But I do rely on YouTube occasionally for things like how-to videos (for example, to troubleshoot a mechanical malfunction in my 35mm Minolta film camera) and product reviews (some solid mechanics have wise words to say about things like Engine Restorer & lubricant for my Ford F250).
Anyway, even when I go to YouTube with a very specific mission in mind, it’s still a constant battle to avoid the casual, mindless exploration.
Good luck and keep fighting the good fight.
I totally get what Haddon is saying about Twitter steam and pressure and writing novels. Good for him.
I had already left Facebook and Instagram a few months back. Twitter and YouTube have been last on my list because of global concerns, but his article as well as your blog post has served to remind me of all the wasted hours. Ultimately, any solution to our human problems will be local and there is less solution on social media than there is the constant repitition of those problems. On a more personal level it’s been not only a major distraction but an excuse for not creating something of my own. Thank you and to all who have commented.
This is lovely; I too occupy myself with ‘learning’ or other distractions from my own creative/generative work. Being compassionate to myself as I go thru this process has become essential!
I like his explanation – “reduced the boiler pressure I needed to write another novel”. I feel that way sometimes, too. I have noticed that doing less on social media is giving me not only more time but more energy, and that’s HUGE.
When I did some trials to stop social media for long time, I spent huge time on other paltforms like whats app or Quora or blogs,
or addictive time for reading non-prioirty issues.
I think our mind search for another addictive issue.
I’m so fascinated by this perspective, and frankly, a bit envious. Reading Digital Minimalism is next on my book list. I’m slowly reducing my time on FB and spend less time on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram than even before … but cutting them out of my life feels professionally irresponsible since my entire business runs online. Looking forward to reading the book and hope it will help in that arena 🙂
Hi Victoria. I have an online business and over the years I have deleted the social media accounts I created for it on Instagram and Twitter. I also recently permanently deleted my Facebook account, including my page. I think it’s perfectly possible to run an online business without social media. What I like to do is collaborate with other people in my industry and get interviewed. I find that really helps me to get on the right people’s radars. And of course, having a blog and newsletter are essential for getting in front of people. But of course, I did use social media in the early days of online business to get noticed. I’d be interested to hear from people who went without social media from the beginning. I’m sure it’s possible, just that it takes a bit longer to get going.
I quit Twitter in January and do not miss the noise at all. I now spend more time writing blogs and programmes for my coaching clients. Best business move for 2019 #CanDo
Today I found myself thinking ALL DAY about an insensitive, adolescent comment from someone I know on Twitter. She would never say what she tweeted to my face. My opinion of her is forever ruined–and we know and interact with the same professionals in our community. And that’s how these platforms work. There’s no thinking, only reacting, from the basest part of ourselves. So I, too am done with social media. I’m going back to blogs and email lists of people I respect and admire…plus, of course, books. So glad to have stumbled across this post.
Fiction writers are now often told that it’s not enough to write great fiction books, but you need to have a following. This goes both for if you intend to get published through traditional channels (they’re way more likely to follow you if you have an email list/big twitter following), or if you’re going to self publish, and therefore self promote, your own books.
I know Cal himself just publishes this blog and apparently makes no effort to use social media to promote his work. But if you’re not writing based SEO principles (which often comes off as gimmick and reads poorly), how do you even get people looking at your site?
The role of social media in selling books is over-hyped. Email lists actually prove much more powerful. The only way to build an email list, however, is to write things online that people care about, and this can take time (I’ve been blogging since 2007). But even a great email list can, at best, give a nice initial boost.
To be more concrete, the upper end of sales that are generated by a really large email list (think hundreds of thousands of subscribers) hovers around 10,000 – 15,000 copies. This is great, of course, but what it shows is that what makes a book a hit (by which I mean, 100,000+ copies sold), has a lot more to do with the book than the author’s platform.
It’s too easy to get distracted by all the photoshopped, and airbrushed lifestyles on social media. While I haven’t walked away from it all myself, I automated all my content to each platform, so it’s always at arms length. – But I can totally understand why Mark Haddon’s come to this decision.
I have not used Facebook for more than a year, and yes I am still able to do whatever is necessary to do my daily routines, and I guess I’m not totally dependent at all. Self-discipline sometimes keep us on the right track.
What are we doing here when we could be doing more productive things offline?? 🙂 Is posting on blogs just another way of wasting our precious time?
Excellent! Hopefully he can follow up the very weird “The Red House”, with something the rest of us can get our minds around.