This is one of my favorite conversations that I’ve had about social media in a very long time. I write a lot—in this newsletter and elsewhere—about Twitter. The focus is disproportionate to how many people use it and is very clearly colored by my own tortured experience on the platform. But I also write about it because I think that what happens on Twitter has a very outsize effect on the people who both make and are the subjects of the news. Still, very often when I’m writing about social media, a lot of its subtle, warping dynamics don’t come through as I’d like. Twitter is reduced to some kind of shorthand—we call it a “hellsite” or something like that. What I love about the following interview is that we talk a bit about what it’s like to have to live on some of these platforms professionally and the less obvious ways that social networks (not just Twitter) shape our behavior. What follows is a very honest discussion about a Very Online existence that is intended not to elicit any sympathy, but to show the ways that many people participate in deeply dysfunctional systems.
Kate Lindsay is my colleague at The Atlantic, where she works on the newsletter team. A keen writer and observer of internet culture, she also co-writes the great newsletter Embedded (which I’ve been a fan of from well before we worked together). We were chatting on Slack one day about her decision to stop scrolling on Twitter and Instagram and spending most of her social-media time on TikTok. We decided to talk about her reasons for leaving the platforms for a short newsletter, and it sprawled out into this long discussion about the internet. As soon as we hung up, I knew I wanted to share the whole thing. So here it is.
Warzel: Let’s get right into it. You write about the internet and social media and yet you’ve left all social media but TikTok. Tell me everything.
Lindsay: This has been a years-long journey that I started around when I started going to therapy. One thing I really needed the therapist to understand was Twitter. It’s [a source of] a lot of my social anxiety, and it was, very unfortunately, a huge part of my life and how I feel about my work. I felt like I couldn't leave it because of my job—that leaving it was committing career suicide. But being on it actively made me feel bad.
The way I was able to get off of it was less about social media and more about changing my attitude toward work. And coming to the—it doesn’t sound revolutionary—conclusion that my happiness is more important than my career. And that having a career that feels impressive doesn’t matter if I’m not enjoying myself. I always knew this but never committed. I’d take a month off Twitter or Instagram, but always thinking I’d come back. I always remember how quiet my brain felt. How nice it was. But then somehow convinced myself this wouldn’t work for me.