A Social Media Conundrum

Back in March, I think it was, I quit social media for a while. It wasn’t planned, but instead the result of getting pulled away from Twitter for a week, and then realizing I didn’t much miss it and seemed to be a good deal happier besides. But eventually my resolve slipped and I got pulled back in. Though maybe “pulled” isn’t the right way to think about it, because it’s not like I was compelled to read tweets and write tweets again. Rather, the low effort reading and the instant gratification Twitter offers proved more addictively powerful than the mental health benefits of avoiding both.

That said, I want to quit again. Twitter has its value, which I don’t want to dismiss. If I leave it, there are parts I’ll miss. (Facebook is another matter. I haven’t used it regularly in quite some time, and don’t particularly feel any draw to change that.) But I recognize how unhappy it often makes me. How it presents a version of the world that’s agitating and enraging, or at least kind of disappointing. This is made worse by the fact that, given what I write about and the people I follow, so much of my Twitter experience is political. And political Twitter is a godawful place.

So quitting seems obvious. Not being there makes me happier, and gives me more time to do productive stuff, too. But… My job is to be a communicator of ideas. Twitter is a great way to do that, and to reach a lot of people. It’s also a way to do it that plays well to a writer’s laziness. I can make a point in 280 characters and have it out to the world in a fraction of the time, and with a fraction of the effort, it takes to make that same point in 500 or a 1,000 words and post it on a blog or submit it to a publication.

That in part why I’ve hung around for as long as I have after the last time I quit. Except I’m less convinced that the trade-off is worth it. I’m less convinced the value I create for people on Twitter is greater than the value I could create by putting that communication energy elsewhere. And that of course doesn’t even factor in whatever productive boost I might get from not being agitated or angry at the world as much.

So, yeah, I’m going to try this quitting thing again. I’ll keep my Twitter account active, but I’ll use it mainly to share links to my stuff elsewhere, whether new blog posts, essays, podcasts, or issues of this email newsletter. Speaking of the newsletter, I want to try, if I can maintain the discipline needed, to make it both more regular (something I’ve committed myself to times before without, I admit, consistent success) and turn it into a home for the kind of running commentary and pointers to interesting things I’ve been using social media for.

At least that’s the plan. My will’s failed before. Fingers crossed I can do better this time.

What I’m Reading

As usual, I’m reading multiple things at once and bouncing between them. On the fiction side, that means, first, The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. This is another in the Martin Beck police procedurals series from the 1960s. I adore these books. They epitomize a kind of melancholy crime fiction that just works so well. Written by a husband and wife team of a journalist and a poet, they read exactly like the best version of that combination. The books feel realistic, and the characters are convincing, while the prose is spare in really evocative way. They’re pretty good mysteries, too.

Next is another crime novel, One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. This is the second in the Jackson Brodie series. Atkinson is a stunningly good prose stylist, and she consistently creates some of the most compelling characters I’ve found in literature. These books aren’t tight in the way most of the crime novels I read are. They’re full of tangential stuff, but that stuff is wonderful. The first in the series, Case Histories, was the best mystery novel I’d read in years. The second book isn’t letting me down.

Finally, James Ellroy. I’m going slow with This Storm, his new book, and the second in the second L.A. Quartet. The first L.A. Quartet (The Black DahliaThe Big NowhereL.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) are easily the greatest crime novels ever written, and Ellroy is the best living writer in America. These new books are everything that makes Ellroy wonderful dialed to 11. Which means they’re something of an acquired taste, and not at all where I’d recommend you start if you’ve never read him before. Pick up the first L.A. Quartet for that.

I’m reading some non-fiction, too, both on Buddhism. Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters by Traleg Kyabgon, is proving a helpful and philosophically astute overview of what’s always been one of the most difficult Buddhist concepts. “Karma” isn’t predetermination or some kind of celestial balancing. It doesn’t mean what pop culture takes it to mean. Rather, it’s a sophisticated theory of action and causation. This book is clarifying quite a lot of my confusions. Second, All Is Change: The Two-Thousand Year Journey of Buddhism to the West by Lawrence Sutin. This is a history of Buddhism’s interactions with the Europe and the United States, beginning with the Ancient Greeks and continuing to the modern mindfulness boom. I’m learning a ton from it.

What I’m Watching

Amazon’s The Boys is very good. After decades of Marvel movies and everything superhero, I’m kind of burned out on the genre, and this was a palate cleanser for super heroics. It’s also maybe the most realistic depiction of what super heroes would really be like and the impact they’d have on the world that I’ve seen. It’s grim and cynical and nasty and a hell of a lot of fun.

What I’m Writing

I’ve finally written about Buddhist for Libertarianism.org, with two essays about Buddhist ethics and political liberty. The first defends the claim that taking core Buddhist ethical principles seriously means rejecting much, if not all, of what government does. The second address some counter-arguments made to the firston Buddhist message boards and on Twitter.

I also spent a fair amount of time researching the underlying ideology of “National Conservatism,” a new movement that seeks to add philosophical heft to Trumpism and thus keep Trumpism going after Trump leaves the scene. While I think the National Conservatives are fundamentally mistaken about quite a lot, I’ve found them considerably more interesting to read than I expected. In other words, they’re wrong for intriguing reasons. I blogged about this over at Cato in the context of Senator Josh Hawley’s speech at the inaugural National Conservatism conference, setting out what he gets wrong about American identity. And this weekend I expended on my critique in an episode of the Cato Daily Podcast.

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