Friday, July 27, 2018

Thoughts on deleting my Twitter archive

Last week I had about 9000 tweets. Right now, that number is 8.

I'm not a TV star or Hollywood director. I'm not an obvious target for the trolls on either side of our political divide. Nonetheless, the idea that something I might have tweeted in 2009, when I started on Twitter, would lead to punishment in 2018 bothered me, enough that I decided to erase everything.

I'm not the only one doing this; just the least famous. Before I give my own overlong explanation, I'd like to quote a writer I don't know named Cheryl Lynn Eaton, who said everything I actually need to say in a couple of tweets:

Nothing is ever really gone, of course. I'm sure my tweets still exist somewhere and if I was important somebody could find and read them. Because I had to manually delete the first 2500 tweets I ever wrote, I have a good idea of what you're going to see.

I used a website, Tweet Delete, to automatically delete 3200 tweets. It worked twice, but then I couldn't get it or another program to delete the rest. (I also set Tweet Delete to continuously delete my tweets from now on. Now they will be what I originally expected them to be: disposable thoughts.)

12 Monkeys: Best time travel show ever! (so far)
So I spent more than a day reading, and deleting, what I was thinking from 2009 through early 2012. This had extra resonance because I just watched the finale of the magnificent time-travel TV series "12 Monkeys." I was eliminating the timeline; erasing my past self and changing my present.

I was pleased to discover nothing scandalous. As a former newspaper guy, I was always aware that my words could be held against me in the present. There were some tweets I wouldn't send now, but that reflects my 2018 self. In this climate -- we may be living through the end of democracy, and new political systems often have bloody beginnings -- I'm more cautious.

I'm probably not alone and this is a loss for all of us, but maybe it's human nature. Viewed in the context of human history, the times and places where you could say what you think and not get in trouble for it have been tiny. I don't know if "Ignorance is strength," but in 2018 ignorance is certainly power. 

My 2011 self was much different. My 2011 self loved Twitter conversations. I chatted about wine, baseball, politics -- still my favorite topics -- with some people regularly, but also with people out of the blue. I regularly engaged in a very open way with strangers, which I rarely do now, and it was rewarding.

In 2011, the peak era for wine blogs, bloggers were a bitchy lot, and many bloggers who were very active on social media had really constrained views about what a blog could be. This might be why 2011 was the peak era for wine blogs.

I was complaining about Billy Beane's trading record in 2009 ("he's only good in trades involving Dan Haren"), years before the Josh Donaldson fiasco! I was so ahead of the curve.

I tweeted a lot about the Republican primaries in 2012. Obama's birth certificate was a big issue; I suggested that we check Superman's because how were we to be sure he was really born on Krypton? Ah, the good old days.

One thing I didn't remember: I caught a drunk girl in the air at a Drive By Truckers concert in 2011. (People stage-dived at DBT shows?) At the time I suggested I deserved more acclaim than if I had made the play on the hop. I wouldn't send that tweet now. Obviously I'm not ashamed of it because I'm recapping it here, but my blog, while open to the public, is not quite the troll-infested lake of all Twitter users.  

There is plenty of nostalgia in deleting one's own Twitter feed: movies I forgot seeing; great meals whose only lingering impact is on my waistline. If I could splinter back to 2009, I might tell myself to write all the things I was thinking of putting on Twitter in a diary instead, so I would never have to erase it.

I probably didn't have to erase it at all, though I'm glad I did because I feel clean, like I just finished a 10-day fast. These are the times we live in, and I fear the left and right about equally, even as both sides furiously insist that our weaponized tweet campaigns are righteous and theirs cross the line. If I tweeted this, I would get hammered for equalizing threats that are not equal. To tweet in 2018 is to live in a glass house.

(On unequal: Women take much more crap on Twitter than men do. I'm not thick-skinned enough to handle some of the nasty comments that women receive out of the blue. Twitter should do something about it. I'll just hold my breath and wait ...)

The line for what is offensive has shifted so much since 2009. I have always been a snarky guy; maybe some joke that was OK nine years ago wouldn't be OK today, or nine years from today. I didn't find that joke this week, but maybe some troll in 2027 would have.

It's a less sociable world, and we're all worse off for it. 2018 being what it is, even that statement is going to piss off some people. Even writing "piss off" is going to piss off some people. To them, I say in the British sense, "piss off."

(I'm going to have to come back in 2026 and delete that.)

Follow me on my newly clean Twitter timeline: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

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