On July 28, 2016 a highly-regarded digital marketer tweeted #balloonlivesmatter during the conclusion of a historic Democratic National Convention. This play on the grassroots movement, #BlackLivesMatter, ignited a series of actions that ultimately ended my time on Twitter.
My daily habit of scrolling was quickly replaced with a one-time check of stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Some would perceive this move as too regressive, especially as an advertising and media professional. However, since opting out of the real-time microblogging platform, my world view did not contract — it actually expanded.
For me, Twitter’s absence over the past month revealed an important distinction: shifts versus trends. Looking back, Twitter felt less like an intimate view of people’s thoughts and more like a vicious evolution of the 24-hour news cycle created by cable news; it was an always-on format where all news is breaking. It became an echo chamber where participants were satisfied to report on patterns in the smoke instead of tracking the root cause of the fire. One of Twitter’s most recognizable features says it all: “now trending.”
For all its noise, Twitter’s penchant for trends is far too simple and random to solve the type of complex and consequential problems more readily addressed by seismic, often slow-moving shifts.