I’ve made some life updates and am gradually updating my website to reflect them, so please excuse any messiness.

What I read when I think about using Twitter again

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This is an imperfect and very personal blog post about a specific moment in 2019.


Written March 14, 2022:

This is post is about a specific moment in time. It also might be a commentary on “passion” culture in work and how that can lead to “burnout”. By “passion” culture, I mean culture where there is pressure to be “passionate” about what you do for work. That pressure could come from any number of places and, for me, a lot of it came from seeing what “everyone else” is doing via Twitter.

I “logged out” of Twitter in June of 2020. I continue to log in occasionally to check DMs, but I only post tweets that are shared automatically from my blog. Every six months or so, I feel a strong temptation to “log back in”; to start using Twitter regularly again. I found this blog post in my drafts recently, and it helped me to successfully resist the temptation once again.

Written September 3, 2019:

Ah, this started as an innocent Designgineering Chronicles post – I know you’ve been holding your breath since its been over two months since the last installment. There’s a lot to catch you up on, but you’ll have to hold your breath a bit longer.

Today, though, you’re in for a treat: this is my most personal and most exasperated blog post so far. Buckle up.

Running the 5k From Hell

For the past couple of years, I have sort-of considered myself immune to burnout. I have healthy work habits. For my job, I do not work more hours than the US norm of 40-45 hours per week. When I do “work” on weekends or on off-hours, it’s “me” things like writing blog posts, exploring content for my talk, or researching whatever comes to mind. But that, too, is mostly in moderation – I often don’t open my computer at all on weekends, my social media usage and phone checking is under control, and I never work at night.

Good for you, Lara, right? What’s the problem?

So…I had a bit of a breakdown last week. Well, no, it was a genuine, bona fide breakdown.

On a beautiful Saturday morning, I was at what is pretty much my ideal event: a locally organized 5k race in Pittsburgh, mostly in the woods, free beer afterward, in the company of my mom, dad, and brother. I ran really fast, beating my previous 5k times by about three minutes, even though I almost gave up halfway through. When I crossed the finish line, I was panicking/panting/crying and had a hard time breathing. I went to sit alone in the woods to recover and cry as my family wondered where I went. It was fucking awful. Basically the whole race – well, beginning 12 hours or so before the race, to be honest – my brain had been chanting “it’s too much, Lara, what are you going to do – you are doing too much”.

Time to PUMP THE BRAKES.

This much is too much

Apart from some tough times in college, that was the most I’ve ever lost control, and it was scary and confusing. It definitely didn’t come out of nowhere – in hindsight, there were signs – but it escalated really fast and it was severe.

But, like, why? Like I said before, I do all the right things: I take great care of myself, and I’m extremely fortunate in many regards. I am physically healthy, I have a wonderful job with supportive co-workers, I’m close with my family, I have great friends, and I’m living where I want to live. I definitely do not suffer the stresses that I assume cause this kind of reaction.

It’s pretty simple, though. My brain had it exactly right: I was doing too much. Way too much.

Pre-5k-breakdown, here is how I thought of the things on my plate:

  • Speaking at conferences,
  • Working on a design system at my day job,
  • Keeping up with a couple of very part-time side projects,
  • Training for the NYC marathon.

Maybe that’s a bit more than a usual amount of things to be doing – it’s not so common to speak six conferences in one summer while training for a marathon – but isn’t that what conference speakers do, speak at conferences but still continue their regular lives? Plus, I read somewhere before that a human’s working memory can handle about four things at any given time. My list up there is four things…what’s the problem?

Well, no. That list is way more than four things.

Post-5k-breakdown, I can see this is a more accurate list of what was on my plate:

  • I moved to a new city (Pittsburgh) in May,
  • I took three 7-10 day trips for conferences – two to Europe, one to the west coast – between June and August,
  • I spoke at a conference in Pittsburgh the day after I returned from a 10-day trip (why, Lara, why…),
  • I’ve been running about 30 miles per week for marathon training,
  • I am raising money for a cool charity (donate here!!!!!) and creating thank you monsters for donors,
  • I crossed the one year mark at PMC and had my annual review,
  • I am considering the future of the design system, Larva, and what I need to do to secure it,
  • We kicked off the next big redesign project at work – with fewer resources for design system work than anticipated – but it’ll be fine,
  • I am planning/keeping tabs on upcoming conference travel,
  • I am balancing a full-time job with conference travel,
  • I was feeling guilty for conference travel and wondering if my design systems work is suffering because I’ve been distracted,
  • I planned to catch up with PMC folks, old friends, and new conference friends for a week in NYC between conferences – (I’ll be in travel-mode anyway, why not?),
  • I am working on a collaborative side-project, data collection app for Strange Loop,
  • I am thinking about updates for my talk for Strange Loop,
  • I was feeling sad that I couldn’t hang out more at Abstractions and that I missed so many great talks,
  • I am reviewing PRs and contributing some development for a non-profit’s website,
  • I turned down two invitations to conferences in places I really want to visit but it would be too much time away from work,
  • I am getting more emails than I used to,
  • I am learning/reading about systematic racism.

But that’s not all. Those are only the things I was actually doing, or at least partially doing. There’s a whole suite of other things that were taking up brain space – the things I want to do and, bizarrely, expected myself to be able to do:

  • I want to write an ever-overdue Designgineering Chronicles post,
  • I want to start an email newsletter as an alternative to Twitter for keeping in touch with all the cool people I met at conferences who liked my talk,
  • I want to write blog posts regularly about things I am learning and the interesting thoughts I have since I don’t want to tweet them,
  • I want to write comics and create and share monsters,
  • I want to make a repository of CSS algorithms,
  • I want to open source a CSS testing suite,
  • I want to contribute to CSSWG threads,
  • I want to teach a workshop on writing CSS algorithms,
  • I want to to try out an idea for testing patterns in the design system,
  • I want to document the design system,
  • I want to write more tests for CSS algorithms in the system
  • I want to finish the blog series on testing CSS algorithms
  • I want to write posts for CSS-Tricks and other publications,
  • I want to finish writing blog posts for my talk,
  • I want to write a book,
  • I want to learn more about programming languages,
  • I want to experiment with the Tessel 2 that I got from a very cool Nodebots workshop at JSConf,
  • I want to start making art and doing game design again,
  • I want to start an “Anti-racism Conversation Group” in my neighborhood,
  • I want to do get involved with local politics and community organizations,
  • I want to figure out a system for reading the news that isn’t too overwhelming or biased but will keep me up to date so I can spot interesting trends,
  • I want to volunteer at the library,
  • I want to volunteer with TEALS,
  • I want to start a Write/Speak/Code chater in Pittsburgh,
  • I want to start a Design Systems meetup chapter in Pittsburgh,
  • I want to help re-start the Refresh meetup in Pittsburgh,
  • I want to go on dates and make new friends.

Where did all of this come from?? Nobody can do all of these things!!! Obviously, I had a breakdown! Now is where my tone in this post becomes exasperated.

So, knowing that this is OF COURSE TOO MANY THINGS and that “speaking at conferences” is WAY more than one thing, I still hear this back and forth in my mind:

Critical Voice: “But, Lara, other people do this much stuff, why can’t you….?”

Me: “Okay…um…WHAT OTHER PEOPLE?!!”

Critical Voice: “Well, people like {PERSON I FOLLOW ON TWITTER #1}, {PERSON I FOLLOW ON TWITTER #2}, {PERSON I FOLLOW ON TWITTER #3}, {PERSON I FOLLOW ON TWITTER #4}, {PERSON I FOLLOW ON TWITTER #5}, of course! And some of them even have kids and do all of this stuff! Don’t you look up to them? Don’t you want to be like them?”

Me: “Oh damn…you’re right…they do do all of these things! I do want to be like them! Okay, time to get my Notist profile together and apply to speak at more conferences and make some to-do index cards and prioritize some of these blog posts and block out some calendar time this weekend and in the early mornings next week so I actually do the stuff and maybe finally write an article about CSS algorithms for another website!!”

Oh my GOD!!! This is actually the conversation that happens in my brain! I would actually write down these things on index cards and block out calendar time, and I never even noticed that this is an absurd amount of things to try to do. What is happening??!!!

I will tell you.

Twitter

Yes, TWITTER IS THE FUCKING PROBLEM.

When I look at Twitter – for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 20 minutes, doesn’t matter – I see the cumulation of {PERSONS I FOLLOW ON TWITTER 1-5+}’s accomplishments, complaints, thoughts, contributions, musings, open source projects, shares, projects, family happenings, everything, and because I am a human and I can’t keep track of who exactly did/said what/when, every time I think “Wow, look at what EVERYONE ELSE is doing, all of these interesting things they are saying, and all of these questions they are asking”. I assign the activity of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals – which is more than the people I actually follow because…algorithms – to the singular bucket of EVERYONE ELSE.

Yes, me, the person who “doesn’t use social media that much”. The person who has literally turned off ALL notifications on her phone, checks Twitter 1-3 times per week, and spends less than 5 minutes per session looking at her feed.

Yes, me, the person who spent probably hours writing a style-sheet for Twitter in Firefox – using aria-label selectors because Twitter has hashed CSS class names – to make the UI less addictive with a few filters and strategically placed display: nones. But also, me, who ends up opening Twitter in Chrome now because the new Twitter UI became really janky with the custom styles and who has time to debug that, and if I’m going to read Twitter I should share and interact, right, otherwise I’m just mindlessly consuming information, and I really need to stay in touch with all of the people that liked my talk at the conferences this summer plus it’s a good way to keep up to date on new things and trends and the pulse, and, oh, awwwee, look what this person tweeted about my talk, that’s so nice, and I really have found valuable things and made valuable connections on Twitter in the past and I will again…

And then I force myself to close the browser window before acting on any of that.

I really thought I beat Twitter.

I thought I had it under control, that in minimizing my activity and strictly monitoring my feed-scrolling that it wouldn’t affect me. Wrong, again. I think that’s made it worse. I think the less I use social media, the more I am affected by its harmful and addictive properties. It’s like, when I used it regularly, I had built up some kind of tolerance and now I don’t have that tolerance, so I feel it more…

YES, JUST LIKE AN ADDICTIVE DRUG.

It’s not a secret that social media is addictive, and its not breaking news, and the consequences (that I know of) cannot really be compared those of the kind of addictive drugs I am thinking of.

But, just like with burnout, I thought I was somehow immune to it. I did all the things you are supposed to do to control social media. I read Digital Minimalism and the Organized Mind and have How to Do Nothing on deck. I uninstalled the apps and silenced all the crap…and still…there I was last weekend, sobbing on a stump during what should have been one of the better mornings of my summer.

Logging Out

It’s possible this is an attribution error. I trend on the overly-optimistic side when it comes to estimating, in general, so you could say that I should just learn from my estimation mistakes and make better choices in the future. Yes, thank you, I will do that.

But I know myself, and based on what I’ve read, and what I’ve observed in my own behavior, there is something supremely FUCKED about what Twitter does to me.

So, whatcha gonna do, Lara? Great question.

A follower count is a form of social currency, and I have absolutely enjoyed and benefited from connections, conversations, and content that originated on Twitter. But at what cost? I can’t think of a good enough reason to keep my account other than that I am not brave enough to delete it.

So, for now, I will log out.