One day back when Michael Arrington and I were on speaking terms — three years ago, maybe — he called me to ask for advice on how to handle some fight in which he’d become embroiled.
I can’t remember the details of the fight — he was embroiled in a lot of fights in those days — only that lots of people were yelling at him on social media and he wanted to make them stop. I do remember that I was in the bakery aisle of Whole Foods in Las Vegas when he called, trying for the life of me to find marshmallows. The life of a recovering alcoholic, living in Sin City.
Pacing the aisle, looking for those fucking marshmallows, I shared with Mike my best advice for weathering social media storms.
Social media — Twitter in particular — can be a very noisy room. Imagine a sports bar on game night, but where instead of yelling at the TV screens, everyone is yelling at you. Now imagine, rather than yelling back, you simply walk towards the exit, and step out of the room. As you step out into the night and the door swings shut behind you, the din instantly falls silent.
The funny thing about Twitter fights, or social media storms in general, is that they almost never follow you out of the room. They rarely make the leap from your Twitter steam to your email inbox and, if you choose your friends correctly, they never cross over into real life.
My advice to Mike: Just step out of the room. Appreciate the silence and realise how unimportant a bunch of angry tweets really are. What seems like the worst thing imaginable from inside the room will go silent the moment you step outside. I don’t remember if Mike took my advice that day, or if he kept slugging away. What I do know is that after he was fired from TechCrunch he retreated to an island somewhere near Seattle and started talking about opening a dog sanctuary. Then again, last I heard he was making public appearances in support of Rand Paul, so maybe he likes it in the room.
When Pando bought NSFWCORP, the Guardian wrote that my “Twitter spats are legendary.” But I never really enjoyed being in the room. Moving to Las Vegas was one way I tried to step out of the room — to get away from San Francisco after Mike was fired, Sarah had her job stolen by Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch imploded and I very publicly resigned. In Vegas, no one gave a shit about TechCrunch, or Arianna Huffington, or Tim Armstrong or anything else besides. All I had to do when things got too loud online was switch off my phone, get in the battered old NSFWCORP car and drive out into the desert listening to Top 40 country music on 102.7, The Coyote.
Since moving back to San Francisco, I don’t have the ready pleasure of a desert escape route, and the only way to hear the Coyote is via Sonos. And when I joined Pando, and psychopathic organizations — Uber, Tor and all points between — began threatening and smearing my colleagues — the “spats” got louder, and more frequent.
Until, three months ago, without saying goodbye, I stepped out of the room. Suspended my Twitter account and swapped my smartphone for a refurbished LG flip phone I bought on Amazon (I rarely ever used Twitter on my desktop, it was always on my phone while waiting for a meeting to start, or while walking down the street). Now, even if I wanted to Tweet, I couldn’t. I have literally no idea if anyone even noticed my departure. I was tempted to search for mentions of my old handle, just for this article, but it’s too easy to get trapped back in the room.
Well, it’s not quite true that I don’t know if anyone noticed my leaving. The reason I’m mentioning this now is because people keep asking my friends and colleagues whether my disappearance was a result of some kind of investor intervention (which would be pretty delightful), or a breakdown or relapse or murder. Just enough of them for those friends and colleagues to find it annoying. Apparently, it’s not possible that someone would just become tired of the noise.
I’m also mentioning it because I’ve realised it’s so much nicer outside the room than it is inside. I quit Twitter for a few months back in 2007 because I was trying to focus on writing things longer than 140 characters, but I was soon itching to return. Not this time. Given Twitter’s current problems, that might be something for them to think about: What does it mean when someone who previously spent so much time engaging with the company’s product feels so much better after quitting — much like others say about nicotine or caffeine or Whole Foods marshmallows? Perhaps nothing.
This, however, I do know. When the noise gets too loud, the right advice is always to step out of the room.