I missed social media, so I’m using it again

In June 2023, I published a piece entitled Why I’m quitting social media after a prolonged, complicated relationship with the medium. I then deleted or deactivated every social media account I owned – from Instagram and Twitter to Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. The time had come for radical change, and I thought it would be permanent.

However, without social media, the ensuing eight months have been a rollercoaster. Yes, I have experienced periods of sweet relief and catharsis, but a persistent sense of loss has also lingered. I missed having a place to share pithy, inconsequential thoughts in a frictionless manner. I missed vocalising transient flotsam: bite-sized nuggets of trivial contemplation. I missed microblogging in its purest form – a rare admission among those who delete these apps.

More than anything, though, I missed Baseball Twitter – that weird and wonderful cauldron of hot takes and breaking news. As a diehard baseball fan who lives in the UK, an ocean adrift of the action, social media once served as a vital lifeline for me to stay informed. I could not ride a train to Fenway Park on a whim, or discuss the enduring brilliance of Clayton Kershaw with colleagues at the office watercooler, but I could follow updates from Ken Rosenthal, Jeff Passan and Jared Carrabis in real-time. I could interact with a host of baseball news-breakers and tastemakers online. I could feel part of the game I love, despite residing 3,000 miles from its epicentre.

Quitting social media severed that lifeline, somewhat myopically, and I felt lost without a steady source of baseball content. I tried to browse websites in a throwback fashion while publishing verbose opinion pieces here, but the lack of immediacy left me unfulfilled. I could not keep up with the relentless news cycle. As one example, take the October retirement of legendary manager Terry Francona. By the time I sat down to write a tribute to Tito – after wrangling dishes, laundry and other banal accoutrements of everyday life – his announcement was old news. In turn, my views were of questionable relevance and utility. So questionable, in fact, that I never got round to typing them, as the moment seeped away. 

Overall, I struggled with the ephemerality of thoughts, opinions and their timely transmission. As a writer, I’m often caught between a grim nihilistic disillusionment and an obsessive yearning to catalogue minutiae for purposes of stilted vanity rooted in delusions of relevance. Without social media as an impulsive outlet, a gap emerged in my creative process, and the following quandaries busied my mind:

  • Do private thoughts need a public footprint?
  • If personal journals exist, why do we maintain public (micro)blogs – mere egotism?
  • What separates a thought from an opinion, and an opinion from something worthy of publication?
  • Can writers be interested in things and not write about them?
  • What is the point of online writing? Is it essentially pointless?
  • Are we all guilty of taking the internet far too seriously? Was it always supposed to be the irreverent, anarchic playground of Jonah Peretti types – not a medium that could spark civil war?
  • Does any of this matter – and, if so, to whom, and how, and why?

Ultimately, and painfully, I realised objectively correct answers to these questions will never materialise. The itch will never go away. Things will always happen that I want to share an opinion about, but which are too trivial or fast-moving to warrant a standalone piece (and the stress entailed in its creation) of more than, say, 200 words. There will always be flotsam in need of unimportant expression.

Acquiescing, I tried to devise convoluted systems for capturing my incessant thoughts and releasing them promptly without social media. Hence my brief experimentation with Notes + Scribbles, a short-lived series of ‘assorted thoughts, flotsam, observations and tidbits in a stream of consciousness format, grouped under logical – if eclectic – subheadings.’ Hence failed experiments with clunky chyron apps and handwritten notebooks. Hence countless hours of stress and torment. I could not see the wood for the trees, and avoiding the simple solution – returning to social media – created an incessant background malaise that quickly wore me down. 

I often thought about simply returning to social media, but the way I announced my departure – stupidly ceremonial, in retrospect – made such a U-turn feel dumb. Moreover, many of my original concerns about social media remained valid. I soured on the medium due to its perceived reliance on negativity and outrage for sustenance. I grew tired of an ecosystem where 5,000-word essays were destroyed by five-word takedowns, and the deluge of polarisation – via misinformation, disinformation and cancel culture – felt relentless. 

Gradually, though, I realised the senseless futility of my enforced deprivation. Those macro problems belonged to mainstream social media, I realised. By contrast, niche social media – platforms used by likeminded people to share innocent enthusiasm for anodyne interests – was alive and well. In my world, broadscale social media – poisoned by political extremism – seemed off-putting, but bespoke social media – focused exclusive on baseball, say – had exciting potential. I slowly became agnostic to, then supportive of, this concept of modified social media. I stopped getting in my own way and let technological expedience ease the strain. The hunt for beneficial apps took me right back to the start, and that is where my new journey will begin.

Introducing @RyanFergusonMLB on X

For all the hysteria and hyperbole surrounding Elon Musk’s controversial takeover, the platform formerly known as Twitter – now X – remains the undisputed king of real-time sports news, views and discourse. Sure, Musk has done some pretty lamentable things with X – from botching blue badge verification to throttling outbound traffic – but the network has proven to be remarkably resilient. In fact, among niche sports communities, X has remained deeply entrenched – a go-to tool for instantaneous information – and supposed alternatives have barely registered on the radar.

Look no further than Super Bowl LVII earlier this month. X reported a 41% rise, year-on-year, in posts during the big game. Overall impressions were up by nearly a third; more than 1.1 billion video views were recorded; and 77% of brands that advertised on-air during the Super Bowl shared their campaigns on X. To sports fans, then, rumours of Twitter’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. X remains a central hub of sports fandom, and only a cataclysmic meltdown will make that change.

Drilling deeper, baseball remains especially reliant on X as a consensus forum for pertinent commentary and breaking news. Yes, Shohei Ohtani announced his own free agent signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers via Instagram in December, but hot stove speculation has otherwise played out on X – just as it has for the past 15 years. When Rosenthal or Passan have fresh information, X is still the first place they post it – even ahead of The Athletic and ESPN, the publications that pay their wages! Partly, that may be habitual. Partly, it may be network effects. But combined, Rosenthal and Passan have 2.5 million followers on X. By contrast, on Threads, the so-called ‘Twitter killer’ launched by Meta in July 2023, their joint tally is around 51,000. That discrepancy is monumental.

Another example affirms the omnipotence of Baseball Twitter. On Monday, Jon Heyman reported – via X and Threads simultaneously – that Brandon Woodruff had returned to the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-year contract. Though woefully unscientific, I monitored the performance of his two Woodruff posts over the next 24 hours, keen to compare engagement. On X, Heyman received 3,400 likes, 933 reposts and 116 replies in that span. On Threads? Just 26 likes and two replies. That feels insurmountable.

And so, as a baseball obsessive in need of a platform to post innocuous flotsam in an effortless fashion, X remains the obvious choice. The best choice, indeed, because that is where the majority of likeminded baseball fans continue to share their opinions. Therefore, I’m excited to introduce a baseball-exclusive X profile – @RyanFergusonMLB – to my loyal readers. This will be the new home for my pithy baseball thoughts and random hardball arcana – an efficient conduit to the game I love despite residing on another continent. 

I could have just resurrected my old X account, which still has more than 1,600 followers, but many of those connections would not recognise the person I am today. Indeed, by the end of my initial stint on Twitter, I felt somewhat typecast as a content creator. Though I cherished their support, most of those Twitter followers knew me as the rabid Tranmere Rovers fan who blogged obsessively about lower league football throughout the 2010s. But in reality, my relationship with football mellowed considerably after Tranmere won back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019, fulfilling lifelong aspirations. Rovers’ scandalous demotion in 2020 opened my eyes to the rampant corruption of modern football, and the growing chasm between rich clubs and poor clubs doused my fandom in apathy.

I still love Tranmere Rovers. The club is in my blood. But I no longer feel a burning urge to pontificate on the minutiae of club operations. I just enjoy attending matches with my dad and brother without broadcasting opinions in a prescribed format. Occasionally, the muse visits and I write something about Tranmere from the heart, on my own terms – such as this column on Nigel Adkins’ transformation project – but the days of pre-planned Planet Prentonia content are long gone.

In contrast, my passion for baseball has grown exponentially. I have followed the sport for 20 years, but the depth of my love for it has accelerated in the past five or six seasons. The miracle of regular MLB games in London has stirred that mounting preoccupation, and baseball now captivates my mind far more regularly – and intensely – than football. Baseball is by far my favourite sport, but few people seem to know that.

As such, returning to my old X persona felt clunky and misaligned. Inauthentic, even. Perhaps 90% of those existing followers associate me with things – Tranmere thoughts, ideas, content and articles – I no longer deliver regularly. Therefore, sharing ad hoc baseball flotsam via that account would be akin to reading romantic poetry onstage at a Liam Gallagher gig, or casting Sylvester Stallone in a cute chick flick. Nobody would get it, and nobody would care. Boos and jeers would quickly ensue, followed by a mass exodus of perplexed onlookers. Hence @RyanFergusonMLB on X – the easiest, quickest way to satisfy my perpetual cravings. It just makes sense.

I’m also on Threads and WhatsApp Channels (for now)

As outlined above, Threads feels like an abandoned high-end shopping mall, but there is something perpetually intriguing about it, nevertheless. I played around with the app when it first launched, using an anonymous burner account, and found the sleek interface to be very appealing. The conspicuous lack of original content made me feel lost in a pristine labyrinth, but powered by its Instagram integration, Threads probably has the best chance of winning the Twitter clone wars – if such wars still exists.

At this point, I do not think X will ever be dethroned as the microblogging king, except if Elon wakes up one morning and decides to torpedo the entire operation. However, he is Elon, a tempestuous and impulsive breaker-of-things, so that cannot be ruled out. Therefore, having an effective fallback option seems prudent, and Threads is the best of the rest – ahead of Bluesky, Mastodon, Truth Social and Substack Notes – so I have also made an account there to experiment over the next few weeks. Threads has huge potential to fizzle out, if it has not already, and mine may soon join a whole heap of dormant accounts, but I’m feeling creative, so why not give it a chance?

Similarly, I have also created a WhatsApp channel for my writing. Launched globally in September, WhatsApp Channels are one-way broadcasting platforms that can be used to share texts, photos and links with followers. Replies are disabled, so it is not a group or community, per se, but there is potentially an interesting use case for writers who want to promote links to new articles in a direct style redolent of SMS. You can follow my WhatsApp channel here, and forthcoming updates will appear in your app (notifications optional).

How I will use social media moving forward

Do not fret, though. Introducing three new social media channels feels kinda seismic, especially for somebody who previously quit the genre entirely. I feel good about these changes, though. They are careful, considered and strategic. They will not derail my creativity, nor will they become major focuses of my attention.

I will still write every day and regularly publish longform pieces on this website. Writing is my greatest passion, and sharing quirky, forgotten and under-told stories here will always be my favourite hobby. I cannot turn off that tap, and nothing will change in terms of your ryanferguson.co.uk experience, save for a social media page offering further details.

My social media output – spontaneous and irreverent – will complement my longform writing, not replace it. @RyanFergusonMLB on X will be my go-to tool for rattling off quick, disposable thoughts on baseball, while Threads will serve the same purpose for non-baseball topics – from coffee and football to technology and travel. Anything that piques my interest on the go will be posted to social media. Anything that can be classified as real-time reaction. Anything that does not lend itself to longer, more structured articulation.

I will post links to new published work via X, Threads and WhatsApp, and I should hopefully be more visible to those who share my interests. I have no delusions of grandeur, and I would sooner gouge out my eyes with a rusty fork than become a spammy ‘influencer,’ but just having an expedient way to reach out and communicate with people will be incredibly useful. I previously made life too hard for myself, and these tools help rectify that. 

In short, I will use social media as it was originally intended, back before money muddied the waters and venture capital corrupted minds. For as much as Silicon Valley mission statements are cringeworthy hokum obscuring crass profit motives – Meta: ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’ – they contain a kernel of truth. These companies do give people tools to easily connect across myriad borders, and we often lose sight of how great that is.

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