Deleting 9 Years of Tweets

Friday, June 8, 2018 / 6:12 PM

There's nothing more uncomfortable about realizing you're a product of a digital age when you run into traces of the person you used to be: through abandoned blogs, Facebook's On This Day reminder, or old chat transcripts tucked away in your email you'd forgotten about – all there, documenting your growth (or, sometimes, lack thereof) online and in public.

This Instagram post is now archived, but I posted it with
the caption, "Filing this away for personal reasons."
Throughout high school, I always carried a disposable camera in my backpack. I desperately tried to document everything because I was afraid of forgetting it.

And I was afraid if I forgot those things, that I would somehow lose myself too. Because I didn't exist without those people and those places, those conversations or those moments. Because I wasn't a whole person without someone seeing that I was there.

A few months ago, in a moment of existential crisis, I deleted more than 40,000 tweets that I had sent and retweeted over the past 9 years. If you followed me on Instagram during this time, you may have caught glimpses of this process. What I didn't tell you was why I did it: to remind myself that even though the tangible evidence of a conversation or a moment didn't exist, it didn't mean that thing wasn't real. It didn't mean it didn't happen. And it didn't mean those people and those places were somehow gone. 

It'd be crazy to say that memories never fade, because of course they do. Sometimes I see a photo or someone tells me about a thing we once did together, and I'll be surprised. So I'm not saying that people shouldn't keep photos and tangible evidence of an experience or of a person. I have photos on my walls and messages saved as screenshots on my phone. I have decades of mementos saved. I enjoy a good Tumblr archive browse. 

But I think what I needed to do (as part of grieving, as part of withdrawing from community) was force myself to recognize that losing something isn't a sign of the end of a journey: that saying goodbye to a loved one doesn't erase that person's impact and their presence; that watching friendships and relationships fade doesn't change the experiences and lessons learned; that this feeling of being invisible doesn't mean that what I've created and what I've worked for never mattered. 

That fear of losing myself with faded memories will always be somewhere in my mind, but I think I'm more OK these days with the notion that it's possible to fill your life so full with experiences that you couldn't possibly recall them all, let alone keep them all on the surface for everyone to see. My existence is no longer dependent on my need to prove it.

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