Last week I wound down my Twitter account. It had become a thing I just didn’t want to do anymore, and if there’s an idea that defines me better than any other, it’s don’t do things you don’t want to do. I will find a way to carry on without the real-time breaking news updates, the arguments, and people tweeting that Denzel Washington GIF because they saw a famous person’s name trending and thought they’d died.

I’m not leaving the internet as a whole – cat GIFs aren’t going to watch themselves, after all – but it’s a turning point. The amount of time I spent online is getting smaller, for the first time since I first tried getting online. I was about nine or ten, and my family had a Commodore 64 computer that came with a setup disk for QuantumLink, which, among other things, let users “meet other people, play full-color graphic games, or attend forums hosted by computer experts.” Using a computer to play C64 games with people all over the world? Sure, sign me up! As soon as the self-guided system tour was done, I hit connect and ended up on the load screen, which is as far as I got. Later I figured out why: I had a computer, and I had software, but I did not have a modem.

QuantumLink screen reads: NOW LOADING - PLEASE WAIT

Awkwardness is the theme that runs through my online life. I once tracked down my earliest digital posts, from the all-text Usenet discussion boards. I don’t really understand how human interaction works, and those posts were the proof. I barged in on other people’s conversations, started discussions that weren’t quite on-topic (“who in this indie rock group also likes pro wrestling?”) and invariably failed to read the room. One time I started talking music with another student on my college campus, and we hit it off. She suggested we meet up somewhere to talk about bands. Since I was kind of a hermit at the time, I suggested she come to my dorm room, understanding exactly zero percent how creepy that sounded. She didn’t write back.

Oh, also, I had to explain a lot of times why my name was Brady but my campus email address started with “bradm.” It wasn’t because of a naming convention for student emails, as people sometimes guessed; it was because when I scribbled down my first name on the email application form, the person from the computer office misread the Y as an M. And I didn’t think to ask them to correct it. For two years!

I haven’t been on every social media site, but I’ve gracelessly landed on a lot of them, most often the ones that didn’t pan out. Google Wave? Friendster? SixDegrees? Early adopter right here. Switch away from America Online, the biggest internet company of the 90s, for a dial-up service that shut down six months later? Of course I did. If someone tells you to invest in a startup because I thought it was a good idea, hold onto your money. I tried SecondLife, the virtual reality site, but I couldn’t get my person to do anything but amble around, extremely true to my actual life but not entertaining. I finally got him to hover in the air and logged off forever. For all I know, he’s still up there, 15 years later, wondering when we’ll finally start exploring.

The only site I was ever good at was one I helped set up. In the 2000s I stumbled onto some bulletin board-based simulations of Congress. Every user played as a House member, and they wrote bills and debated them and voted them into law, and every so often ran against each other for president. After playing in a few that ran out of gas, some online friends and I set up a new game with two important new features: along with a virtual Congress, we had a virtual news media and virtual elections. Players who had previously taken principled stands on issues they cared about started angling to appear on our made-up talk shows and pandering to our imaginary voters. It was fascinating how quickly they switched. Some of the players traded virtual politics for the real thing; I heard one of them do an interview last Election Day with the BBC, waiting for results in a key swing state the same way he’d waited for game results in our “election night” AOL chat room years before.

Unfortunately all the ugliness that we see in social media today was in that game, too. The other moderators and I thought we could keep the forum open and generally unmoderated. When people complained that a certain player called them a “treason-loving SOB,” we said, don’t worry, he calls everyone that. But people threatened each other. Threatened to post each other’s personal information. Ganged up on each other. There was really only one woman in this group of several hundred people, and I think it was rough for her. I didn’t get then that she was being bullied, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known what to do about it.

I at least recognize it now, though I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced much of it myself. As a slightly well-known man on the internet, people have not given me a hard time, except for one time they kind of did. A few years ago I came back to work after lunch to an inbox full of breaking news emails about how ABC was canceling the “Roseanne” reboot because the star had tweeted something racist, and I tweeted how I’d gotten three times more breaking news emails about that than about that day’s news story, that the actual death toll from the hurricane in Puerto Rico was dozens of times higher than the official count. It was a throwaway tweet, something I actually thought twice about even sending, because who would even care what I thought about it?

Lin-Manuel Miranda retweet's Brady's tweets which reads: "I've gotten three times as many breaking news emails today about 'Roseanne' getting cancelled than I have about the death toll in Puerto Rico being 70 times higher than we thought"

My throwaway tweet ended up being retweeted tens of thousands of times, and liked hundreds of thousands of times. Lin-Manuel Miranda – yes, of “Hamilton” fame – retweeted it. News organizations quoted it in their stories. And as more people saw my tweet, more people read all kinds of things into it that I hadn’t actually said. My favorite was the person who apologized to me and my fellow Puerto Ricans for the shoddy news coverage. Others said rude things; I called a few of them out directly and they backed off, but my phone was getting physically hot the more I tried to tweet, so I had to just turn it off and do something else.

Which is, essentially, my plan as of this week. I don’t regret having been extremely online for so long. I’ve made friends on social media that have become very close friends in real life, starting all the way back on Usenet. People I knew decades ago have found me online, or I’ve found them, and now we’re happily back in touch. Connecting online this past year has made life a lot less lonely for a lot of us. And Gloria Estefan liked a tweet of mine one time!

Gloria Estefan to Brady: "LOL, xoxo!"

But after close to 30 years of walking further and further into that firehose of posts and tweets and pictures and videos, it’ll be nice to step back a little, pick my spots, aim for something quieter. Calmer. Simpler. Better.

And, hopefully, a lot less awkward.