The best decision I made around Decision 2018 was, if not avoiding the returns, at least not trying to follow them. I set up a repetitive task to keep my brain and computer-hands semi-occupied, and went about the evening approximately normally. I looked at Twitter at a little less than the usual excessive rate. Never once did I go to the New York Times site, with its minute-by-minute maps and charts and the fucking needle.
The needle! The needle is Donald Trump: it pretends to do a job, it does it badly, and its sole genuine purpose is to grab your attention and make you feel bad, so you keep on giving it more of your attention. After the horrors of 2016, the Times tries to be jokey about Here Comes the Needle Again!, which is the same joke as someone who punched you in the nose two years ago dangling their fist in your face now. Are you ready to see what the fist does this time??
Twitter was like a white-noise machine, blurring out the minute-to-minute agitation while letting an occasional siren or clanging steel plate come through. The worst parts of it were when people imported the actual election content they were consuming into the feed, so there would be some dumb graph saying the Democrats had a [heartening number] chance to win the house, and then someone else would have a dumb graph later saying the Democrats had only a [devastating number] chance.
All the about-to-be-obsolete information was the worst thing to read, even scattered and attenuated. Somebody screenshotted an early microscopic return with Beto O’Rourke leading Ted Cruz—why? Why would you do that to yourself? Yes, everyone’s been anxious for months or probably two full years about the election result, and reading the returns as they happen feels like you’re doing something, but information isn’t knowledge, and knowledge isn’t agency. The rural counties come in late, and you watch the early numbers bleed away and try to mentally counterweight them with the last 3 percent still outstanding from urban precincts and, no, just don’t do that.
Even the secondhand anxiety was too much. The mood about the House count, on Twitter, was like a replay of the hours in 2016 when the Rust Belt began narrowing down on Hillary Clinton’s electoral path: “Not a blowout but still OK” to “Probably still OK” to “It could be still be OK if not too many more things go wrong.” Only this time it did work out OK. Fox News was the first to show up in the feed being cited as saying it was going to be OK (not OK as the hopes and expectations of Fox News went, but OK for the rest of the country). The cynical propagandists laid out the result, while earnest election Twitter was still goggling at number fragments in a panic.
Still, though, nobody should ever, ever watch election results on TV.