Since Alex Gaynor wrote his seminal thinkpiece on the subject, “I Hope Twitter Goes Away”, I’ve been wrestling to define my relationship to this often problematic product.
On the one hand, Twitter has provided me with delightful interactions with human beings who I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet or interact with. If you are the sort of person who likes following people, four suggestions I’d make on that front are Melissa 🔔, Gary Bernhardt, Eevee and Matt Blaze, all of whom have blogs but none of whom I would have discovered without Twitter.
Twitter has also allowed me to reach a larger audience with my writing than I otherwise would have been able to. Lots of people click on links to this blog from Twitter either from following me directly or from a retweet. (Thank you, retweeters, one and all.)
On the other hand, the effect of using Twitter on my productivity is like having a constant, low-grade headache. While Twitter has never been a particularly bad distraction as measured by hours spent on it (I keep metrics on that, and it’s rarely even in the top 10), I feel like consulting Twitter is something I do when I am stuck, or having to think about something hard. “I’ll just check Twitter” is an easy way to “take a break” right at the moment that I ought to be thinking harder, eliminating distractions, mustering my will to focus.
This has been particularly stark for me as I’ve been trying to get some real writing done over the last couple of weeks and have been consistently drawing a blank. Given that I have a deadline coming up on Wednesday and another next Monday, something had to give.
Or, as Joss Whedon put it, when he quit Twitter:
If I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place, and this is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life.
I’m an introvert, and using Twitter is more like being at a gigantic, awkward party all the time than any other online space I’ve ever been in.
There’s an irony here. Mostly what people like that I put on Twitter (and yes, I’ve checked) are announcements that link to other things, accomplishments in other areas, like a blog post, or a feature in Twisted, but using Twitter itself is inimical to completing those things.
I’m loath to abandon the positive aspects of Twitter. Some people also use Twitter as a replacement for RSS, and I don’t want to break the way they choose to pay attention to the stuff that I do. And a few of my friends communicate exclusively through direct messages.
The really “good” thing about Twitter is discovery. It enables you to discover people, content, and, eugh, “brands” that appeal to you. I have discovered things that I enjoy many times. The fundamental problem I am facing, which is a little bit hard to admit to oneself, is that I have discovered enough. I have enough games to play, enough books and articles to read, enough podcasts to listen to, enough movies to watch, enough code to write, enough open source libraries to investigate, that I will be busy for years based on what I already know.
For me, using Twitter’s timeline at this point to “discover” more things is like being at a delicious buffet, being so full I’m nauseous, and stuffing my pockets with shrimp “just in case” I’m hungry “when I get home” - and then, of course, not going home.
Even disregarding my desire to produce useful content, if I just want to enjoy consuming content more deeply, I have to take the time to engage with it properly.
So here’s what I’m doing:
- I am turning on the “anyone can direct message me” feature. We’ll see how that goes; I may have to turn it off again later. As always, I’d prefer you send email (or text me, if it’s time-critical).
- I am unfollowing literally everyone, and will not follow people in the future. Checking my timeline was the main information junk-food I want to avoid.
- Since my timeline, rather than mentions and replies, was my main source of distraction, I’ll continue paying attention to mentions and replies (at least for now; I’ll have to see if that becomes a problem in the absence of a timeline).
- In order to avoid producing such information junk-food myself, I’m going to try to directly tweet less, and put more things into brief blog posts so I have enough room to express them. I won’t say “not at all”, but most of the things that I put on Twitter would really be better as longer, more thoughtful articles.
Please note that there’s nothing prescriptive here. I’m outlining what I’m doing in the hopes that others might recognize similar problems with themselves - if everyone used Twitter this way, there would hardly be a point to the site.
Also, if I’ve unfollowed you, that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what you have to say. I already have a way of keeping in touch with people’s more fully-formed ideas: I use Blogtrottr to deliver relevant blog articles to my email. If I previously followed you and you think I might not be reading your blog already (in most cases I believe I already am), please feel free to drop me a line with an RSS link.