I joined Twitter in August of this year without a great deal of thought and after long decrying the effect I was sure it had on attention. I did it mostly because there are usually 5-10 times a day when I have a thought or see a link that don’t warrant a full blog post but that I find interesting enough to want to share it with people. I tried Facebook originally but that didn’t really feel like what Facebook is about. Twitter on the other hand seemed to be perfectly designed for that sort of activity. So I joined up and started updating pretty regularly.
For my purposes, Twitter was excellent. A majority of my updates were links to something that seemed interesting enough to share. Other times, I’d have a thought that seemed Twitter worthy and based on the responses I got from people who followed me, about 25% of them actually were. Over the course of my time on Twitter, I updated 373 times or about 4 times a day. I got 159 replies to my updates. I was following 37 people and being followed by 47. I was happy with Twitter and Twitter seemed happy with me.
Unfortunately, there was a darker side. I already have issues with attention and focus. I LOVE anything that gives me a dopamine fix. Twitter was rapidly becoming a dopamine fix. My real writing completely dropped off the map. I wrote 9 posts total in 2 months on my tech blog and this one. Several of the posts on my tech blog were almost Twitter-like in their brevity. I was doing no fiction writing and no journal writing. I began to notice that I was checking Twitter 5-10 times a day, even on days when I left TweetDeck turned off. When I updated and didn’t get a response, there was a distinct mental reaction in that I didn’t get any feedback. This caused me to update more.
My focus at home on projects was nil and I had trouble getting into anything. Whenever I got stuck on something, off I went to check Twitter updates. Twitter taught me that I don’t have the discipline necessary to turn off Twitter when I needed to be working on something else.
On top of all that, I started thinking about what the result was of all this *effort* I was putting into Twitter. There was nothing meaningful going on. In 2 months, I had 1 conversation that could be considered interesting and productive. I produced nothing that I’d want anyone to remember me by, nothing useful to the greater good. The irony of my reasoning for joining Twitter is that even though I was posting things that I found interesting, none of them led to greater, more in-depth conversation or learning. They were just informational junk, no different from the junk mail that I get every day. Things that I thought were interesting were really just information junk mail, even if people voluntarily signed up to get it from me.
None of this is a judgment on Twitter. I actually think it is quite useful as a mini-RSS reader in a way, a tool that someone might use to successfully market or promote a business or a blog. I wish I could use it for that. Twitter did drive my viewing stats up on my tech blog from 1 a day to 9 a day on those days I mentioned a post on Twitter. I just don’t have the ability to compartmentalize Twitter the tool from Twitter the dopamine provider. I don’t want to look back on 12 months of Twitter and wonder why in the hell I didn’t write more in that time period. I want to produce things and that takes focus and attention, something Twitter increasingly was stealing away from me. I have a limited store of attention and the more I divided it hoping to hear that stupid little TweetDeck notification sound, the less I had to pour into something that actually mattered. I really do want more than the pale facsimile of fulfillment.