Leaving Twitter

I was interested to read that my friend Mike Rhode is taking a “Twitter Vacation” following closely, as it does, another friend’s Twitter exit.

Mike explains his need for a Twitter break:

I’ve sensed lately that I need to take a step back. I’ve caught myself constantly checking my Twitter mentions, working very hard to tweet something of value and scanning my live feed in Tweetie for something, anything interesting to read.

Mike goes on to say:

While that’s typical Twitter user behavior, I’ve felt this incessant attraction to scanning random tweets and replies at all times to be distracting my focus from more important things in my life right now.

I can identify with Mike’s feeling of compulsion to check Twitter often, perhaps too often, and for the desire for there to be something new and interesting to read. This reminds me of a talk about Technology and Psychology by Suw Charman-Anderson at FOWA two years ago. Suw described a series of common ‘symptoms’ connected with email which I think many of the audience could identify with; it transpired that there were the psychological symptoms of addiction.

Andrew’s reasons for leaving Twitter share a theme with Mike’s: that of ‘mental bandwidth’ and time. But Andrew also had issues with the content and perceived value of what he saw being Tweeted. In an email he explained:

For me, social media, and Twitter in particular, is becoming a billion banal internal monologues being broadcast to the world. I think there is a serious risk of us all becoming infantilised. We are not talking to others, just ourselves. With a few exceptions, there is no real “conversation” going on.

I was also not sure what I was contributing by talking about what I was “doing”. It started to feel childish and pointless.

I now see Twitter as a waste of valuable processing time in my already cluttered head . I’d rather spend time with real people – thinking, arguing, and just being with them and not worrying if I need more than 140 characters to make a point.

Interesting, and again there are some sentiments with which I can sympathise.

Why I find Mike and Andrew’s thoughts and actions so interesting is that I a phase of wondering about Twitter, and what it means for me. I’ve ditched all other social media sites and accounts. I took particular enjoyment in deleting my Facebook account; now that is a place devoid of conversation and full of banal, superficial rubbish. So that Just leaves Twitter.

I don’t have any problem with what people say on Twitter; if I don’t like it, don’t find it interesting or of value or if somebody tweets too much I’ll unfollow that person. I manage the signal to noise ratio with extreme prejudice.

I’ve just found that the Lists functionality on Twitter allows me to put people into lists without having to follow them. So I can keep my main Twitter feed clear of clutter, but still have easy, occassional access to people that are of interest. I’ve recently found a number of Formula 1 and motor sport journalists and teams that are highly interesting to a petrol head like me. I’ve been able to put them into a motor sport list so I can get my racing fix without having my main Twitter feed full of testing updates from Valencia for example. This facility is transforming how I use Twitter.

The compulsion to check Twitter and the associated time-suck is an issue I can completely identify with. I recently started a new job that is wonderfully busy, and now I really can’t afford the time during the day to check Twitter as much as I used to; my streamlined main Twitter feed and use of lists is going to help me quickly catch up at the beginning and end of the day.

I don’t see myself stopping using Twitter or even taking a break, but instead I’m controlling more carefully when and how I use it. Twitter should be a tool to use how you see fit: be it a news source, a place for conversation with friends, micro-publishing platform or a combination thereof and more.

Most of all I’ve been fortunate to meet and get to know some great people through Twitter. Some I’ve met in person, some our conversation has moved to email and IM, but for many it’s just a Twitterthang and I’d miss that too much to stop.