(Originally posted in May 2013.)
I still love Twitter – and I find it useful – but after going back and forth about it, I’ve decided to stop using it.
Now, I’m not doing this to seem more hip than people who use social media. I’m not doing it to position myself in anyway or look down on people who tweet, and I’m not jumping on some bandwagon or trend. Oh no, another old crank who holds his nose at social media. No. This just feels right for me, after tweeting for five years.
It isn’t an easy decision – especially for a writer so heavily involved with media and the web – but it’s one I have to make. It’s too much of a time suck, it’s overwhelming (it never stops), and I realized I don’t have to know every thought that a person has (and I don’t understand why people have to tweet every single thought they have). As I’ve said before I think everyone has some form of ADD now, and Twitter can only make it worse. It’s just another damn thing I have to keep track of.
There are days when I keep clicking the “New Tweets” link over and over and over and over again, which can be time-consuming, considering new tweets show up every four seconds. I keep clicking on the “Connect” button, because I MUST KNOW WHO HAS MENTIONED ME OR RETWEETED ME OR LINKED TO ME, AND I HAVE TO KNOW IT NOW. Let’s get into some stupid argument with someone for no reason! Hey, maybe the new episode of my favorite TV show will be spoiled! And I must be the first to tweet a clever joke based on something someone else just tweeted!
I hate to think about all of the hours I’ve wasted just playing a hashtag game, trying to come up with a clever entry, actually doing a search on Twitter to make sure no one already tweeted it (sometimes people seem to be competing to see who can get info on Twitter first or come up with a clever joke). How did it come to this?
This is a failing on my part. A person can always “just say no” to Twitter when they have to get work done, but these things are so seductive and needed (especially if you’re involved in media and work online all day) that they grab hold of you, and before you know it you realize that you’ve tweeted more words that day than you’ve written. I have to plug my stuff! I have to retweet this! I have to comment on this other tweet so people know my opinions! I have to make sure I don’t miss anything! I have to plug my stuff again! What’s happening now? And right now?
The great thing about Twitter – that there’s always something new and interesting to see – also happens to be what’s bad about it.
Twitter has always been my social networking platform of choice because, well, it’s not really social networking. Not in that Facebook way. It’s news, information and entertainment from various people, my place for breaking news and links to interesting things. It has become something I need, like e-mail or a phone number. But if I’m to be honest – and if a lot of the people on Twitter were to be honest – most of the tweets we send are not only unneccesary, there’s an agenda behind them. If we’re not plugging our stuff, we’re commenting on something that someone else has tweeted, which is really just another way of promoting ourselves.
That’s my theory, anyway: everything we do on Twitter – every link to a story we find interesting, every joke, every favorite, every reply, every favorite, every RT, every CONGRATS! to someone on a birthday or a new job or birth of a baby – is really just a form of self-promotion.
I see so many people on Twitter who will congratulate someone on a new job they got or a new baby, and at first I thought it was nice but then I got to thinking: why not just contact that person directly for something like that, via a DM or an e-mail? Because then the writer wouldn’t be publicly connected to that other person. You wouldn’t get to say, “hey, I mentioned this person’s @ address and we’re corresponding!” It’s a kind of performance, really, and you want your other followers to know that you “know” this person. You ever notice that people will retweet things from certain people and not others, even if it’s the same thing and you did it first? (Say what you will about Facebook, but it’s not as clique-heavy as Twitter is, and people don’t try to impress each other as much as they do on Twitter.)
For a writer, Twitter can be an amazing distraction. I envy the writers who can tweet 10, 20 times a day and still get work done. I’m not one of them. And too many times the past few years I’ve thought, “hey, I should post that on Twitter!” But shouldn’t my first thought be, “hey, I should write about that!?”
Tweeting is not writing. Posting on Facebook isn’t writing either. But they create the powerful illusion that it is. Isn’t it a problem when you are promoting your writing more than actually writing?
I know a lot of great writers on Twitter and they seem to get a lot of writing done while still tweeting. Some writers use it perfectly. That’s great for them. But I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend: writers who have actually given up on their web sites and their blogs because they now use social media exclusively. This strikes me as odd. Sure, reading clever tweets is a gas, but stopping the longform writing on your site so you can post on Twitter and Facebook more? I can’t imagine doing that. I may not read your tweets anymore but rest assured I’m going to keep going to your sites/blogs, if you still have one.
I want people to visit this site and read what I write. Of course, I’m sure that a lot of people won’t come to my site now that I’m gone from Twitter – out of sight, out of mind and all that – and I guess I’ll have to live with that. But it makes me wonder why they were following me in the first place. It’s so easy to “follow” or “Like” someone. Real interest in someone takes a little more work.
A lot of people have told me that I don’t have to quit Twitter, I can just set up my site so that an update will go to Twitter instantly and seamlessly when I post something new. That’s true, I could do that. But one, I don’t want the temptation. I’d still keep tracking it. And two, I don’t want to use my Twitter account to just promote, promote, promote. If I was going to use Twitter, I’d actually want to use it to interact with followers and friends and coworkers (it is called social media, after all) and not just send out automatic tweets asking people to READ THIS! or BUY THIS! (Note: I know several writers who do this and I understand it and there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m just saying it’s not for me.)
I’m sure I’m going to miss it. In fact, I know I will because I quit last fall and rejoined earlier this month because I had severe FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). One thing I’ll miss is seeing all the tweets that pop up during an awards show or big sporting event or a terrible movie. Then again, there’s something to be said about NOT watching TV with one eye on the TV and one eye on your computer. Can’t we just experience things anymore without talking about that experience? (People who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves.)
The plan is to get so used to not doing it anymore that I won’t miss it (though my first thought after I decided to deactivate my account was, “I should tweet that I’m deactivating my account,” which says a lot). Everyone has their own way of navigating the web, of living a life online, and mine will now go back to how I used to do it: bookmarks and RSS and actually going to sites and blogs.
The web was a better place before social media. I’m going to see if you can exist on the web without using Twitter or Facebook. That’s right, I’m not on Facebook either. I borrowed a friend’s password so I could do some research on Facebook recently, and when I logged out the screen had a notice about their mobile app that said, “Heading Out? Stay Connected.” No Facebook, I don’t want to stay connected, BECAUSE I’M HEADING OUT. Why do we have to be “connected” all the time? I’m sure a lot of younger people don’t remember the days when we didn’t carry around our phones, our mail, our televisions 24/7/365. I do, and it was glorious. There’s something to be said about having that separation. I don’t have to know about a celebrity’s death this very second, 99% of all e-mails can wait, and I don’t have to reply to a tweet instantly (if ever). I’m going to enjoy a movie/dinner at a restaurant/play without having to take a pic or post a tweet about it (and don’t get me started on Foursquare…). The web will still be there when I get home, and if you need to get in touch with me, leave a message at the beep (on my landline – I rarely use my cell).
It’s going to be good to get back to not doing things on social media time.