on the danger of twitter

Twitter has been bugging me for some time now. No, not the single-digit uptime. No, not the constant “Down for Updates” notices. No, not the slow unresponsive website and throttled API.

I just realized that Twitter is actually dangerous. Harmful. Damaging.

It has changed the way that I think, but not for the better. I find I am thinking more superficially when I’m active in Twitter. I think in shorter 140 character bursts. With little to no depth.

Now, Twitter is a really amazing environment – it’s been by FAR the most powerful social amplifier I’ve used. I’ve felt closer to the people that I care about online because I’ve been let in to their every day lives, just as they have been let into mine.

Although the things that get posted to Twitter are mostly banal and boring details of every day life, that is one of the things that makes it so addictive. So powerful. It’s not a “content managing system”, nor is it “publishing” – it’s a way to reinforce a personal connection. Every time I read an update by someone that I care about, I think about that person – if only for a second – and my sense of connection is strengthened.

But, I fear that the strengthened social connections are not worth the cost borne in superficial thinking. Being more closely connected is an extremely valuable thing – and Twitter is somehow able to make my connections to people online feel almost tangible, almost real – but not at the cost of shallow thinking.

When I catch myself offline, in the mountains with my family, wondering what people are posting to Twitter, and how I would describe what I’m doing in 140 characters, it’s become damaging. Distracting. Dangerous.

I’m not going to sign off of Twitter. I am going to try to experience it differently. Without the Twitter Tab constantly open and refreshed. Without any Twitter apps on my iPod. I don’t want to lose the sense of connectedness, but I need to repair and restore my ability to think more deeply.

17 thoughts on “on the danger of twitter”

  1. Well articulated. I’m glad you used more than 140 characters. It has been very liberating to be disconnected and to start using my mind for other things. I don’t really blame Twitter for my issues. I used to post as many times a day to hobby discussion boards, with much more response. Before that, it was live BBS’s. I agree on the value of creating the personal connections and sharing the lighthearted banter. I just don’t know how to personally balance it. That’s probably one of the reasons I posted so frequently. I don’t want to evaluate which 140 character piece of my life was more important than another. Since I left, I’ve received a few messages from people telling me more about them. That has just been a treasure to me! I hope I find ways to build stronger connections with these folks now.

  2. Good on you. I hope you and Jen share your insights as you change your engagement. I’ve always spent a significant amount of time offline engaged in focused, concentrated activities (serious reading, writing) and without television… always more than was spent online or even on a computer, which I think has shielded me from some of the potential ill-effects of short-form media.

    My own change of engagement comes for almost completely different reasons, but I feel an empathy with all who are struggling to find the right fit for themselves.

  3. Interesting, at least you didn’t follow Robert Scobles approach in Fast Company Magazine this month …

    I don’t think our relationship with these online tools needs to stay constant. Twitter is evolving and I like having the hum of my internet contacts/friends there in the background. Every so often I will pop up and join in but most of the time it’s not something I need to do. I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm sometimes, be it crows or cricket, it can be a nice outlet. In that sense my tweets are for me, rather than my followers.

    I saw you tweet about being down on twitter, I think it is a danger in superficial thinking, but then one person’s throw away tweet is another’s divine eureka!

  4. My guess is this all relates back to when you “unfollowed” me back in April. Twitter kind of lost its luster for you after that, I bet. Am I right or am I right?

  5. @jen my finger has hovered over the “delete account” button in Twitter several times over the last few months. never had the stones to pull the trigger though…

    @chris the thing that scares me is that although I’ve noticed short term thinking wrt twitter and its ilk, the pattern is rampant throughout our culture. sound bites. flashy news bulletins about which products to buy. who IS the father of anna nicole smith’s orphan baby? yikes.

    @stewart I don’t follow anything scoble writes. he’s nothing more than a loud, boorish attention whore with nothing of interest to add to a conversation. I’ve met him. But, yeah – I agree that what I may describe as superficial may have value. I may write (or read) a throwaway comment that sparks a connection that would have not been made (as easily) otherwise.

    @jennifer busted. I’m going to refollow you in the hopes of regaining some of the twitter luster. sorry, and thanks!

  6. @jennifer HEY! I _have_ been following you on Twitter. You just haven’t been POSTING anything. THAT’s what’s been wrong with Twitter… It’s all your fault.

  7. I don’t follow Scoble either, the book he did with Shel Israel a couple of years back was good though, but now I only follow Israel. Like other things (linkedin for instance that I blogged about recently), there are people that just seem to ‘follow’ everyone and everything – why don’t these people go out and meet some people for real?

    My friendfeed for instance is of interest to me because I am interested in the people who appear in it. Having thousands of twitter friends would introduce a whole layer of mess which wouldn’t work for me. Maybe some simple way of segmenting my feed would be good, other than opening another account, but probably not.

    If the message is “tweet less, blog more” – I like that! The odd tweet here and there is nice to read, but do I really need to know the minutia of people’s everyday lives?

  8. I kind of know what you mean D’Arcy – I started _dreaming_ in Twitter a while back. I think this backwards pressure from online apps to the real world is rather under-researched. Let’s take Flickr as a (good) example. The very act of sharing photos online makes hitherto casual photographers much more active. They begin to think about photos they can take to upload, they join groups (like 366 photos) that encourage them to take particular photos, etc. The online environment has an impact in their real world life.
    And with blogging, I particularly noticed at the start that I often sat in conferences or meetings thinking about the blog post I would write. This was generally good – it made me more reflective.
    Like you, I often think about the witty, pithy Twitter post I would write about something. Maybe, as you suggest, this isn’t always good. But I think it’s a sign of Twitter settling in to my mental repertoire of expression, like blogging.

  9. I have found twitter very useful. People share links and information they have found and I follow what looks interesting and pass it on. While the snipits are short they do connect us. The challenge is in then moving on to something/sometime else to develop the deeper relationships. If you follow someone on twitter and you meet at a conference – you have a connection that can then be developed deeper. You find someone you disagree with – you can move on to a different tool – like a blog to develop those ideas deeper. Twitter is a stepping stone – a tool to be used for one part and certainly not the entire stairs to relationships. On a day to day basis it is fun to connect in a short easy way to share the little pieces of the day. Sometimes those little pieces are what life is really about. They build up to the big pieces.

  10. As all human communication in our developed countries is getting more and more superficially we will all end up in “the matrix”.

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