Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.
-Boethius (paraphrased), ca. 524 A.D.
It would have made a good tweet:
Life’s to short for Twitter.
It’s pithy, it’s short enough for easy re-tweeting, and, best of all in the mirror-world of Twitter, it would be oh so ironic to post this, well, on Twitter.
But my (strangely still growing) list of followers won’t see this kind of update from me. Or any update, for that matter.
Because I quit.
About six months ago, I quietly stopped posting new tweets1 and more importantly, reading the stream of everyone else’s updates. In a time where it seems to have become consensus that “you just have to be on [insert popular social network] to know what’s going on”, I’m opting out. I’ve always been highly suspicious of what everyone does, and my first instinct is usually to do the exact opposite. In German, we call this Widerspruchsgeist.
Here’s why I haven’t looked back since:
This is the most obvious variable. There are only so many hours in a day, and once you deduct work, household responsibilities, and sleep, not too many are left for fun stuff.
I love reading but it would take me many weeks to finish even a short book. Exercise is what keeps me sane but I would find time for it once or twice a week. I want to study and learn more about my field to advance my career, but doing so late at night, I would last all of 15 minutes before starting to fade. Most of all, I love sharing a glass of red wine and good conversation with my husband or with friends. Guess how that ranked on the priority list of a busy day.
So, very simply, I needed to eliminate low-value activities from my day. And while there still don’t seem to be enough hours in a day, the things I care about are getting a lot more attention now that “social networking” is out of my life.
The internet is full of interesting things. Truly. And when I was using Twitter, I’d come across many worthwhile articles, discussions, or inspirations thanks to recommendations from others. Exposure to a broad variety of interestingness is one of the biggest benefits of social media.
But for me, that also comes with a major downside, and that is lack of focus. There’s always something shinier, newer, and even more noteworthy behind the next link, in the more recent update. When I’d have a short break between tasks, it was tempting and easy to check what’s new on the internet rather than talking to a real person. And even though I followed people who mostly talked about things I actually cared about, the firehose of information was just relentless.
It’s common knowledge by now that multitasking is a myth and that we do better when we concentrate on one thing at a time. Getting into a flow state has never been one of my strengths, but I’m working on it. Removing interruptions, no matter how small, has been helpful in retaining or regaining focus on what’s in front of me. And I certainly haven’t run out of interesting things to discover.
That one is the most abstract. “Meaning” may not be the right term, what I’m trying to describe is the desire to experience life directly, without a filter, and without looking at everything as a potential source for a clever tweet.
When I’ve cooked a fantastic dinner, I can sit down and enjoy the smell, colours and taste, without wondering if I should first post a picture of it to my followers. When I attend a presentation or conference, I take useful notes and contribute to conversations rather than trying to be the first to tweet catchy quotes. When I read something exciting, annoying, or otherwise thought-provoking, I look forward to discussing it in person, rather than posting a 140-character comment. And so on.
There’s also a second dimension. When I catch up with someone I haven’t talked to in a few weeks, I don’t already know everything they’ve been up to. When they tell me about something that’s been important in their lives recently, the conversation doesn’t feel like a repeat of what’s been on the Twitter stream. It’s simply more fun to discover what matters to others with them than to read about it on the internet2.
There are plenty of other reasons to be wary when it comes to Twitter. Privacy and ownership of data are only two examples why it’s good to carefully consider the pros and cons, and to make a conscious decision to participate, and on what level.
At the same time, there are clearly plenty good reasons to join in. Twitter (and other social media) can be a great tool to stay in touch with people around the world. It can help filter content and information that’s interesting to me. For businesses, when used well, it can help engage with customers and strengthen the brand. And, let’s admit it, it’s fantastic for bite-sized entertainment and distraction.
It’s just not for me any more. See you in the real world!
(1) The one exception has been to promote a few updates about a community project I started, the Soup Hub. I should really create a separate blog post about this.
(2) Not to mention that complex, difficult, or very personal topics don’t lend themselves well to the online format. Even less so, when forced into small chunks.
(3) (Update 26 Aug) It’s not just me: My Paleo Media Diet