I celebrate a very special anniversary this month.
It’s a number that not a lot of people reach. In fact, if you had told me when we started that we’d be still be together all these years, I’d have said you were crazy.
But no, it’s true. It really happened.
This is my 10 year anniversary.
… of using Twitter.
In that time, I’ve sent over 48,000 tweets. That’s over 400 tweets per month, or more than 10 tweets per day, every day, for ten years straight.
That’s a lot of typing into a void.
As I write this, I have 6,421 followers. Some of them are spam. Some of them are marketers. Some of them are marketers who are indistinguishable from spam.
As I write this, I am following 1,071 people. Some of them are insightful. Many of them are funny. A few of them have wildly attractive avatars.
I have made friends on Twitter, and some of those digital friendships have become real-life friendships. (Hello, friends.)
I have upset people on Twitter, and some of those people probably dislike me in reality. (Sorry about that.)
I have had some truly perspective-changing conversations on Twitter, which is even more impressive when you consider that those conversations are all happening at 140 characters per message. That’s not a lot of space for nuance or subtlety. Yet somehow the validity of another person’s point of view can sometimes be convincingly summarized in an update that’s shorter than this sentence.
After ten years…
I don’t love Twitter anymore.
And I hate to say it, but I keep thinking about leaving.
It’s hard to admit this, because I was a Twitter fan almost from the beginning.
But it was easy to love Twitter in the early days, when it was just this random underdog service that was mostly being used by a bunch of geeky digital media early adopters (which, honestly, is how every service gets started). In those days, Twitter was… fun? Interesting? Compelling? I don’t really remember.
It’s hard to know what causes a spark when it starts. It’s not always logical. Sometimes it’s completely illogical, and that’s part of the charm.
But relationships change over time, because people change.
What I’ve noticed more than anything lately is how different I feel when I use Twitter.
It isn’t a good feeling.
For years, I used to leave my Twitter tab open all day long. I would have multiple conversations at once, I’d share links and media that I found from around the web, I’d make jokes and observations, and I’d see what the people I follow were interested in and passionate about, all in real time.
My timeline used to be a fascinating readout of what the people I follow — women and men of various ages, ethnicities, beliefs, sexualities, gender identifications, interests, jobs, and time zones around the world — are talking about, what they care about, and how they feel, both at the micro and macro level.
I used to love taking the pulse of the world on Twitter.
But now, things are different.
Now I dread opening Twitter on my laptop.
These days, I only open the main timeline once a day if I can help it. Sometimes I don’t open it at all. I just live in my mentions, or I check the individual profiles of people whose updates I particularly enjoy. And when I close my Twitter tab, I feel a mix of wistfulness and relief.
I can’t tell what’s changed, exactly. It’s something intangible. What kills a relationship is often as mysterious as what sparks it in the first place.
Have the people I followed changed?
Has the world changed?
Have I changed?
Probably yes all around.
We’re in a particularly divisive time right now, both politically and culturally. And while Twitter is a fascinating cultural thermometer, it can also tell us when the organism is ill.
In January, I spent a day on Twitter mourning the death of David Bowie with millions of strangers. I did the same thing in honor of Prince just a few months later. (If there’s one thing Twitter is undeniably good for, it’s the immediacy of breaking news and public commiseration. On Sunday nights, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead count as both.)
But lately we seem to be collectively mourning something else on Twitter: the death of civil discourse, optimism, aspiration, and joy.
It’s not entirely Twitter’s fault. (Although their history of dealing with trolls, -ists, and harassment has been so spectacularly ineffective that it’s almost beyond parody.)
The real fault lies with us, as users not just of Twitter but users of social media in general. We have the world in our hands, literally, every time we turn on our phones or laptops. And yet…
What do we use it for?
What’s the purpose of Twitter?
What’s the purpose of the Internet?
Everyone’s answer is going to be different. Some use it for business, some for pleasure, some for socializing, some for absurd comedy, and some simply use it to feel a connection to someone else.
What do I use it for?
That’s part of the problem: I don’t really know anymore.
So I’m changing the way I use Twitter. And if, like me, you’re also dissatisfied with your relationship with Twitter, I suggest you do the same.
My suggestion is this:
I’m going to reduce my active following by two thirds.
I currently follow 1071 people, so I’ll be reducing my active following to 357. And I’m not going to follow more than 43 new people through the end of the year, so I don’t crack the 400 person limit.
Why am I doing this? Because it will force me to do three things:
- Figure out what kinds of information I actually want to SEE every day
- Figure out what kinds of information I actually want to SHARE every day
- Figure out whose updates I actually ENJOY or find meaningful
I’m going to do this for the last 10-ish weeks of the year, and see how it affects my mood.
Will I enjoy Twitter more with fewer inputs?
Will I have more meaningful conversations with people?
Will I omit some of the emotional turmoil and white noise that drags me down?
We shall see. Check this space in January and find out.
A Procedural Note
Notice that I said I’m reducing my active following, which is different from actually unfollowing people. (Some people get upset when they’re unfollowed, and they take it personally, so there’s no sense in doing that unless you really can’t stand someone.)
If you also want to reduce your inputs and you don’t care who sees that you’ve unfollowed them, hey, rock on. You do you.
But if you want to be more genteel about it, here are two alternatives:
- Create a list and add 1/3 of your followers to it. (Call it something other than The 357 People I Actually Want to Receive Updates From, or else, you know, people will notice that they’re not on it and start asking you questions. Maybe use a more inscrutable name, like Flaming Lizards or Dave’s Laundry. No one will question why they’re not on Dave’s Laundry.)
- Mute 2/3 of your followers. They’ll still be able to @ you, but you won’t see their updates otherwise.
To reiterate: this is just an experiment. I’m not sure if it’ll work. But NOT changing how I use Twitter is likely to make me even more dissatisfied over time, to the point where I stop using it altogether, and I feel like Twitter and I have been through too much to break up now. Not without giving it one more try.
I like you, Twitter. I think you have a lot of potential. I’d like to see you get your shit together, fix some of your problems, and be what I know you’re capable of becoming.
Granted, you’d probably say the same thing to me. That’s fair. No hard feelings.
Now let’s get drunk and reminisce about the good times.
And maybe… if we’re lucky… we’ll make more.
Photo: Raul’s Birthday Cake by lokate366