Sunday 8 August 2010

Twitter Jitters Part 2

Not my twitter jitters this time, but everyone else's, or so it would seem.  Maybe it happens all the time and everyone's twitter takes a nose dive but within the space of a month I've seen four of my twitter 'friends' quit completely and another take an unspecified sabbatical.  What the fuck is going on?

I think for some there's a weird sense of performing, all the time.  You heap pressure on yourself to be constantly 'funny' and entertaining and you're doomed on twitter.  It's unsustainable unless you have a hide thicker than the thickest hide in the land.  There are some that just tell jokes all the time but there are others that get the balance right between that and interaction and some of the best people on twitter are the ones that strike that balance just right.  The trouble with setting yourself up as some kind of entertainer is that if you stop talking about your reality and own observations and start creating something beyond that, a sort of prefabricated world of your own that bears no relationship to real life, you stop sounding real.  I'm just not sure that's particularly healthy and I wonder if that's led to some of the disappearances we've seen of late.  There's a great article in the New York Times that highlights that very problem, go have a read.

That's not to say that I don't like and follow people who make me laugh.  I do.  But I follow people who make me laugh who also tweet me back and that is 'tweet back', not 'follow back'.  We all have moments of doubt over twitter when it comes to getting that all important 'follow back' (or the lack of it) but since I had my own twitter melt down last month, when my mojo went South, I've stopped worrying about it and started pressing the follow button again and it's worked in refreshing my timeline and keeping twitter interesting.  A follow back is great, but sometimes you have to earn it.  You can't think like that about your own feed and not expect everyone else to operate in the same way.  Equally there are people that I'm happy to just read the tweets from and getting a follow back isn't important.  That's quite a big jump from where I was a month or so ago but I'm pretty certain that it's a healthier place to be.  I follow around 300 accounts and I don't think I could cope with too many more, but, and this is important, not everyone tweets as much as I do, so generally it doesn't ever get too hectic.

Twitter can be many things to many people but just like real life I think it can feel lonely and that's not healthy if you're already feeling that in normal life.  Not everyone is a comedy genius and some are using it as a way to meet people which can be just as dangerous as getting wrapped up in your own little world.  I'll be honest, I've loved that side of twitter and have thoroughly enjoyed broadening my friend network and have built relationships with people that I hope will last until I croak.  But, it's actually quite hard to sustain friendships over 140 characters which is, I think, why sometimes these relationships get lost in translation.

The other issue is that it's hard to not feel 'on' all the time.  You see something that makes you chuckle and you immediately start thinking about how you'll tweet it.  Is that a bad thing?  Personally I don't think so, although I've got way better at just taking a few hours out and watching the TV without passing comment on everything I view.  However sometimes those can be the best kind of tweets to read.  I'm not a fan of soap operas but when EastEnders is on I'll happily just take all the tweets about it in because they make me laugh.  The very best people on twitter, and I don't conceitedly count myself among them, are those that dip in and out, come in with a great tweet after a few days away, interact for an hour or so and then go again.  That's the sensible way to play it, the trouble is it's way too tempting and way too easy to go searching for the ego stroke all the time.  I genuinely admire those that are able to be disciplined with it and come and go as they please.

There's no doubt at all in my mind that twitter has changed me as a person.  I'm aware of it and can see it in the way I interact with people all the time.  My confidence is higher, I'm proud that I know I can make people laugh with something ridiculous and although I don't always get it right, I'm fiercely protective of twitter and all those that I follow, which is why I take it to heart a bit when people quit.

Some have no doubt gone because twitter is a huge distraction from 'real life'.  That is true.  It really is.  If you're tweeting and it's impacting on some part of your life in a detrimental way then taking a break is a good idea.

The other reason people are quitting is that some are just being plain nasty, either publicly or via DM.  I have seen two of my favourite tweeters, both female, both completely unique in the way they tweet, have to close one account and then open a new one to avoid the grief they were getting from unspecified people.  The trouble with anything that reflects human nature, like twitter does, is that it will attract the mean and disingenuous just as much as it attracts the funny, warm and banter centric twitter world that I subscribe to.  That's a pity but I am glad that those two friends have both found a way around it which has allowed them to continue.

The Twitter Jitters continue then.  There's no doubt that it feels less like a community these days and people leaving is maybe a sign that it's not what it was.  Sometimes it can feel like it's reaching for what it used to be (or that might just be me) but maybe that magic of suddenly feeling like you were talking to the world has gone, but trust me it is still there, like most things in life, if you stop looking/forcing it'll turn up under your nose.

Footnote - none of the above criticism is directed at anyone I follow although I'm aware some of you might think you recognise yourselves.  You don't.  Some of the above praise is aimed at some of the people I follow, you might think you recognise yourselves, have a pat on the back, you're probably right.


  1. What a great post, full of common sense. There is a sense of being 'on' sometimes alright, and even with pics I take sometimes, if people have sometimes asked for pics of a night out or something, I've thought "I'd better look half decent, this will be on Twitter!" and X, Y and Z are following me. Which is, I recognise, a silly way to think, but I have fallen into that trap. I've been sad to see people leave. Twitter for me is great, and I'm fortunate to follow many great people. Thanks for a great post :)

  2. Well said Gray. I really enjoyed my 2 week break from Twitter and I know I need to regulate my Tweet time better. I'm also glad I got past the need to be followed and follow thing too, its not a healthy place to be. I'm also wanting to dump the negatives in my twitter stream but we're also caught up with each other its difficult to do.

    Glad you posted this. Keep it up

  3. You Nailed it, Gray.

    I'll be the first to confess there are times I feel I simply must read every tweet that posted while I was away sleeping or focused on real life interactions. I'm the kind of guy who simply hates missing things; the one who often wonders "What's going on over there?" and as Twitter has transformed my world from narrow to global the mix in my feed/stream a lot of great exchanges take place when I'm away.

    Those days of endless catching up don't happen as often as they did a year ago when I first started on with this Twitter thingie. I've since learned to filter but can't help feeling a bit guilty when I do. After all I follow the few I do because I'm genuinely interested in what they have to say or what's going on in their lives.

    Balance is hard to achieve and harder still to maintain. But it's an invaluable skill to have.

  4. Quite often I will be taking a photo of something ready to send to Twitter and a friend will say "Why the fuck are you taking a photo of a shoe?".... then that friend will punch me in the arm and I will cry. I dont like that friend much, he's a bit of a bully.