Twitter: A Comeback…? No…

"Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years!"
“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years!”

Okay friends; I’m back.

I feel tempted to imagine some fanfare or triumphant music to accompany my announcement of my return to the social application known as Twitter after having spent the last month on a big break (at least it felt like a “big” one) but the truth is that would be absolutely ridiculous as my return should be as low-key as my exit. 

In addition, I feel obligated to create some epic commentary on social technology and its impact on our very lives (and souls…?) but I don’t have the stomach for something of that magnitude and I’m not sure if honestly have all that much to say.

(After I had finished writing the first draft of this post I realized that I had, in fact, wrote a 2,500 word post which was not the original intent! It’s still not that “epic commentary” but it definitely provides a healthy dose of context.)

They are "@NULL"!
They are “@NULL”!

But here are a few things that I was able to succinctly come away with and also the reason that I’m returning to Twitter, at least for the time being.

I have many more thoughts but those are not fully thought-through nor in a form that I can articulate perfectly quite yet; an example is the fact that I apparently lost some 30,000 followers in the last days which seems like a ridiculous attrition rate simply because I wasn’t active?

It makes you think about who or what (e.g. bots?!) those followers were really doing but I don’t have any conclusive thoughts about that until I dig in some more.

Another example are these three “ghost” users who I apparently am still following (I unfollowed everyone but @Pressgram and my wife @MrsBear) who I can’t seem to shake…

Oh well. No big deal. Moving forward with this post…

Overcoming the Drug

I suppose the greatest realization was how incredibly noisy my life was with Twitter and how connected I was to a digital reality. I have tried historically to be more “disconnected” and try, as you may have, to be more in the “moment” but Twitter is one of those constant and ever-present ecosystems that desperately demands your attention; it craves it.

Consequently, even though I was “offline” it was more like putting my mind on virtual “standby mode,” like you do your notebook computer, where with the flick of a button the computer is back up and ready to receive your commands.

And if I can continue the metaphor you know as well as I do that there are still some “activities” that are continuing to work themselves, even a few apps that you may have explicitly asked to continue to run in the background at a low frequency and low power-consumption. Some apps, like email, still check for new messages even while in virtual “standby” mode.

As a result, the device (i.e. your brain) isn’t fully powered down and you still know that you haven’t fully left it behind nor has it left you. Twitter was like that for me and removing it entirely from my daily process and workflow was frightening and very disorienting. The first week required me to “unlearn” a significant number of “actions” that had become so standard, so rote, so habitual and so automatic that I couldn’t remember not to do them.

I would catch myself grabbing my device and looking for the Twitter icon only to find it gone. Even worse, I would mentally cycle tweets through my mind literally thinking (and sometimes saying aloud): Oh, this would make a great tweet. I should tweet that.

Twitter was nothing short of a drug and a real detoxification process was in order (that is really the right and correct word for it). The first week was rough but as I walked into the second week I began to leave my old habits behind and into the third week I no longer worried about not being able to tweet something. In fact, I forgot about that “action” entirely.

Overcoming the Anxiety

One of the other challenges that I encountered was the fact that I felt like instantly severed a significant source of information, a hose of information that I felt was valuable to my life and profession. The silence was literally deafening and in that silence my anxiety began to grow and grow.

And in that gap came all sorts of demons, some more logical than others and a few that were downright irrational. For example, here are a few thoughts that I had:

  • I wonder if anyone will like me. I bet people hate me for leaving Twitter.
  • I have committed career suicide as no one will ever want to work with me every again on anything.
  • I have tanked my own new venture and startup because it relies heavily on Twitter usage and even Twitter-based authentication.
  • I am the chief of all hypocrites and no one will ever listen or respect me without Twitter.
  • I have become irrevocably irrelevant.

Pretty nuts, right? I wrote them down in their many variations as they crept into my conscious and I took a step back in horror as I realized how dependent I had become on a piece of technology. In fact, much of my identity was wrapped up in it. How scary. How sad. How… truly pathetic and discouraging.

After clearing through some of the doubt and self-hatred my mind began to calm down about it all and after consecutive mornings where I discovered that I was, in fact, still breathing and that the world was still turning (with or without me!) I eked out some comfort. Eventually the noises inside my head became silent and eventually the silence became a very beautiful and functional thing.

Overcoming the Pendulum

Naturally, I’m somewhat a person of extremes and a large part of that has to do with my Autism (and comorbid issues) so as soon I had found peace with it I immediately, at the very same time, hated it. I wanted to remove it from my life forever and never look back.

This was especially poignant because of the amazing peace and silence that was now not only available to me but allowed me to leverage it for very positive ends. For example, I was able to experience an incredible rebirth of creativity that I hadn’t accessed in quite some time.

In fact, I was able to flesh out some previous ideas that had been hanging in the wings for a long time that I didn’t think I’d ever get to – the ability to fully engage with creative projects and ideas even after a full day of work can be uncannily rare and I was reminded how important this is for me as I imagine it’s as important for many of you who are creatives and artists.

So you can understand why in many ways I saw my life better without Twitter as I was more at peace and had more freely engaged a deeper level of creativity as my mind became less cluttered and more available to “breathe.” But life isn’t so picture-perfect and at the same time I came to realize that there are a lot of things that would make my life better if they didn’t exist either, but I have to live with them regardless of my own personal preference. A constant battle but one that must be engaged.

So, what were my options? I determined that what I had to do was overcome my temptation to vilify the very thing that I had become addicted to and get to a place where I could objectively see it for what it was and appreciate the good that comes with the bad, much like many elements and circumstances in our lives.

I also had to admit (again) that I have never been much of a “casual” user when it comes to the things that I use and I’m either “all in” or definitely “all out” – in the time without Twitter I was able to see, with great affection, my wife who was able to use Twitter as a true means of connecting and sharing and even understand a more “normal” and “healthy” perspective and use of Facebook (although I am never going back to that one).

Ultimately I was able to get to a place where I neither relied on it heavily for my own identity and neither did I detest it to the point of wanting to start a riot or movement against it. The timing couldn’t be more perfect either as Twitter’s IPO happened while I was taking a break and if there was one moment to be a Twitter user, loud and proud, it was then; I was nowhere to be found.

The pendulum swung as I knew it would and it finally righted itself into a somewhat tenuous tension between dislike and sheer pragmatics. I told my wife late last week that I could see myself going both ways with Twitter – I could return as a more educated and strategic user or I could leave it behind forever. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I felt okay with my position. She nodded and proceeded to engage with more pressing and important matters like putting our girls down to bed.

Enter Alexis Ohanian

I woke up Monday morning early, as I sometimes do, and headed to the gym to get an early-morning workout done before what I had supposed was going to be a full day. I parked my Leaf outside of the gym and per my usual I checked my mobile device one more time before putting it away for the duration of my workout.

I hate calendars...
I hate calendars…

Waiting what always seems like too long for the device to update any new notifications I was surprised to see a calendar notification squarely pop up in the center of the device. “Shit.” I thought to myself as I opened it as I wasn’t expecting anything that day. My exclamation became something much stronger as I realized that one of my heroes was in town and that a while back I had purchased one of the few available tickets to see him.

Alexis Ohanian, one of the founders of Reddit, was doing his epic road tour and that morning was his stop in Atlanta. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” I exclaimed aloud as I threw down my device and ran into the gym. I had to get my workout done, get home, take a shower, and then head out again so I could ensure at least a decent spot in the crowd.

Alexis Ohanian in Atlanta
Alexis Ohanian in Atlanta

I managed to get through my entire routine in what appears to be a record time (I had no idea I could do it that fast…), got home, took my shower, ran out the door without giving my obligatory hug and kiss to my daughters, and drove over to the venue. I was late and my parking meter decided that it hated me and I got one of the last seats in the back row but at least the entire space was small enough to still be decent. I settled in and prepared myself to be amazed.

To be honest, the event was mediocre, at best. Alexis shared nothing that I hadn’t already known about the founding of Reddit and his variety of different experiences with other startups. And for those that need a comprehensive refresher, Kara Swisher’s interview with him recently is really all you’ll need to get started:

But it was in the Q/A portion that the event really picked up a notch and he off-handedly shared one thing that triggered not only this blog post but pushed me off the fence that I was sitting on in terms of whether or not I would be returning to Twitter. He said (and this is a terrible paraphrase):

There is still so much good that can be accomplished via social applications.

And that was it. That’s all it took.

Without Their Permission
Without Their Permission

I was reminded that despite my own addiction and misuse / abuse of Twitter there was still so much good that could come of it if I used it well, if I used it better than I had before I had left it. There was still opportunity for incredible value to be created.

And so, with that, I resigned myself to the idea that I’d be coming back and that it would be today.

Thanks Alexis – I didn’t need your permission (see what I did there…?! LOL…) but your thoughts were pivotal. I’m glad you stopped by into Atlanta airspace and hung out for a bit!

Oh, and make sure you check out his book too.

My Future with Twitter

I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I’ll “do” Twitter better or more strategically or more wisely but I do see Twitter in a much more objective and intelligent light. It’s as if my usage since the very beginning when I first joined the social network hadn’t really changed much, hadn’t really evolved, but now I feel entirely different about it than previously.

For starters, I see it most clearly now as just a tool, just an application that communicates information to other people. As simple and obvious as that might sound it required me to take a significant step back to see that truth honestly for myself and also to remove it from being part of how I define myself technologically.

In other words, I do not see it as part of my identity and knowing that I was ready to leave it entirely, just like Facebook and many other popular and culturally-relevant apps, I can say with confidence that who I am and how I use Twitter are no longer one in the same. And, if it ever started going back there I would be ready, excitedly-so, to give it another break, if not longer or forever.

Secondly, I want to think critically about the “good” that I can use it for and what that means for me in this new reality that’s just begun since I went public with my Autism. I want to (obviously) continue to share the things and projects that I’m working on (e.g. Pressgram and other fun projects) but I think I may start being a more explicit voice for other Autists leveraging my platform for awareness, education, and other such positive things.

Again, I’m not sure what this really means, but you can be sure I’ll experiment here and there. So, I’m back, perhaps like a drug addict who screams “Just one more time… for old times’ sake!” but I certainly hope not.

So… if I dare to ask… what did I miss? Catch me up.

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