A tweetless life

Tonight, I watched the first episode of Sherlock on my Apple TV. And ordered pizza from a lovely independent Pizzeria here in Brighton called La Cucina. I also did a whole host of minute things that I would normally have broadcast to my five-thousand-something followers on Twitter in 140 character chunks. The difference tonight was that I didn't.

In fact, earlier today, a tweet I saw from Paul Lloyd was the last drop that made me decide to give Twitter a short break:

Wow! @nicepaul did a lot of freelance work whilst he was working at @clearleft: http://paulannett.com/less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac

On the face of it, you might wonder why this tweet of the thousands that pass by my stream daily made me decide to stay off of Twitter for while. I think it was the combination of this morning's Twitter frenzy over the FOWD Rising Stars speakers (FOWDgate, which was pretty much over my midday) and the other Twitter-related experiences I've either been seeing or having lately. It does all get a bit intense. I said as much – somewhat ironically – in my tweet to announce my short break from Twitter:

You know what? I've decided to spend the rest of the week off of Twitter. It's too intense. See you all on Monday! :)less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac

Twitter has the potential to bring out the best in people (I know quite a number of people who use Twitter to help each other), but it also has the potential to bring out the worst. Nary a day goes by, it seems, without some sort of controversy or scandal erupting on Twitter and then, almost as quickly, withering away to the nothingness from which it came. The Twitter masses are whipped up into a frenzy and then break for lunch or dinner or move on to the next exciting thing, leaving a trail of human damage in its wake.

Reading Paul's tweet, and its accusatory undertones, I decided I just did not want to witness the debate that I assumed would follow. I decided I wasn't entirely fussed if someone on the Internet was wrong. I decided that my world would continue spinning perfectly fine if I didn't get involved in yet another Twitter controversy.

Of course, Paul's tweet was just the drop that made the cup run over – the last thing I'd want is to start a blogversation (see what I did there?) on the specifics.

How I use Twitter

Personally, I love to use the real-time, stream-like nature of Twitter to throw ideas into the stream (most times half-baked, sometimes not) and watch them evolve or die based on the input of others. I love how easily and instantly you can collaborate on ideas via Twitter and also how quickly you have access to different viewpoints and – if you have as lovely a family of followers as I do – to a treasure throve of knowledge.

However, I know that that's not how everyone uses Twitter. And, when you have thousands, if not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers, the way you use Twitter, how your followers view what you say, and the impact your tweets can have changes. An idea you might be debating might get picked up by a news organization and presented as a debate or controversy. It's easy to forget that you're having a public conversation in front of an audience that could easily fill up a stadium (if not several, depending on your follower count).

I don't know how much of this makes sense to you or how much you can emphatize with. These aren't fully baked thoughts either. I'm just throwing them out there and I'll make sense of them later. (See, I can tell you that in a blog post and you can adjust your expectations accordingly because my thoughts are not flying about in semi-disjointed packets of at-most 140 characters, just itching to be taken out of the context of the stream.)

A tweetless life

I haven't tweeted for over four hours now. Well, at least not on Twitter. I have tweeted in my head. And that's actually rather scary when you catch yourself doing it.

Twitter has fundamentally altered how I interact with the world in ways that I don't believe I entirely understand. A part of me wonders how this affects me cognitively: Is it an advantage in much the same way dreams are, helping me reinforce the memories of my actions by being both actively aware of them and in having to review and summarize them? Or does it make me strip the all-important details from my experiences in order to fit them into 140 characters? Am I merely reporting on what I'm doing or has it begun to actually affect what I do?

I've gotten so much into the habit of tweeting that it's my instinct to share nearly everything I'm doing with the thousands of people that follow my tweets daily. I can only stop and ask myself: what does it mean to do that? What sort of a relationship do we have? And how is it impacting my life?

I feel that taking myself off of Twitter for a few days is probably a good way of analyzing that. Not only Twitter but Gowalla and Foursquare also. And I've also turned off all of the various notifications that pop up on my phone. So, at least until Monday, I'm not going to tell you what I'm doing, or where I'm at, or who I'm with. And I have this sneaky suspicion that I will still be doing things and going places and seeing people. And I'm going to try and see what it's like to experience life without sharing nearly every minute of it.

I'll let you know how I get on. At some point.