Back from my self-imposed Lenten Twitter exile
posted at 6:01 pm on April 1, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Actually, I ended up coming back a day early by accident. I posted a reminder that I would return on my public-figure Facebook page, which I had forgotten would retweet my update. When I checked my mentions column after my return, I discovered about a dozen messages teasing me over the gaffe. Still, other than that accidental activity, I stayed off of Twitter entirely during Lent.
The adjustment was more difficult than I anticipated, especially during my trip to Rome, when I could have really enjoyed engaging with followers during the papal conclave. That was part of the point — to gain some perspective on my connection to Twitter, offer up the small sacrifice that it was, and perhaps return after Lent with a healthier attitude. Not everyone returned, however:
I’m not going back to Twitter. Or rather, I’m not going back to Twitter until I find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. And on twitter there is a lot of chaff. This extremely accurate chart* suggests that up to 90% of a typical twitter feed is basically a waste of everyone’s time. If I could write a filter that only showed me tweets that contained links, that might improve the signal-to-noise ratio to the point where twitter were useful.
After two days without Twitter, I barely missed it; by the second week, I was downright happy not to be thinking about “staying on top” of my feed. I’ve uninstalled Tweetdeck from my phone, and going forward will only use Twitter to post links to my own blog posts. So my first piece of advice is that you should just stop using Twitter altogether, or find a way to show only those tweets that contain links.
I get what the writer is saying, although one could solve that by sifting through their follows and removing the chaff producers. I’ve done that a few times, and I’ve also learned to build a couple of lists with just a handful of key sources to watch in a separate column, although that needs to be rebuilt now. Ezra Klein notes that the medium isn’t really the problem:
The problem isn’t Twitter, exactly. Twitter, like so much else, is excellent when consumed in moderation. But it’s also an unusually addictive product, and it has certain unusual properties that help it crowd out other information streams.
If I neglect my RSS feed today, the posts will still be there tomorrow. The same is true for the books I’m reading, the magazines piled on my nightstand, the tabs open in my browser, the long-form I’ve saved to Pocket, the e-mails I’ve filed away to read later, the think tank papers saved to my desktop, and pretty much every other sort of information I consume. The backlog nags at me, but I’ll get to it.
Twitter elicits a more poisonous information anxiety. It moves so fast that if I’m not continuously checking in, I completely lose track of the conversation — and it’s almost impossible to figure out what happened three hours ago, much less two days ago. I can’t save Twitter for later, and thus there’s always a pressure to check Twitter now. Twitter ends up taking more of my time than I’d like it to, as there’s a constant reason to check it rather than, say, reading a magazine article.
That’s so true that it’s why I don’t really stay on Twitter to keep up with breaking news. Anything significant will either appear on my feedreader or in an e-mail shortly afterward. My use of Twitter is more along the lines of a watercooler in a virtual office environment, and for quick engagement with readers who have anything useful to say. I kept up just fine without Twitter over the last few weeks, and more than ever I’m inclined to approach it strictly for the social aspects, and to tweet out my posts.
I’m happy to be back on Twitter, but I’ll use it as a way to enhance my day, not to run it … or at least that’s what I hope.