Wither Twitter. (Twither?)

A longish piece. The tl;dr: Unusually, I’ve spent almost no time on Twitter for months, and can’t really say when or if I’ll get back in. Read on for why.

UXWeekDayScheduleAt UX Week 2008, I discovered Twitter. Something I’d barely heard about at the time, but never tried. Those around me were holding a rich backchannel conversation during every presentation, and we could all follow it in real time. I was enthused, and quickly hooked.

Over the years, I got ever more deeply involved, as Twitter moved from a browser-based obsession to my primary use for my smartphone. I found that the short statements of others could move me to tears, or to riotous laughter and I learned anew the truth of Strunk & White’s advice on brevity. Twitter undoubtedly made me a better writer.

It moved me forward in my career too. The UX disciplines embraced Twitter early and deeply. Anything I wanted to know, anyone I wanted to meet, I could reach out on Twitter. I had instant access to the thoughts of the thought-leaders. I watched the blogs stagnate, as the pundits held forth in the now. Meanwhile, any national or international conference I visited, I knew which friends were in town, and I could connect and communicate, provided I could find a tenuous network connection.

Much to love, and little to hate.

Sure, Twitter began diluting the user experience the day they broke replies, slapped us in the face when they closed the API and forced everyone into poor official clients, permanently placing those awful apps among the bloatware on Android phones across the US. Needless to say, I was among those appalled when Twitter started making accounts follow paid advertisers and unrequested strangers.

But really, the wave had crested for me earlier.

Twitter the community (the Twitterverse) is made of wonderful people. And it is made of the worst sort of scum. And it is made of people with laughable communication skills. And it is made of non-English-speakers who are just getting their feet under them with a new language on their first computer: a cheap cell phone. It’s made of political hacks, and social crusaders. Of reductive historians and thoughtful garage philosophers. Of sage geeks and people who can’t install antivirus software.

In short, it’s made of all of us. Of anyone who’ll throw in. And that means that the best and the worst of us now have access to a huge nonlinear social amplifier – though maybe a particle accelerator is a better metaphor. Make it an “opinion accelerator”.

Twitter works best with pithy outrage. Outrageously good, funny, useful or awful tweets get accelerated around the world, before anyone can check facts or say “wait, you (or I) made a mistake!”. Regret doesn’t help much – there’s not much you can do about an errant tweet. You can delete it, but if thousands have read your open diary, they can’t unread it.

The big thing for me is that opinions on outrages started getting circulated all the time in 2014. What had become a fascinating and delightful time-suck over most of the past six years turned to an endless parade of people declaring their outraged opinions about causes.

Sure, TPP, reform CFAA, NSA spying, repeal the PATRIOT act, Encrypt all the Things, ShellShock, Ferguson, Gamergate, YesAllWomen, NotAllMen, Net Neutrality, freeweev, Gosh, weev’s apparently a real Nazi now (and not just a jerk), are all worthy of discussion. Well, most of ’em. Tweet anything at all, though and you’ve taken a side.

And they’re all BIG, and they’ve come to fill my tweetstream, and even when they’re not in all caps, THEY’RE IN ALL CAPS!!!1!1!

It’s exhausting. It’s not something I can fix by unfollowing, because I’d have to unfollow everybody.

UnfollowIt reminds me of when my podcast consumption got to something like 12 hours a week. I felt a perverse duty to listen to every minute, like I’d miss the good stuff. I was living in headphones. I realized what a mess I was in and I fixed it with a stroke: I stopped listening to podcasts.

Starting in late October, 2014, I took a one-month vacation from Twitter, which then stretched to two. Enjoying the free time I’d recovered, and the better connection with work and family, I’m not at all sure I want to go back. So far, I’m logging in about once a month to update my status and bio, and see if anyone’s tried to get in touch. But in general, I’m gone for now.

I’m not the kind who says “Dead to me!” – that’s mostly a fool’s trope. But I abandoned first-person shooters in the 90s (yes, before they got good) after I found myself addicted to the early Mac hit Marathon, and spent about 3 months doing nothing else during waking hours. I can’t go back there, though my wife, a gamer, wants the company. I still think about podcasts from time to time, but never subscribe. I don’t think I even have a working podcast player on my phone.

Can I go back to Twitter? I suppose I could…but what would make the difference right now?