on twitter

I deleted my twitter account. After posting almost 11,000 tweets over a year and a half. And I don’t miss it. I don’t regret it.

Twitter is a strange, unique beast. At first blush, it’s a tool to connect people and to share information.

But that’s not really what twitter is, at all.

Twitter is probably one of the most powerful experiments in behaviorist conditioning ever crafted. Neither Pavlov’s dogs nor Skinner’s pigeons were as well trained as the thousands of people madly clicking refresh refresh refresh refreshrefreshrefreshREFRESH in the hopes of scoring a quick high from fresh information (or worse – using the desktop apps that display the updates instantly).

What twitter claims to do, it does astonishingly well. Ad hoc informal groups, defined and refined by each member according to the people they are interested in. No other service provides quite the same level of transparent control and flexibility for each and every individual.

But when I post a tweet, or read someone else’s, it is not as it seems. It feels as though there is some form of tight connection, a baring of souls, a bond. But that’s not possible, given the limit of 140 bytes of ASCII text.

Which means that twitter is really nothing more than a giant plastic piano, with it’s members the chickens obsessively pecking at keys until food pellets are released. We’re not aware of the keys, the piano, nor of the song we’re being trained to play.

I keep coming back to one thing. Who is paying for twitter, and why? It’s not advertising. At least Facebook is clearly partially financed by advertising revenue.

The only value I see in twitter, from a financial point of view, that even comes close to justifying the expense if providing the service, is to teach The Machine. The constant tweeting, linking, geopositioning updates are providing a vast database which can then be mined. But why, and by whom?

So I decided to opt out of this strange experiment.

One thing I’ve found is that by removing myself from the Pavlovian update/response feedback loop, I feel as though my thinking is clearer. I’m more present. I’m not constantly distilling my life into 140 character chunks, nor am I constantly wondering if there are any @dnorman tweets waiting for me.

Another thing I find is that I now use richer and deeper channels of communication. I’m not trying to stuff conversations into short asynchronous segments. I’m talking in realtime via IM. I’m communicating in more depth via email. I’m writing more and better blog posts.

One thing that surprised me is the reaction from people. Some seem to think this is some extreme or scary act. How could someone possibly delete their twitter account? wow!

But twitter is just a website. It’s not even my website. Someone else’s website. Nothing more. Deleting the account means absolutely nothing. Anyone that is truly interested in knowing what I’m doing will use any of the countless other channels (like, for instance, my blog posts) to find out. Anyone that really cares about what I’m doing is already connected to me on so many other channels that dropping the connection via twitter will have no effect.

So long, twitter. It’s been fun. But I need to stop pecking keys and waiting for food pellets.

33 thoughts on “on twitter”

  1. The thought of deleting a Twitter account had never crossed my mind before. I didn’t even know it was possible until you deleted yours! For me, the interesting thing about your point on people already being connected to you on so many other channels is that I’d virtually stopped visiting your blog ever since Twitter came around. I didn’t even realize you’d changed your blog’s theme until last week’s post about our meeting! I’ll be paying attention to other people’s responses to this move with great curiosity.

  2. that’s kind of the point – it feels as though twitter has short circuited much of the other, more interesting and valuable, activity… and by breaking communication down into artificially short bursts of text, it serves to further muddle an already difficult medium.

  3. That’s a brave step, I’m impressed! The one thing I’ve noticed since the rise of Twitter is the dramatic decrease in the postings of the Cocoa developer weblogs that I follow.. it turns out they are all putting their energy into those 140 characters, and not into real postings, really to the detriment of us all.

  4. On the experiment part, I was thinking the same thing in the morning. Next year when twitter reveals what model it is going to use to make money, it occurrd to me that if the changed anything on the front end, they would kill it. On the back end however, it is a massive datamine, just waiting to be exploited, not only because it has the info that you pointed out, but also because it is preformed. Miners have all the data they want in a standard format, belivered in a much more agile manner than blogs or SNS ever have or will.

  5. I don’t understand how deleting a silly website account is brave. It’s not like it had any value, or any meaning outside of that website. It was nothing but a stream of ephemeral status updates… It’s not like I nuked my own blog or anything.

  6. I don’t know, dude. I’ve made some great connections via Twitter. And I enjoy the small slices of life I get from those people. You only know me via Twitter, yet I was able to help out a friend of yours with career info through that connection.

    Whether or not it’s good or bad that I frequently check and update via my computer and phone is part of the ongoing “always connected” debate. (I’m obviously pro on that one). But I’ve found a lot of value in the type of communication Twitter facilitates. The #YYC tagged discussions only are worth the price of admission (i.e., time and effort).

    But if you find yourself feeling out of the loop, I suppose it’s nothing to sign up again. We’ll be waiting ;)

  7. That was a move!!! How much Do u like to get noticed and be the first [trend-setter?] to break with the peer pressure [cattle] machine? Why are u always copying mi mind? ;-) e.g. i thought of recording my bicycle thoughs, and did a couple of times, but never “bragged” about it? Anyway, what the twitter channel does to you is very well explained by Postman’s “Amusing ourselves to death” Chapter 1: “The media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preocupations… speech is the primal an indispensable medium… how people think about things and processes, will be greatly influenced by the gramatical features of their language… although culture is a creation of speech, it is recreated anew by every medium of communication… each medium… makes possible a unique mode of discourse… by providing a new orientation for thought… which is what McLuhan meant in the medium is the message. His aphorism, however, is in need of ammendment because, as it stands, it may lead one to confuse a message with a metaphor. A message denotes a specific, concrete statement about the world. But the forms of our media… do not make such statements. They are rather like metaphors, working by unobstrusive but powerful implication to enforce their special definition of reality. Whether we are experiencing the world throught the lens of print, tv camera [or twitter] our media metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, enlarge or reduce it… …our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.”

    Twitter technology reduce your culture to 140 characters.

    I will continue reading your blog and find concomitances with my thinking and pedalling.

  8. @poploser I wasn’t meaning to say that twitter was completely without value. wait. I guess I did kind of say that – but it’s not entirely what I meant. The twitter website is meaningless, and the 140 chars are distilled ephemeral trivia. But I’ve met some really great people through twitter (one of whom I am thankful to now count as one of my closest friends).

    I guess my response to that would be, without twitter, what would have happened? Would a system that supported decentralized updates and messaging have formed? Has twitter caused more damage than good by stopping progress in that area?

    @mariano bragging? ouch. totally not why I do things. I could see how it would come across as that, but I’m really just trying to share what I’m doing and thinking with the people I care about (and vice versa) and if others get to come along for the ride, that’s just gravy…

  9. I don’t know what would’ve happened “in a world without Twitter” nor am I sure what it would help to theorize about. It is what it is.

    I don’t agree about the value of constraints (I think the constraint of “just” 140 characters is what makes Twitter work) because I can’t agree with equating length with depth. Some people regularly say as much in their little 140 character posts as others do in many pages.

    Nor can I agree that because it is completely hosted elsewhere that it’s valueless. One could say the same about del.icio.us, for instance, but I do the same thing there as I do with Twitter (archive via RSS).

    But in the end, none of that matters. You’re not talking about me or the value of Twitter, but D’Arcy and the value of Twitter for D’Arcy– and if it doesn’t work for/with you and/or you can’t control yourself using it and/or you find yourself responding mechanically and/or the value of what you get and the time in which you get it isn’t enough… then there can’t be anything wrong with shutting that stream off.

    Similar arguments ascribing our psychology to any communications technology– arguing for or against– can be made… and have been when people drop everything from snail mail to email to web sites and everything in between. They are by definition, valid. And by definition the only “suffering” (such as it is, given what we’re talking about has such a small part in the realm of things) will be those of us who for whatever reason find the value you don’t and will miss your contributions there, regardless of the other places that stuff will hopefully be found!

  10. Interesting decision and justifications. I honestly have not really ever found myself “addicted” to Twitter like so many others. I post here and there and use the service for heavy promotion when I am looking to really work my network. I don’t go there multiple times a day I don’t usually have Twitterific or other desktop clients running. I find it really interesting when I am physically part of a group meeting/class/presentation … I really love watching the back channel, but beyond those two instances I do not feel the need to Tweet.

    Twitter serves some very good purposes, IMHO. I do not like the frequency with which so many people post and I certainly don’t need to extra noise. So if you want to blow your Twitter account away, go for it. I know where to find you and I know how to engage with you … we did just fine before it — email, IM, the blogs, and other spaces. Since they dropped the idea of really managing content long term I find Twitter much less interesting. I used to look at it as a time machine of sorts — being able to go back and look at what I was thinking about at a certain time in a 140 character sound bite. Without any of that sense of permanence I’m less interested.

    So enjoy your Twitter freedom! BTW, I am still crossing my fingers we get accepted at ELI!

  11. I’ll kill my twitter, I’ll kill my blog, I’ll kill my photos, videos, audio recordings. I’ll kill anything! And, I’ll kill anyone who tries to stop me, I’m f***king craaaaaaaaaaaazy!!

    Digging your explosions! And this one hurts far less than flirting with the blog nuke, that is the archive baby, nobody messes with the archive. Twitter is a tasty frosting that has it’s moments, but demands an awful lot from you for every last one of them.

    Here’s to turning up the heat on darcynorman.net, more bike videos, more formative 10s, and then some more bike videos once again. Also, I’ll have you know I watched Stephen’s helmet cam video and between the two of you I have totally reassessed that idea that video quality = value :)

  12. You know, the thought of deleting my Twitter account crosses my mind at least once a week.

    I was reluctant to enter the twitter-world in the first place, but then I read many praises written by people I trust and esteem, so I gave it a try.

    One of the things that many people emphasise about Twitter is its alleged power of ‘connecting people’. So far — at least in my experience — it has failed. People who have well-known blogs or write for well-known Websites, who usually have far more followers than people they follow, often act like VIPs, refusing to even acknowledge polite messages (public or private) or questions about the things they’re tweeting at that very moment.

    Probably not replying is the new etiquette of telling you “Don’t bother me”, and so Twitter just becomes a mass of mostly closed circles of people who already know one another, or have met at some cool developer/designer/web-oriented/open source/ whatever conference and spend their time mutually stroking their egos.

    Perhaps Twitter is much much more of that and I’m not “trying hard enough”. But I seriously wonder if it’s worthwhile.

    So, perhaps from a different perspective, I completely understand your choice.

    Cheers, Rick

  13. I think you’re missing a trick. If you set up the right network, twitter is a powerful, spam-free research tool. I never liked the term “micro-blogging” – I think it confuses people. “Presence” is more descriptive.

  14. some of the comments make it sound like I just don’t grok twitter, or didn’t give it enough of a chance. I was one of the most active users of twitter for over a year and a half. I posted almost 11000 tweets. I get the power of connectivity it provides. I get the use of it as a casual research tool (I use the LazyWeb a LOT, and it was always most responsive via twitter).

    I get twitter. I really do. But I’ve decided it’s just not where I need to put my energy, for some of the reasons I tried to describe in my post. I’m not trying to convince anyone. I’m not trying to kill twitter. I’m just trying to describe why I won’t be there.

  15. Not everyone has to blog, wiki, twitter or facebook.

    The fact that you’ve “been there, done that” certainly qualifies you to make a personal choice.

    Part of my work begs me to immerse in a number of technologies and understand them to the point of being able to recommend them or not to others. I’ve rarely recommending anyone to try twitter. Not because I find it addicting, although that’s true, but because I have a hard time selling it to anyone from any one perspective. The same is true of blogs, wikis and others. There isn’t one single way to use them but with twitter I find it even more evasive in terms of definition.

    The real point I’m trying to make is that I hope we get more discriminating in which technologies are beneficial and can articulate that clearly. I feel like I can do that with a few but not all. I also recognize that we have to allow everyone to decide personally why or why not a technology does or doesn’t have value.

    I’m not interested in many people’s views or opinions on technologies that I know they personally have not used them to any degree. You have earned the right to say that because of your immersion.

  16. I was also reluctant to get into the Twitterverse. However love drove me in: I wanted to share somehow the trivial day-to-day life with my partner who live in London, while I live in Brussels with the kids. I wanted to let him know. And to follow.

    Soon, Twitter appeared as an open door to my moods: imprisoned mother-of-four, trying, fighting hard to work, to do some research in a field driven by men, and less women, competitive and single, free.

    I tried setting up microblog channels for groups. Used Twitter for projects. I increased the level of serendipity, discovering through my contacts, amazing resources I wouldn’t have discovered by myself, alone.

    But now, the Twitter omnipresence of some: tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, the egotwistical behaviour of others and the increased level of showing off: transforming current activity in a rhetoric device of an intentional digital self, is tiring me.

    I’m bored of “Morning Twitterverse!”, “Again another blog post by ME”, “Look at my fantastic presentation in Slideshare”, “Download my last article!”, “My project is just what you need”, or “Googlescholar me and you’ll find that I’m a reference in the subject”.

    So yes, I completely understand your decision. Your productivity will increase, I bet! Cheers, Margarita

  17. I am selfishly sorry you are leaving twitter, because it will make my own use and enjoyment of it less. You often made me laugh. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

  18. D’Arcy- I’ve watched you struggle with Twitter- and even this blog. I think I really first grokked the twitter phenom from what you wrote in your blog. It waved at me like crack to a street whore- and I was scared- from what I read. I already was addicted to my rss feeds- but, twitter seemed even more intrusive. I gave up AIM long ago- preferring longer form, meaningful discussions. I like blog posts- complete ideas. We’ve never met- but, yet we seem to know each other, and I’ve never tweeted once. At some point we all have to put limits on our virtual lives- and I think ditching the tweet is taking a step back to owning your own content and making it available to the biggest audience. Good move. The big question is what will you try next?

  19. I do miss the casual hanging out banter with my friends. But I don’t miss twitter at all. I need to leave my IM client open more though…

    @david I’m thinking of just jumping straight into heroin. might as well throw this lame digital stuff aside and going for the gold…

  20. I’ve been meaning to throw my two cents in here… I guess I’m a little surprised at the, uh, strength of your reaction. I suppose that’s because I just never invested that much in Twitter in the first place. Do I expect it to change my professional or personal life? Heck no. If anything, I value twitter because of the casual nature of the interactions that take place there. True, most of my twitterverse is composed of ed tech folken, but I like being reminded that the writers and thinkers that I read and respect are people too.

    I consider twitter a backchannel – one that I can (and do) ignore if I’ve got better things to do.

    The bit about information mining got my attention though, and will make me a little cautious when twitter goes (more) commercial.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  21. I can certainly understand your decision – you were a TweetMachine. I’m under 1600 in a year-ish, so I don’t find it has the same effect on me, but your point is well-taken.

  22. I like the fact that I can passively multitask by using Twitter… more than I’m driven to constant Tweet or Re-Tweet.

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