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.