Twitter: The New Smoking

Twitter drives me crazy. I'm not saying I'm not drawn to its infectious, somewhat addictive nature. But I realized recently that for me, Twitter is a lot like cigarette smoking, and social smoking in particular. I want to do it -- all my friends are doing it, and it looks rather cool. Everyone's talking about it -- it's all over the blogosphere and news, and it certainly seems like the "thing to do" of the moment. But when I actually sit down in the bar and light up a Twitter account, first of all, I find I don't actually enjoy its strange, abbreviated form of oversharing. Then I realize I'm surrounded by fumes and totally can't control which ones invade my consciousness -- it's pretty much all or nothing. And then even after I've left the bar, I can't get the smell out of my hair. If I had an addictive personality, I'd probably be coming back for more (luckily, I don't). Yup -- Twitter is the new smoking.

Anyone with a personal blog already understands the desire to share one's thoughts with the world. Individual reasons vary beyond that broad, overarching goal. I started this blog as a way to motivate myself to formulate my random thoughts into somewhat coherent written essays and vignettes. Over time, I realized it was a great way to keep in contact with long-distance friends and family. And now that I've moved on from EGM and 1UP, of course, it is a way to keep in touch with the community of gamers and friends I made along the way. A bonus is being able to share my thoughts and knowledge with people typing particular keywords into search engines. So, lots of good reasons, if I may say so.

Facebook enabled me to share my thoughts in a more automated manner with many of the same people. I call it "automated" because Facebook's format means you can be expressive without actually having to come up with a thesis, developing arguments, and a conclusion. You certainly don't need to be articulate, and even proper grammar and spelling is rather optional. Plus, what with superpokes, photo tagging, chain-letter notes, having the Bigger Brain or Word Challenge score, and the like, Facebook gives you words when you can't think up any of your own. And often, those means of communication end up being much more effective than a beautifully penned treatise. Sure, you could come right out and say, "Hey, we were good friends once, and I've thought about you a lot over the years. I'd love to reconnect and keep in touch, but don't expect to hear from me very often because obviously I have a pretty busy life. Still, that doesn't mean I don't care!" But that's so direct, emotionally honest -- even confrontational. It's much more humane to just invite your old friend to play Scrabble once in a while, occasionally noting in the chat how cute their kids are or how you've been stressed out at work lately. Better yet, you just challenge them to an '80s movie trivia quiz and remember fondly the slumber parties where you watched all those movies together. I appreciate Facebook for this ability to make connecting with friends less emotional, less articulate, less carefully thought-out, and it's been a damn near miracle how it's reconnected me with people I thought were totally gone from my life for good.

And then there's Twitter. To me, Twitter is like a double-derivative. You take the derivative of blogging and you get Facebook. Then you take the derivative of Facebook and you get Twitter. It's all that oversharing boiled down again and again to its most addictive, infectious essence. I've noticed this among my circle of friends. You had the early smokers -- the ones who got right into Twitter and really enjoyed the up-to-the-minute newsiness of it. Then, just the way so many otherwise healthy-living, conscientious folks will smoke cigarettes socially, Twitter started to ensnare friend after friend into its weird, stream-of-consciousness blabbing. The difference for me between Twitter and Facebook or a blog is that I often care what people write in those other two forums. I really like reading people's blogs, because they often have some thought and care put into them. And Facebook is a nice way of recounting the overall ups and downs of ordinary life. But Twitter gives people a little too much freedom in recounting a few too many ups and downs. Like, bodily functions, people? Really? It's also taken the questionable grammar practices of 1337speak and Facebook and put them front and center, to the point where it seems people are almost trying as hard as they can to write 140 characters of broken English. And it's made this whole @soandso format seem like an almost normal way of referring to your friends. Like, "Yeah, what'd you do this weekend? Oh I changed @Alex's diaper and did @Nick's laundry. Went out to breakfast with @Grandparents and then took @Fido for a walk."

It drives me crazy. Obviously, Twitter is not going away, and luckily, it's a hell of a lot healthier than smoking. But it's also lucky I don't have an addictive personality, and though I do give my occasional update on Twitter, I think for now I'll stick with my other two primary avenues for oversharing.


CrazyLikeCatfish said...

It kind of just exploded onto the mainstream scene. It's like everyone has a twitter now, but you control what you share with others which is always good. Also, you can always block the people starving for attention (ex. the underaged, the spammers, and the creepy peeps). You have to sift through the oddballs to get to the worthwhile.

I liked your double derivative idea, and I can see where you're coming from. It's like a mini facebook/blog application, but as you stated: "it's a hell of a lot healthier than smoking"

We'll see how long it lasts, maybe it's a fad, maybe it isn't. Thanks for the read.

Anonymous said...

I had a twitter after the fallout with 1up and EGM. A few weeks I had to delete my account. I didn't have any real life friends using twitter yet, so I was basically watching ex-Ziffers talking amongst themselves. I dropped a few well wishes and good lucks to feel like I was taking part of the twitter fad, but in a short few days it really started to feel like I was stalking them. It was creeping me out.

I'm a fan of the work your whole gang does, but I don't need to know about the burrito from that great taco stand down on 4th street, and how someone paid for it later that night.

I'll stick with Facebook and my 1up blog for now. Even with Facebook I felt the need to scale back my online presence. I was getting friend invites from bullies and other people I didn't like in high school. Extremely awkward to have someone that treated you poorly growing up now wants to be your friend on a website.

I love facebook, but I needed to change everything to Friends Only. A Friend of a friend isn't always someone I like or trust.

The Meehoo with an Exactlywatt said...

Facebook is the new addiction for me. I had it for a long time already, but now I have more friends who actually use it it has become quite the source of lost Internet hours.

The funny thing is I probably use face book more the way other people use twitter. But the 140 symbol count is just not enough for me. I need space to be witty darn it.. Even if I'm the only one who thinks it's funny ha.

Anonymous said...

What's the next derivative going to be? Are we going to regress back to the digital/virtual equivalent of grunts and cave paintings, updating with just emoticons every few minutes?

Anonymous said...

It's the absence of thoughtful posts like this I'll miss when twitter nation takes us all over.

Or maybe I won't, I'll be too busy reading tweets.

stiill said...

Twitter can be quite useful, if you do it with a purpose. Purposeless twittering is what leads to shittering.

It's useful for loosely connected groups of people that actually have useful communication to do-- a bunch of solo developers (there's useful iphone dev twittering), conference-goers (sxsw twittering was somewhat useful if you filtered enough), and so on.

Twitter.com is really not very useful. You need something like TweetDeck to get some usefulness. There's probably a lot more iterating left before Twitter's really useful, and doesn't just get spammed to death.

J Huggard said...

In some sense I fear this may be what news blogs are going to be reduced to in coming years. It's completely possible to convey the gist of an entire article in 140 characters.

For example, http://twitter.com/themediaisdying

At first glance one might see these posts as unreasonably short, but the majority of them effectively convey the meat of their links.

How many people even bother reading entire articles these days? I would wager people mostly read the first couple paragraphs (if that) and move on.

Hmmm, does someone who reports primarily via tweets still count as a journalist? Perhaps not yet, but someday...

I'm going to avoid using this crap for as long as I can, but as with cell phones and Myspace, I see myself having to cave eventually.

Here's to progress! =(

Unknown said...

Remember the old days before the internet? What the hell did we do all that time? I remember this rectangular shaped things with words in them. Some smelled kinda good.

Pagan Mnemosyne said...

I have a Twitter account, but rarely post. The reasons are the ones you listed, mainly--there is thought in a well written blog, and there is (hopefully) evidence of an articulate mind. Twitter is like someone running up to a TV camera, shouting, then running away while someone else runs up. Interesting maybe the first time, but not so much the second. Or the millionth.

People tweeting about bodily functions? Yep. Seen 'em. And what people are having for dinner, and what they just drank, and what the weather's doing, and why oh dear God why won't anymore people follow me really I'm interesting truly I am...

Dan said...

This made me laugh; nice writing. What was it you commented last time? ::looks up her comment::

"Uh... perhaps we start to discover why i haven't been blogging much lately! No More Words!"

Glad to see you got your words back :)

Leah said...

Awesome post. Totally how I feel, but I hadn't taken the time to acutally think it out!