I, Too, Am a Twit

For a long time, I vowed never to get sucked into Twitter. The idea of broadcasting my every belch and hiccup to the world in real time just struck me as absurdly narcissistic. Of course, I made exactly the same vow about blogging for largely the same reason back in the day and, well, here we are.

And thus it was that I observed myself with detached amusement as Nate Angell (a.k.a. @xolotl…his gang name, I guess) succeeded in convincing me to give it a try when we sat down to lunch (along with Mike Zackrison) at JA-SIG last month. Nate, in addition to being super-sharp about ed tech issues in general, is also one of the best conceptual salesmen I’ve ever met. Seriously. By the time he was done working me over, I was like, “@Dude, WTF was I thinking? I have to download Twhirl and start tweeting, like, RIGHT NOW!!”

So I did. I gave Twhirl a whirl. Hated it. Then I tried hooking Twitter into GChat. That made me happy for a few hours until I remembered how much I hate GChat. (And don’t get me started on the state of chat clients in the Windows world.) Then I found TwitterFox, which I like and seems to work well. (I’m a Firefox extension addict anyway.) Since then I’ve been tweeting (hate that word) on and off. And now, after diving in and spending some time with Twitter, I can honestly say that…


…I still don’t get it.

Actually, that’s a lie. I kinda sorta do get it. Twitter is the closest virtual analogue (digital analogue?) to the water cooler. (If you don’t know why that’s significant, then you must stop what you are doing immediately and read John Seeley Brown.) It supports a range of intimacy modalities, from “I’m speaking to everybody within earshot” to “I’m speaking to somebody specific but anyone nearby can hear me” to “I’m whispering to you and you alone.” It supports the discoverability of casual conversation in the same way that wandering over to the physical water cooler does in the office. And the post length limit keeps the exchanges within the range of normal conversation.

But it doesn’t work for me. I’m not entirely sure why, although I do have some suspicions. First of all, most of the people that I work with and socialize with most often aren’t on Twitter at all or aren’t utilizing it heavily. So part of it is probably just a human network thing. Second, I tend to throw myself into my current work very intensely and stay focused on it for long periods of time. This hasn’t always been true and won’t always be true, but right now I just don’t feel like I have the time or urge to hang out on Twitter during my work day. Third, I’ve just never been a synchronous kinda guy. And finally, I’ve never been all that quick to catch on to this Web 2.0 stuff that all the cool kids are trying to begin with. It took me a long time to get del.icio.us, too, and even now I don’t utilize it that much. Either I’m too old, too dumb, to uncool, or some combination thereof.

So will I keep using Twitter? For now, yes. It doesn’t cost me much, and I figure there’s always a chance that sooner or later the light bulb will go off for me. But don’t expect me to be one of the bigger twits around.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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7 Responses to I, Too, Am a Twit

  1. Barry Dahl says:

    I tend to agree with most of your thoughts about Twitter, except that I am no longer in the same place as you are. It sounds like you are where I was about 2-3 months ago. Not very many interesting people to exchange Tweets with or to learn from – and not quite sure what value I would ever find in it. Now I seem to find some value almost every day – mainly because my network (followers/followees) has expanded to include enough really good people and friends that I feel like it is a much more valued communication tool. Besides, I am always looking for new e-communications tools because I now loathe email.

    Two interesting things (sorta kinda) about it:
    1) I have to turn it off sometimes just to get some work done – I find it very distracting. and
    2) I usually don’t feel compelled to look backward to see what I’ve missed when I turn it back on. It has very little archival utility for me, more of a what’s happening right now utility.

    Whatever. Maybe we’ll come up with the definitive answer regarding Twitter over a pint or two in Memphis. See ya. BD

  2. Barry, your comments tend to reinforce the notion that Twitter acts as a virtual water cooler. You go there to hang out when there are people worth hanging out with, and sometimes you hang out there too much and have to discipline yourself, but finding out what people were saying there when you were elsewhere earlier in the day usually isn’t worth the trouble.

  3. Jake says:

    Twitter is good at some things. Others, not so much.
    I don’t bother reviewing tweets anymore, maybe a page or two.
    I tweet mainly when I’m not focused on tasks.
    I focus on avatars more than words, e.g. if I see Rich has updated, I focus. Otherwise, I browse.
    I don’t follow for following anymore, sorry, and I don’t expect it either.
    I use Summize and Tweet Scan more, to focus on conversation that I want to hear.
    I love Twitter for local communication of PDX happenings and tweetups.
    If people really want my attention, they @ of dm me.

    Twitter is very useful. Figuring out how is the hard part.

  4. Patrick Masson says:

    Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast
    Published: June 14, 2008
    NY Times

    “SAN FRANCISCO — The onslaught of cellphone calls and e-mail and instant messages is fracturing attention spans and hurting productivity. It is a common complaint. But now the very companies that helped create the flood are trying to mop it up.

    Some of the biggest technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information overload. Last week they formed a nonprofit group to study the problem, publicize it and devise ways to help workers — theirs and others — cope with the digital deluge.

    Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    Let’s add twitter to the list…

  5. Clay Fenlason says:

    Twitter has taught me to love email all over again, mainly for the reason you note: “I’ve never been a synchronous sort of guy.” There are some who would say that my distaste for cellphones and twitter dates me. I’ll answer that the generational explanation is the wrong one, and that hasty interpretations are the kind of thing one expects from synchronous sorts of folks.

    That latter part is no doubt the defensiveness of the uncool.

  6. Mick Holsclaw says:

    Michael, I have been hearing so much about twitter (in techie podcasts and blogs) that I have made a couple of attempts to “get it.” I still don’t get it. I follow some of the people who are advocates, and I don’t see anything in their tweets that interests me.

    I like your water cooler analogy, and that probably explains why I don’t get it. I am a strong introvert (Myers-Briggs) and chit-chat is difficult for me. I didn’t hang around the water cooler when I worked in a place that had one, and I don’t find myself attracted to twitter.

    Still, I remain open to the possibility that I will get it one day. I can imagine a situation where six – ten of my professional peers who are scattered around the state and country would all be connected and share a few signals a month (check out software xxx, or company yyy, technology zzz, or wine aaa) but getting there from here seems like a lot of work.

  7. Nate Angell says:

    Thanks for the nice complements! It seems like you *do* get twitter as you describe it so well, it’s just that it doesn’t fit in with your current modality 😉

    If you want to hear more about twitter, our local dead trees rag did a piece on twitter…check out the video for more from yours truly 😉

    I also listed out some of the “other” uses of twitter on my blog entry here…for example, some companies are doing interesting customer engagement/support via twitter:

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