Why I Twitter…and why I am Twittering less…

Recently I’ve come to re-evaluate my love affair with the world’s most perfunctory channel of noise. Several weeks ago, after recovering from a violent case of the stomach flu, I realized that lately Twitter tends to stress me out in the same way diatribic diner menus and multi-level department stores do – too much going on, too much to process, too much noise. Upon recovering from the 24-hr purge-fest, I underwent a cathartic purging of my material belongings and in the process asked myself what had value and what had meaning. Not to my surprise, a lot didn’t and I ended up donating over 50 books to the public library. One book, however, that made the cut and I’m currently reading is “The Power of Now.” Twitter seems to perfectly illuminate how NOT present I am – it is simply a snapshot of the past or reminder for the future. But it is not me living in the NOW.

I’ve since scaled back on the number of people I follow and will probably continue to do so even more. I like being lean. But even more, I like being in the moment. If I’m twittering, I’m not present. To be present in a 140-character, a-thousand-voices-speaking environment is like being a tiny buoy bouncing up and down to the whims of the ocean’s waves, never knowing that an entire world exists below it.

I’m not abandoning Twitter. I still plan on using it for the most self-serving, basic purpose – as a microblog of my life. Verily, I want my life and the people who I care about captured, so that (and this might sound unorthodox to some) when say my dad is no longer physically present, he will persist. And if my niece or perhaps, in the event I do have children, my children want to know about me or the people in my life, I will have left a trail of breadcrumbs. (Which reminds me, @Ev, maybe you should spend less time on Oprah and more time on the archiving and access issue – I want ALL of my tweets archived and accessible).

Andrew McAfee said in his recent writeup of twitter that “humans like to be altruistic” and I responded that humans have a need to be relevant – altruism is simply a bi-product. How can we be relevant if we are not present in our own lives? Can I truly be present in the moment if I’m twittering away? The fact is, I don’t tweet the most memorable moments of my life because either I won’t forget them or a 140-character line of text cannot do the moment justice. And what does this mean? Do I simply tweet the forgettable moments? What does that say about Twitter? In order to be memorable, I need to be present and for me, that’s the only relevance that matters.

I will also continue to use Twitter as a bookmarking tool to information sources of interest to me (and other folks who might be interested as well). But it’s really about me. And all the minutia I said has meaning, I need to appreciate more.

The Value of Twitter: Part I

Among Twitter users, the term  “Twitter addict” freely circulates and is unabashedly self-proclaimed by many members of the community. I am one of these people, who finds the allure so irresistible, I am often teased about my usage.

I started using Twitter in mid-2007. I don’t know the exact date because I have over 8,000 updates and unless someone can prove otherwise, Twitter and Twitter-tangent apps don’t allow me to dig back into the archives this far.

I have often debated the value of Twitter, most notably with Andrew McAfee, associate professor at Harvard Business School and Enterprise 2.0, Boston Red Sox and New York Times crossword puzzle aficionado. Since his first tweet on June 4, 2008, he and I have exchanged jabs, on the verge of SNL Point-Counterpoint diatribes, over each other’s usage, with him calling me an “emotion-junkie” and me calling him a “repressed hoarder.”  I can’t deny his accusation since I believe emotions are self-illuminating cues to what both drives us as well as areas for attention and self-betterment.

*NOTE: I saw Andy on June 1, 2008 at the Government Leadership Summit and took the opportunity to ‘lightly’ antagonize him for not using Twitter.  Three days later, @amcafee arrives. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

My ongoing debate over the use and value of Twitter with my Twitter antagonist led me to examine my own usage and re-evaluate the value of Twitter.  What were the costs versus the benefits to both me and my followers for my participation in Twitter?  I decided the best way for me to answer this was to step off of the Twitter playing field for a week and take a “carrot and stick” approach to break my addictive behavior. I, the competitive being that I am, conceived a wager in which the reward would provide me something I infinitely desire – insight into people, and in this case, a person.

For one week I would refrain from using Twitter, Facebook, and Blip (my three most favorite online community applications ) in exchange for one day of Andrew McAfee departing from his usual perfuctory, minimum participation  in Twitter.  The product was a wager built collaboratively and transparently in a Google Doc:


Today is my final day of silence.  I have kept a journal throughout the week which I will be publishing, including insights I have gained.  I can say regardless of whether or not Andy ends up executing the terms of his side of the wager, the value has been in the journey, not the destination.

[photo – eldh (black/white twitter)]

The Virtual Handshake

Years before the electronic, virtual realm, people relied upon face-to-face interactions for real-time communication. During these times, meetings, greetings, partings, the offering of congratulations, and the completion an agreement were often accompanied by the handshake, with its purpose is to convey trust and parity.  It is believed that the handshake has origins as peace demonstration; that, in fact, no weapons are held by either party.  In today’s global, ever-expanding online environment, however, this demonstration of peace becomes increasingly more difficult and the notion of “First, do no harm” is more and more relevant as information and access to information grows exponentially. As people share and interact more in virtual forums, exposing various aspects of life – from careers to family, thoughts to actions – the opportunity to do harm, to wrong another person, is greater.

This year, The Economist Intelligence Unit wrote about The role of trust in business collaboration. Interestingly enough, the article concedes that “the role of trust is not easily defined” in terms of collaboration. I believe trust is having confidence that the participating parties will do no harm, will do no wrong to the other.  How we, as individuals, convey this precept in collaboration is nebulously difficult in the absence of multisensory queues such as hearing tone of voice, seeing another’s eye movements, or even feeling for the presence of a weapon.

Despite the challenges of creating trust virtually, it still remains the vortex and vertex for collaboration, with the absence or loss of it instigating the dissipation of collaboration and the creation of it elevating participants and activities to new heights and dimensions. As a former date coach and someone who has personally been through the very methodical and comprehensively intricate act of creating a prenuptial agreement, I believe the fundamentals of creating trust in any relationship are universal, and we can leverage much of what is espoused by the extremely profitable business of marriage, things like “State who you are – loudly” and “Make sure your words match the message.”  When I think about my best, most successful collaborative efforts – and evaluate them against a marriage counselor’s 10 Crucial and Surprising Steps to Build Trust in a Relationship – I find all ten elements present.

To begin to build trust, we need not look any further than ourselves.  Our thoughts, our actions, our emotions – are all pieces of the puzzle to “us” and the only way to create the full picture is to take them out of the box and spread them out for exploration. This is our virtual handshake.

And now let me apologize for not doing this sooner: Hi, I’m Amy.

You can get a glimpse into my life at: www.twitter.com/sengseng