I was explaining the value I've found in Twitter to a skeptical friend not long ago. But when she asked how often I tweeted, I did have to honestly answer "not much". It made me think about why I seem to have this love/hate relationship with this tool - and for me it is a tool.
Of course, I do have a Twitter account - @elldir, but I don't tweet much. When I do, it tends to be in bursts that last a few weeks or months, and then I tend to take a long break from it. Why? Because I would much rather talk to real, live human beings. For me there really isn't an equivalent online that can truly take the place of meeting people in person.
Also, the Twitter format, 140 characters, isn't really conducive to working out complex ideas. If I'm going to write, I typically want to convey something I'm thinking about, explain ideas and ask others for feedback. My online writing is about my work. I really don't care what people are doing in their personal lives unless they are my personal friends, and i really don't care to broadcast my personal life, so Twitter doesn't really fit into my personal life in any way.
However, I cannot deny the benefits Twitter has brought to my professional life. The greatest benefit to me is that it is an excellent way to find others like yourself. I've been very pleasantly surprised to find so many like-minded individuals from all over the world who have given me excellent feedback, criticism, encouragement, and support over the years. Yes, I get that from this blog, but many people have only found this blog because of the way Twitter makes it easy to be found. I also enjoy reading links that others post to interesting articles I may not have found.
Some people have done very creative things with their Twitter accounts. I still smile when I think of Brent Spiner's (remember him as Data on Star Trek) suspense story he wrote in 140 character chunks. Brilliant. But I'm not Brent Spiner, not even close. For me, I have to sit down and interact with Twitter at the expense of anything else I could be doing in that moment. Since I work on confidential projects, I can't tweet about what I'm thinking most of the time if it's directly work related. My writing is about abstracted ideas and models I develop from aggregated work experiences. Tweeting regularly about specific experiences would require that I sanitize my thoughts to the point that I don't fine them particularly interesting or relevant.
And therein lies the rationale for why I both love and hate Twitter. I love the ability to find people I wouldn't have found. The new connections are very valuable to me. But I hate the fact that I have to actually sit down and interact with it. I don't like to divert my attention from what I'm doing at the present moment, so you'll never catch me tweeting from a restaurant, a meeting, or even while I'm watching TV. For that reason, I will miss things that pass by on the Twitter stream. Once a woman I know was in town, and the only way she let me know was via Twitter. I found the tweet a few days after she had come and gone. So for me it will never replace email or even a text message.
But I do look forward to finding even more great people out there, so I'm going to try (again) to focus on tweeting for brief blocks of time during the week. If you respond and don't hear from me right away, now you'll know why.