Last week I decided to try being more active on Twitter. I’ve had Twitter accounts for years and used them very lightly: as a publication method for my WordPress blogs, to share information with people who didn’t know my offline identity, and to promote a university department when I was a social media manager. It seemed like I already had enough to do without another application. However, I found myself going to Twitter when there was breaking news, knowing that I’d have information faster — and often more accurately — than from watching a TV news channel or visiting a news website. I thought I’d dive in and see what happened.
Here’s what I learned in the past week:
Sharing is fun. Before this experiment, I used to bookmark articles daily, saving them for the next time I needed a topic for this blog. The result? I have a huge folder of old bookmarks. Virtual clutter. Now, I still save articles that I legitimately plan to use, but when I find something interesting, I tweet/retweet it. I like the idea of helping people find a new perspective or information they haven’t seen before. For people who couldn’t care less about Twitter but are curious about those other articles, I’ve embedded a Twitter widget in the sidebar on the right.
Follower count doesn’t matter to me. It’s different for people who build their business or ego from being followed, but since I write and share here for the love of ideas, I don’t expect many people to follow my feed. Besides, if someone follows me because of one particular tweet, he might be horribly disappointed when I link to something like a video of people reacting to VR pornography. My feed isn’t a single topic source and I won’t censor it to attract certain followers. I try not to share things that would be completely off-topic for this blog, though a couple items slipped through.
I’m more informed about a variety of things. By following a wide range of sources, I get more breadth and depth on topics that spark my curiosity, in less time, than I could in trying to visit many sites on a regular rotation. I currently follow sources related to digital/medical/cultural anthropology, sociology, robotics, gaming, devices, Second Life, digital currencies, virtual reality, learning German, the metaverse, hacking and activism, Detroit news, world news, tech news, thought-provoking writing and documentaries, Formula 1 racing, artificial intelligence, protesting money in politics, global health, privacy and Internet freedom, and some thinkers and artists whose work I admire. (If you tweet on one of those topics and I should be following you, let me know!)
I’m more aware of local news. Though I’ve been in the Detroit area for the past 8 years, it doesn’t feel like home to me. It’s just where I live. I don’t get a newspaper or watch local news on TV, so I really only keep track of big regional stories or things happening in my neighborhood. However, by following some Detroit and Michigan news sources on Twitter, I’m more connected to what’s happening in the area as a whole.
I don’t use hashtags. They are useful for aggregating related stories and following themes, but when I try to use hashtags in my tweets, it feels like a #marketing ploy. I appreciate everyone who reads my posts or follows my feed, particularly because I don’t do much to promote them. You found me anyway and chose to read what I write; that’s gratifying and very cool. Thank you. I don’t plan to worry about hashtags on my tweets.
Social media can be a time suck. I already knew this, but the continuously increasing count of unread tweets made that particularly obvious this week. I’m still working on finding a balance for Twitter in my day. I generally check Facebook three times a day — morning, lunch, and evening — but Twitter is more timely and demanding. I ignore it during my writing hours (along with my phone, email, and the Internet as a whole, except for immediate answers to questions). Now I need to figure out how to integrate it with the rest of my time.