"I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore, and I was a tweetaholic. I had four million Twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using Twitter as an outlet and I started using Twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song."
— John Mayer, quoted in Rolling Stone on why he went off Twitter cold turkey
People who aren't on Twitter will undoubtedly roll their eyes at this. Maybe you didn't even hear about this when it happened; it was months ago. But for a lot of Twitter users, even if we did roll our eyes — or quietly celebrate Mayer's departure from Twitter, because he's an asshole — it actually was cause for some reflection.
In the three years since I joined the site, I've written just shy of 50,000 tweets, amassed almost 3,500 followers. Apparently I write an average of 38 tweets a day. Last night, I live-tweeted the Emmys. Sorry, the #Emmys. I am not proud of this. But I didn't even think about it; I was alone in my apartment, near-robotically shoveling Thai food into my mouth, and completely robotically type-type-typing away on my Twitter client. Snarky shit that the world easily could have done without.
That's become the word most often used to describe me. Not generous. Not thoughtful. Not talented. Snarky.
Because, well, I'm sort of a bitch on Twitter. I guess that's my thing. And it's common knowledge that once enough people see that you project yourself in that way, even if it's not how you and your closest friends see you, well…
I hate that. I'm a nice person. But throwing that insistence into the ether without anything to back it up is just as hollow a gesture as it seems. The snarky wheel gets the grease, and I like the attention. I am not proud of this. But what's a sweet girl to do when the insular online world loves her snark? (Until they hate it.)
I know this is the world that a lot of us live in now. It certainly is for me. And my fascination — okay, obsession — with Twitter hasn't just been for the sake of online popularity; I've gotten job leads, free meals, dates, freelance work and mentions in such illustrious publications as the Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journals — for putting myself out there as much as I do. I've made so many friends and learned from so, so many professional contacts that I'd never even have had access to without Twitter.
And I am proud of this.
But what suffers as a result? My long-form creativity. It breaks my heart.
I'm depressed as hell when I look back at my blog for the past few months. I know, I know: Quality over quantity. But then I remember how hard it's been to write the posts that are there — and how many of them I'm actually proud of — and I'm even more depressed. For the most part, writing anything longer than a couple hundred words has been like pulling teeth. And I lost all my babies a long, long time ago.
And then? That fixation on immediate gratification — with page hits, with comments, with retweets of the post's link on Twitter — sets in. And that isn't healthy either. At some point, it actually felt good just to write. Beyond that: just to know that someone might see it and enjoy it.
Not only do I rarely feel that intrinsic joy anymore, but it's also hard for me to produce anything that could create it in the first place.
"Rainy days and Mondays always get me down," I'd have tweeted this morning, maybe with a TwitPic of the rippling puddle at the corner outside Starbucks attached. And the emphatic retweets, the sympathetic replies, would follow.
Well, not today. Today, I keep my 140-character quips to myself. On the first day of Chicago's Social Media Week, so begins my (probably) one and only Day Without Twitter. I wonder whether anyone will think I've died.
More truthfully, I wonder whether anyone will notice. Because for as "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" as Twitter is, it begs the question of how many people have been mentally trained, Clockwork Orange-d, into watching, just like I have.
Finally, let me be clear: In publishing this, I'm not looking for congratulations on my Herculean sense of self-control, or this keen introspection I've done here. (Real. Keen.) This is about self-improvement. Because while there are a few people growing tired of my snark and constant tweeting lately — and a few more bemoaning the lack of posts on my blog — I can safely say I'm at the top of both lists.
And if there's one thing Twitter has taught me, it's this: It's all about me.