Open Thinkering


Is Twitter bad for you?

I have to confess that, at first, I couldn’t see the point of Twitter. Since then, however, I’ve become somewhat of a convert, getting in touch with many people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lately, however, Ive had cause to re-evaluate my use of the service. I’ve been prompted to write this post by three things, the most recent of which was one of Doug Noon’s comments on my last post:

I’ve avoided Twitter because I don’t want to be *that* connected. I know that it might be “useful” on some level, but so would joining clubs, taking classes, reading great books, working for non-profit civic organizations, and spending time with family. Everyone should set their own priorities, and define some limits.

The second was an incoming link to one of my posts over at about the potential of using Twitter in the classroom. They didn’t like the idea, although the way they tried to link together ‘facts’ to build an argument was woeful:

Nearly one million people use Twitter. That is almost negligible for a US website but guess how many people work in IT in California? Nearly a million. So how many “normal” people do you think use Twitter?

Erm, I don’t think they’re one and the same group of people. But anyway, they continue:

When was the last time anyone normal (i.e. not people who get paid to look at these things) did anything (that did not  involved a dancing seal or laughing baby) as a result of Twitter or Digg or Second Life – or even to a slightly lesser extent Facebook or FriendFeed or MySpace?

They may have a point about preaching to the choir here. But I suppose this post is to do with business and the (monetary) value of getting involved social networking and Web 2.0 as a whole. Perhaps more damning is my all-time favourite blogger, Kathy Sierra (much missed after the debacle last year) who showed us the dangers of The Asymptotic Twitter Curve:

The idea behind Kathy’s worries about the use of Twitter stems from a book by the wonderfully unpronounceable Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi entitled Flow. It’s a book I’ve been threatening to read for around 5 years now! The state of ‘flow’ is, unsurprisingly, a highly productive state in which an individual is ‘in the zone’. Kathy argues that this is almost impossible when you’ve got constant interruptions and distractions. Twitter’s certainly one for putting you off the task in hand.

So what I’ve begun to do, following the example of someone I read recently (but have now forgotten where) is to have two modes of working. The first is best described as outwards-facing, the second inwards-facing. When I’m in the former mode, I’m available on Skype, Twitterific automatically refreshes my friends’ tweets every 3 minutes, and I’m available on Google Talk via GMail. I’m using all four of my virtual desktops via OSX Leopard’s ‘Spaces’ feature and I’m moving around flitting from this to that. Effectively, I’m in ‘networked’ mode.

On the other hand, when I’m in the latter, inwards-facing mode, I’m working minimalistically: I’m invisible on Skype, Google Talk is closed, Twitterific is closed down, and I’m working with – at most – 2/3 tabs in Firefox. Almost everything I do is created and stored online these days, so usually it will be Google Docs and a couple of other websites for reference. I find this, coupled with the right kind of music, to be much more conducive to a state of flow than the ‘networked’ method of working. 😀

What do you think? Is Twitter a bad thing? How do you use it?

19 thoughts on “Is Twitter bad for you?

  1. In response to your post – I too am using Leopard to its extent w/Spaces, but most of this is work related i.e. Macromedia, Photoshop, Mail, Safari and Firefox(Don’t ask!) with itunes running too.

    I tend to use Firefox to keep up-to-date with Tweets……much better than MSN/Skype/Adium…..Twitter allows you to communicate extremely quickly and network with other users/professionals who could possibly solve a question/answer a problem.

    Agreed when I was first introduced to it via Dave Stacey….I couldn’t see ANY mileage in it… wrong was I….

  2. Hi Doug (again), I’m obviously in networked mode. I would never have found your blog were it not for Twitter. It’s always a source of inspiration for me (Twitter that is ;-), a mine of useful resources and ideas. The key is, as you so rightly say, in the discipline of switching it off. I used to get twitchy if I’d not had the chance to check my email inbox for half a day, now it’s checking for Twitter updates (i turned them off my mobile very quickly).

  3. The love/hate relationship with Twitter I think is due to the fact that 95+% of tweets are absolutely useless but it’s the remaining 5% of tweets that are absolute gems…good sites, help when you need it, or an opportunity to hear from someone who’s too busy to return an e-mail or pick up a phone. That remaining 5% keeps me coming back.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. It is really important, as Doug Noon says, to have limits. John, I too have switched off mobile tweets – it was interfering with my teaching… :p

  5. I don’t use Twitter but not from any specific reasons.
    I was really interested in what you said about the inwards and outwards facing mode as I do find that I do tend to get constantly sidetracked. I think the idea is fantastic and intend to try it out.

  6. Hi Doug,
    Your two working modes are a great idea. I sometimes get a deal of work done by not opening my mail, twitter or rss reader and attempt to keep my ‘clicky finger’, as we say to the wee guys away from bookmarks and tempting links.

  7. Doug,

    As I wrote on your previous post I think twitter is a strange beast. It’s usage does need balance as you suggest. Some educators are caught up in it. Forty or more updates per day on average in some cases.

    I too have a love/hate relationship but as I mentioned on your previous post I have an uneasy feeling about Twitter and cannot help but sense an “us and them” feel about some of the prevailing Twitter networks. I wonder if I am imaging that and if I am not what are the preconditions for being welcomed or included in a particular nest of Twitterers?


  8. The ‘two modes of working’ thing really rings true with me. I’ve pondered recently how I tend to move between consuming (reading a lot) and creating (when I tend to shut out the rest of the world). Running parallel is the extent to which I’m engaged in whatever I’m doing, from VERY productive (in reading or creating) to just doing enough to get get by.

    After having had to drastically cut myself from Twitter / Google Reader / Email etc recently to finish a project I was being paid for, I’m currently reassessing my use of both Twitter and Google Reader, but then, I do that every few months anyway. Given how fast new technologies are being adopted, I think that’s probably both normal and healthy. After all, if these tools really are offering personalisation, that will include the way that we all interact with them.

  9. Doug,
    The problem for me is that I want to do creative things that do not involve the computer too. It’s always a challenge balancing my on-line activities with my off line activities. When I’m reading blogs, exploring Twitter, blogging, podcasting, google reader classroom blog, stumbling etc. I’m not doing other things that I love to do. I guess I can’t do it all even though I’d like to. I’m struggling to find a balance.

  10. Interesting this as I’ve nearly signed up for Twitter quite a few times but have always held back, for the exact reasons that your quote from Doug Noon mentions. I also, despite having a Facebook account, rarely log into it.

    Then again, I had thought that Twitter might actually help discipline my time – i.e. I almost setup the next 30 minutes to be spent developing something rather than wasting time. Then again, to a certain extent I am at my most productive when nominally wasting time.

    I still haven’t signed up for Twitter and I now don’t think I will. I think it is a useful tool and one that can be used extremely well. Just as long as you are dictating your usage to it, rather than the other way around.

  11. Hi Doug,

    I really liked you article which is why I mentioned it my blog. I love your diagrams, too (extra marks for presentation and relevance). I suppose it was typical that I decided to start using Twitter this weekend, the weekend they have all sorts of caching issues!

    Having found your blog because of Twitter I’ll stick around and find out how the ‘edublogosphere’ (great word!) develops 🙂

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