A couple of months ago, I took a virtual vow of silence on Twitter. You can see the gap from the 4th until the 11th of November on my account here. It wasn’t a dare, bet or other shenanigan from anyone else – I simply wanted to experiment and see what happened. I’m calling it a silent retreat as the desire was to escape the noise, deeply listen to myself and develop my thoughts. It went really quick and was, unsurprisingly, a rather productive time offline. I came to a few conclusions, which I’ve listed below – hopefully they’re of interest:
- No one verbally stated a notice that I wasn’t present. (Perhaps I should take that as a sign to stop tweeting altogether!) I think it’s representative of the style of user I am – I tweet, on average, less than five times per day and don’t use it as my conversation platform (like IM or Skype etc.). Therefore, perhaps no one was used to or expecting to talk me. After all, you need to include yourself in the conversation to be a part of it. And, obviously the more you put out there – the more you will get back.
- Social media creates an over-compulsion for people to share an extraordinary amount about their lives with the world and their networks. When something happens (after all, Twitter asks: “What’s happening?), my thought process was often: “How can I share this moment?”. I found taking the break meant this simplified and became: “How can I be in this moment?”. When we live so openly and publicly – it’s rare to enjoy a special moment and then leave it uniquely yours. I like the idea of naming such moments ‘secret experiences’ and am going to actively try to have at least one a week. For instance, one evening I ran along the beach and witnessed the most spectacular marbled sunset. I felt the urge to immediately twitpic or Instagram the photo but resisted. Instead I sat down on a nearby bench, admired it for 20 minutes and reflected. I then took a picture and text messaged it to a couple of loved ones. As a result, I was being more discerning as to where and to whom I directed my time and attention.
- I was at an event recently with many of Melbourne’s online community and something struck me as odd – the atmosphere was rather flat. People were sharing polite niceties to each other and were enjoying themselves well enough, but there seemed a lack of enthusiasm, excitement and well, presentness I’d grown accustomed too. The more we share, and thus read, about each other’s lives – the more the mystery is dampened. Is there a presumption that we already know how one another has been feeling or what they’ve been doing because we’ve read a couple of tweets about it? How do we sustain our curiosity? I believe limiting the amount we share or read on Twitter, will result in a refreshment of our interest towards offline conversation with those we communicate to regularly on the platform.
- Like many, I use Twitter as a form of creative expression. When I have something to say or feel something strongly, it is very satisfying to have access to an ‘audience’ at my fingertips – a community that is willing or ready to listen and exchange thoughts and ideas with. I’ve been very appreciative of this since the early days of Twitter – the interconnectedness of like-minded souls. However, undergoing a silent retreat meant instead of diluting my creative expression through short bursts in 140 characters, I developed the urge to return to long-form. After suffering block (post to come) for a good part of 2010 – I wanted to write again. I wanted to express myself fully – to explore and communicate depth.
- I like the sentiment: “Only the one who is still can hear “. When you step back from Twitter, you could perceive a lot of what’s said as noise: intersecting monologues, blatant personal and affiliate promotion, psychotic musings, subconscious mundane, hyperactive outcries, idea regurgitation, link oversharing and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, I am both a culprit and an advocate of the former at times. It’s just good to be mindful of where your attention is and be appreciative of context.
All in all, I enjoyed the switching off time and was pleased with myself for exhibiting control relatively easily. Now I often take breaks from Twitter – and largely, I’m not even aware of when I tweeted last. I’m experimenting with time, involvement and balance in my approach, and gasp, have been scheduling most of my insight-focused and link updates thanks to TweetDeck.
I’d like to finish with something applicable I wrote on the platform in question in ’09:
“Manage the technology to make processing the interaction easier – don’t manage the interaction to make processing the technology easier.”
Over and out,