One of my digital New Year’s Resolutions was to “go pro” on Twitter. I’m nearly there and I can tell you it’s not easy. For me it’s meant unfollowing and plugging folks into lists or just disconnecting altogether in order to pay attention to things that are, you know, work-related. In some cases it means severing ties with old co-workers, high school classmates and vibrant locals in exchange for national and regional media, current co-workers and influencers. It’s a window into their process, something that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago, and it’s more important to my work than ever. Thing is, has this transformation sucked all the fun out of Twitter and Facebook?
The short answer is: not entirely. What I’ve lost in the early going is some of the engagement I enjoyed. It’s not an entirely passive experience — I still manage to interject from time to time — but it’s not the free-for-all that it was back when I was tweeting about Philly, music, parenting and baseball. I still do those things, but I’ve turned the volume way down. I can see the value in professionalizing Twitter and it’s worth the tradeoff, even if I’ve been inundated with some pretty funny CES tweets this week. (It’s like SXSW Music, but way geekier.)
You know what I don’t miss? The constant whirring of news that’s better suited for a police scanner. Want a snapshot of urban panic? Look at Twitter while a helicopter hovers over your house. It’s valuable information only if it’s correct and that’s an ongoing issue with hyperlocal news in the digital age: the game of telephone just went online.
That said, it’s harder than you think to cut ties to accounts you’ve been following for years, even those that annoy you or that you follow out of some sense of obligation. Twitter doesn’t need to be personal, but it often is. People get upset when they discover you’re not following them back. I’ve never followed everyone back. In fact, my follower to following ratio is nearly 3:1 and always has been. It makes it possible for me to actually pay attention to what’s streaming past in my timeline. If you’re trying to go pro on Twitter, don’t feel guilted into following back. The Twitter cops aren’t going to bust you for personalizing your user experience. You can always change if you like!
Of course I’m cheating by cramming people into lists. I use Baseball Brains and Critical Blasts to stay abreast of what’s happening in my favorite sport and in weirdo music circles without cluttering my timeline. I know it’s a feature few people use, but I’ve learned the value of organizing social media into groups. Much better experience that way.
Facebook? That’s a different story. Last night I transferred my photos from Facebook to Google Photos. I’m trying to disconnect there altogether and start over on Path. Why? It’s just too much noise and it’s all my fault. When I arrived on Facebook, I was a skeptic. Who didn’t leave MySpace wondering if social networking had any value at all. When I started, it was really nice to see familiar faces, even though we hadn’t been in touch in a decade or more. Back then, I was shocked that an algorithm could piece together my past and I loved it. Now I’m not so sure. Some of it has been great; high school wasn’t all bad and reconnecting with my exchange friends has been amazing.
But I overdid it. I glutted myself I didn’t take a moment to think about how much everyone would be sharing. I didn’t curate lists back then because I didn’t think it would get out of hand. Next thing I knew I was scratching my head trying to figure out why adults were asking me to help them on their virtual farms. I wanted to escape, but I couldn’t. Why? I had a baby, and in case you don’t know, once you’re a parent, everyone in your life expects pictures and videos. Facebook offered a place that wasn’t a dedicated blog where I could share those things in real time. It proved a trap and now I’m scrambling to get out. I’ll let you know when I’m free.