Feel sorry for me

It’s been a tough week to keep up with Twitter.

Okay, don’t

I realize this claim, as stated, may not arouse your sympathies. Most folks don’t care about Twitter; of those who do, most probably don’t feel any obligation to keep up with their timeline; of those who do, most probably see themselves somewhere along a continuum describing how frequently they take sips from the firehose. I admire those people. When I say “keep up”, I mean sealing my mouth around the firehose so that the whole of the flow (at the time of writing, 992 people) goes through me.

Being a fairly fast reader is a prerequisite. Still, the firehose is always faster. When I’ve caught up recently and am not very far behind, I tend to evaluate each new tweet with more attention; if I’m hours behind, I have to do a lot more skimming. Either way, when I see links to papers, articles, blog posts, and the like, I mostly save them for later.

Psychological self-trickery

Save-for-later is among the most effective self-manipulation hacks I’ve yet found. I want to feel like I’ve read everything I need to have read. If I can barely keep up with tweets, then I definitely can’t keep up with all the follow-up reading material they link to. When I save an article for later, that almost always means I’ll never see it again. But occasionally (mostly on planes) I do leaf through my read-it-later pile. And when I encounter a situation in which I vaguely recall having saved material that might be helpful, lo and behold, Past Me has made it easy for Present Me. All told, “save-for-later” lets me feel like I’ve read everything I need to have read right now, because I’ve taken action to minimize my unawareness of things I might need to read in the future. Evidently I suffer from a kind of time-shifted FOMO for knowledge.

Keeping up with Twitter this week might have been a bit easier had I attended either CAST or Agile 2015, rather than being at work trying to do work. But I couldn’t just mute #agile2015 and #cast2015 from my timeline. I missed all those conference talks about my livelihood, all those hallway conversations with my tribemates. Twitter is one of the few ways I can still perhaps learn from them. See, there’s that knowledge-FOMO again. I know my personality contains a strong element of compulsiveness. So when I observe my impressive dedication to rationalizing being a Twitter completionist, I’m obliged to wonder whether I ought to continue to indulge my default preference, or maybe devote some energy and arrange myself to behave differently.

Still no?

If this question doesn’t arouse your sympathies either, consider how long it takes to read the entire newspaper in one sitting. Now imagine that you

  • Spend the same total amount of time reading, but as the sum of many smaller intervals,
  • Follow up elsewhere on half the smaller articles to avoid leaving your mind dangling,
  • Don’t know how long the newspaper you’re trying to finish is going to be today, and
  • Read this unrelaxing, variable-length paper every day.

Switching to Twitter for your news might require more total coffee. Even if it doesn’t, the frequent attention switches will leave you jittery. When I force the entire flow to go through me, some of it inevitably comes out my ears. And when I go on vacation, I feel relieved to be excused from firehose duty.

Nobody was making me do it

If that’s so, then besides my compulsions, what compels me to return to duty? Unlike the convoluted “reasoning” I’ve subjected you to in this post, this one’s simple. A year ago, I was struggling to make a career change. My strategy eventually worked, just before my budget ran out. Without Twitter, I could not have succeeded.

Twitter? Really? Yes. I used it to find people who were doing what I wanted to be doing and listen directly to them. How did they talk about their work? Build my vocabulary. What questions did they find worth consideration? Consider them. How did they seek growth? Seek mine. What interested them in conversation? Try, if and when I felt I could, to offer it. Thanks to Twitter, I formed needed connections outside my brain that led me to form needed connections inside it, so that by the time the right opportunity came knocking, I was the right opportunist to open the door.


I still use Twitter this way, and intend to continue. But I know enough now (and maybe knew enough all along) that the constraint on my being helpful to teams and organizations isn’t how much I know. It’s how effectively I pay attention. That’s one thing Twitter can’t help me with — unless one of you posts a link to an article about paying attention at a time when I’m sufficiently caught up to read it on the spot.