It would be no exaggeration to say that I owe my position as a columnist with the New York Observer to Twitter. I happened to get into a Tweet-out with an Observer columnist about a year ago, and the editor noticed, took a look at my blog, and offered me the opportunity to write for him—an offer it took me roughly four-tenths of a second to accept.
By that time, I had been an avid Tweeter for some time and was beginning to grow a small following of people who liked my political analysis. I had a strict policy: nothing but political analysis. I soon found other serious political analysts liking and re-Tweeting my tweets, not to mention hundreds of regular Joes and Josephines with an interest in the topic.
Somewhere along the way, I went from learning how to master the medium to being mastered by it. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I soon found myself typing anything that I thought was going to get eyeballs, the more outrageous the better. And it worked. I kept getting new followers. It was still a modest following, but one that went up by about 30% in a year’s time.
It became addictive. It was like a sugar rush to throw out the snappy comeback and to get the cascade of likes and retweets. It meant I was finally being noticed; that I had something to say that people wanted to read. It was a giant ego boost to have all these people cheering me on whenever I landed a punch.
I found that I, introvert of introverts, had all kinds of new friends I’d never met. And suddenly, I was sucked in. I found myself compulsively checking my phone to see the latest Tweets. It began to be where I got most of my news and, increasingly, a disturbingly large share of my social interactions—a substitute for the real social interactions I increasingly failed to seek out in a new city.
Somewhere along the line, the line got crossed. It became personal. And I found myself getting into increasingly nasty arguments with trolls. Or was I the troll? I guess that would depend on one’s point of view, wouldn’t it?
The more invested I got in it, the less fun it became and the more it seemed like an unhealthy escape from real life. I began to treat occurrences on Twitter as if they really mattered to me personally. I actually stressed over whether somebody I’d never met, and never would meet, managed to get the better of me in an argument. I guess you could say the people on Twitter did matter and they do matter, because the people I interact with are indeed real people with real lives, but it’s dangerous to forget that you’ve got to live your life where you are. You can’t live it in the Twitterverse, even if it seems like a more interesting world than the one you actually inhabit physically. I began to forget that. Hell, I forgot it entirely.
So here’s the dilemma. How do I pull myself back from this overindulgence in Twitter without cutting off the opportunity to interact, to influence, and most importantly, to market myself as a political analyst and columnist with valuable things to say? How do I keep attracting an audience without overdoing the personal touch?
I guess that’s the trick, isn’t it? Maybe one day I’ll discover the answer.