I enjoyed the Seven Things meme so much, I’ve decided to continue sharing my oddities with all of you.
You all know about OCD. I’ll probably do a “More things” post about my as-of-yet-undiagnosed OCD at some point in the future, but tonight I’m here to talk to you about something different, yet similar.
I have OTD. Obsessive Twitter Disorder.
OTD is an affliction. The primary sympton is an inherent need to read every tweet from everyone that I follow. This proves promblematic on many levels and it stems from a deeply-rooted feeling that I can trace all the way back to junior high.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a tremendous fear of being left out of “cool” events and “cool” conversations. When I was growing up, my best friend was David D. He lived five houses down the street; we were in the same class in grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6; we walked to and from school together, played on the same teams in little league, played tennis together, and built elaborate GI Joe forts in our backyards. I have vivid memories from that period of my life. I remember one summer Dave had been given one of those mail-order frogs that arrived as a tadpole and you would drop into a tank of water and feed until they grew into a normal little frog. He had done all the work to get this little guy, named Froggy, to spout arms and legs and do all the things that frogs do. One week they went on vacation and asked me to go over to the house every day to feed Froggy. They gave me a key to their house and carefully explained how many of the little brown food pellets I was to gently drop into the tank every day. They showed me how to ever so slightly lift the lid of the tank, just leaving enough room to drop in the food, preventing Froggy from jumping out of the water and hopping his way out of the house. The first few days I diligently walked over to the house, let myself in, and dropped a few pellets into the tank. I’d talk to Froggy like he was a dog: “Good boy! Eat it up! Yummy!” Frogs, however, aren’t really great pets. They rank only slightly higher than fish on the interactivity scale, but really that’s not saying much. I don’t specifically remember what happened, but I missed two days of feeding. The following morning, I woke up with terrible knot in my stomach. I was so uncomfortable. I just knew I had messed up, big time. I walked down the street, went in the house, and hesitantly turned the corner into the kitchen where Froggy’s tank was positioned on the counter near the sink (good natural light from the window in that position). My worst fears were realized when I looked into the tank to see Froggy floating, lifeless, at the surface of the water. My neglect had killed my best friend’s pet. I ran out of the house, locked it up, and ran home. I never told Dave or his parents what happened, and I don’t remember them ever questioning or confronting me about it, but to this this day I still feel guilty (clearly). In the summer of 1991, before 7th grade, his family moved down to the NYC area where his father accepted a position as the superintendent of a school district in affluent Westchester County. The friend that I had spent my entire childhood with was suddenly gone from my life. I remember saying goodbye to him the night before he moved. Hugging his beagle (Buster, who I loved dearly), hugging Dave, his brother, and his parents, my eyes welling up with tears, we said our goodbyes. I walked out the door for the last time and walked home in the dark, sobbing.
From the day he moved until several years later - sometime in high school - I truly felt like I had no friends at all. Kids that I thought were my friends excluded me from their circles and cliques after Dave moved away. It felt as though the only reason they included me in the first place was because they liked Dave. and I was always just a “tagalong,” so when he left they had no reason to keep me around. One day in the spring I went to a garage sale at a house neighboring one of these other kids. There I bought a GI Joe Skystriker (which I still have). By that point in my life I had my heart set on joining the Air Force to become a pilot, so to me the Skystriker was “The Toy of all Toys,” and to find it in pristine condition at a garage sale, for an amazing price, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I shelled out the cash and carried the big box all the way home. Returning to school the following Monday, I was incessantly made fun of for my purchase. Kids mockingly singing the GI Joe theme when I was around became a sad trend throughout the rest of that school year.
By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Twitter.
Do you know that feeling when you go to dinner, a movie, or a sporting event - any event where a group of friends sit in a long line - that if you’re sitting on the end you always feel like you’re missing out on the conversation that is taking place on the inside of the line? Or is that just me? That seed, of feeling excluded, was planted when I was 11 years old, and it has yet to die. One of its (many) branches extends into Twitter. I have a fear that if I don’t read every tweet, then I’ll have missed some cool conversation between everyone else, leaving me feeling left out. As a good example: I would have felt like a complete outcast if I had missed the night of #TWITTERBUS2009. Now sure, it’s all just jokes and fantasy, and not being a part of it would have had absolutely no effect on my actual life, but if I had logged in the next day, having not read through all of the previous nights excitement, only to find people still buzzing about it, I’d have felt tremendously excluded. It’s not that I feel like I’m so special that I deserve to be a part of everything. It’s more so that I just truly care about everyone I follow and I want to be a part of the activities that they are a part of. As @luckyshirt so wonderfully described with his recent blog post, it’s a wonderful community filled with truly caring people.
So, my fear of being excluded leads me to read every tweet from everyone I follow. As of this moment I am following 206 people. Problems arise from this, and it’s only gotten worse since I discovered the joys of Favrd. On the one hand, I visit Favrd and see dozens of people showing up on the front page and the leaderboard every day, people that I’m not currently following, but who consistently they make me laugh. I *want* to follow these people, but unfortunately I just don’t have the time for it. On the other hand, as a result of Favrd, I quickly went from following ~100 to following 200+. This was beneficial as I’ve started developing good relationships with all of these new people, they consistently make me laugh (I hope that I return the favor now and then) and I feel a part of their community. Hell, just today we all celebrated the birth of @thedayhascome's baby girl, in grand fashion. I'd estimate that between 100 and 150 of the tweets I read today were @replies to both his original emergency c-section tweet and to the subsequent birth of Lucy Kate. That’s 150 tweets, averaging 100 characters each. If it takes me 10 seconds to read a tweet and process it… well there’s 25 minutes of my day right there, just spent reading about ONE person. You can see how this gets very overwhelming, very quickly. At work I’ve been gently and politely nudged by my boss to spend less time on the site. He described the fact that when people walk past my office, they can only see one of the many monitors I have, and that monitor tends to always have my Twitter page loaded, front and center. So regardless of how hard I might be working on actual work on the other monitors, all they ever see is Twitter, which gives the impression that I don’t do any real work. When out with friends, I’m constantly checking my iPod for wireless signal so I can load up as many tweets as I can to catch up on so I don’t have to read through 300+ when I get home. I’d estimate that in any average daytime hour, I accumulate 60-100 tweets. Going out for three or four hours can mean another hour spent awake when I get home, just catching up on the tweets that I missed while I was offline.
I’m constantly fighting with trying to keep the number that I follow somewhere below 200, in an attempt to eliminate Twitter overload. I’ve had to make some painful cuts in recent weeks by unfollowing people that I really like, but who post with far too great a volume. I essentially break down my followees into three categories: 1) real life friends, coworkers, acquaintances, 2) companies, blogs, news, information, and 3) Favrd folk. The first category never decreases, it only grows - I’m not going to unfollow someone that I hang out with all the time, especially if I like their tweets (@shotcopter, @carhaulspicklaw, @doppelgang3r, etc.). The second category generally fluctuates, but it suffers a lot from my fear of exclusion. Tweeters like @TweetBomb and @TweetContest post absolute rubbish, in high volume, but they offer the opportunity to gain a load of new followers (if you’re bombed) or win prizes (and I don’t believe for a second that you don’t care about gaining more followers. We all have a voice and we all want to be heard, otherwise we wouldn’t be using Twitter in the first place.) It also includes people that I think are generally awesome or that consistently link to great content (@garyvee, @veronica, @MarsRovers). The final category includes the bulk of the people that I follow, and also the VAST majority of the tweets I read on a daily basis. Every time I visit Favrd, I’m tempted to follow everyone there because they’re all hilarious, but unfortunately I just can’t afford to do that.
People have talked about “the Favrd effect” on your follower count - that once you start making your way into the Favrd community you notice your follower count start to grow, but at some point it tends to level off, and then maybe you see it decrease. The decrease is often the result of people deciding to unfollow these Favrd folk with the rationale that they don’t need to see them in their Twitter feed if they are just going to go back and read them on Favrd. Why should I follow @hotdogsladies if I know all his tweets are going to end up at the top of the leaderboard, where I’ll inevitably see them anyway? And while I’m on the topic of Merlin, let’s be honest now: sure he’s moderately funny, but he’s not any more funny that @aedison, @sween, @abigvictory, @InsoOutso, @zolora, or anyone else that I follow. You all know who you are, and I love you all. I’m sick of people getting recognized not for the content of their tweets, but for the name of the person posting them.
I know why I continue to follow these people; OTD. I don’t want to miss out, I don’t want to feel excluded, and I don’t want to be left behind, because I sincerely and earnestly care about these people.