Practice

Twitter Me This

Let me tell you about my grandson’s birthday party.

Two more stylish gents never before have graced such an establishment…

It was AWESOME. There was cake. There was pizza. “Happy Feet” played on the big screen at the pizzeria, and that gave me an extra-special Happy Dancing Grandpa feeling, because I know that someday little Harvey and I are going to watch Savion Glover dance for real (as opposed to in animation) and he’ll have that movement conditioned as a happy thought. I am not above using psychological principles to operantly condition the young lad; we watched the kung-fu portions of The Matrix the other day, acting them out together (fighting the invisible robots in the walls) and he agreed with me that Keanu Reeves is, in fact, one of the finest actors of our generation.

But back to the party. The venue was billed as a “pizzeria/arcade” and that was also appealing to me, because I used to love arcades. I spent way too much money in places like Chuck E. Cheese’s when I was a kid, and one of my favorite childhood memories was getting all the high scores on Tank Assault with my Dad when we were snowed in to a hotel in Ohio. So of course I looked forward to going to the arcade with Harvey.

The Gambler

However, it’s been a while since I’ve gone to an arcade. And what they have as an arcade now is…not what I expected.

It was entirely ticket-based. That is, every game would give you a “reward” of tickets, which could be used to “purchase” little toys and knick knacks at a nearby counter. Fair enough; I’ve seen these things before, usually with skee-ball games and the like, interspersed among games of skill and adventure and superheroes.

Now, though, everything is about the tickets. And skill is relegated to the aforementioned classic “skee ball”; everything else is basically a randomized game of chat, lighted tracks and video versions of TV Game Shows like “Deal or No Deal.” They give the illusion of skill by giving you buttons to push or choices to make, but there’s no investment in making your games last because they just aren’t that interesting – you want to get it over with so that you can get your tickets and then feed in more tokens and repeat the process.

“Where’s Mommy? I need more money! More money! More! MORE!” was what I heard Harvey saying when he finished the skee-ball game I was helping him with. The need in his voice, the desperate desire for consumption…it scared me, I have to be honest. I wanted to grab him and take him out of that place, which suddenly seemed far more ominous than the grinder from Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

It wasn’t an arcade. It was preschool for a gambling addiction. I was immensely relieved when he took his 200 tickets and went off to get a green jump rope, an orange dinosoar, and a blue finger puppet monster. I will do almost anything to avoid taking him back to that place.

But who am I kidding? We’re in the same boat, thanks to Twitter.

Intermittent Reward of DOOM

Kathy Sierra had it right as far back as 2007. In a blog post on her “Creating Passionate Users” blog, she identified three aspects of twitter that she felt made it “too good”:

  1. it’s a near-perfect example of the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, the key addictive element of slot machines.
  2. The strong “feeling of connectedness” Twitterers get can trick the brain into thinking its having a meaningful social interaction, while another (ancient) part of the brain “knows” something crucial to human survival is missing.  (note: we’ll be getting to this on Friday)
  3. Twitter is yet another–potentially more dramatic–contribution to the problems of always-on multi-tasking… you can’t be Twittering (or emailing or chatting, of course) and simultaneously be in deep thought and/or a flow state. (We’ll get to this next Monday)

Five years later, she’s almost spot on. I can’t say Twitter is evil; I make part of my income as a social media consultant, and a well-run Twitter feed can have amazing marketing and social impact. For a work-at-home freelancer my twitter feed is the equivalent of the water cooler in an office. I literally once got a brand-new laptop because I complained about my old one on Twitter and a friend across the country was feeling generous when he read it.

I’m only going to address the first one here, though. That intermittent reward thing is scary, and I’m going to illustrate that with a dare: I dare you to finish reading this post without checking any other social media. Seriously, I dare you. I double-dog-donut-dare you. No twitter, no tumblr, no email. Just read all the way to the end.

No problem, you say. What, does he think I’m an addict?

Ah, but I’m going to cheat a little. For example, did you know that Eddie Izzard has a twitter? It’s hilarious! Especially this one, where he quotes the @TweetOfGod. Or, if you’re in for more interesting brain fare, the amazing Maria Popova of BrainPickings does over 50 tweets a day of really great and interesting stuff, like this quote from Joseph Conrad on Art & the Writer’s Task. You can go ahead and click that last one, it’s Tumblr, not Twitter, so it doesn’t count.

Except if you did click on that last one, you probably started scrolling, and found a wealth of wonderful thoughts and drawings and more there. I hope so, anyway, because it’s a good link. It really is a reward, a scrumptious treat for the mind.

And that’s the problem. We’re in a Wonkaverse of information, with so many scrumptious treats that we don’t know which door to run to next.

While you’ve been reading, your friends’ have updated their statuses (statii?) 8,467 times. Sorry.

 Express Yourself

Let me reiterate: I don’t think Twitter is evil. It’s a tool, and a treat, and a means of expression. You can dance yourself unhealthy, you can write yourself almost to death (as many NaNoWriMo veterans know). It’s something you consume, but it is not evil. Any more than chocolate is evil, or cigars, or sex. It’s only destructive if you let it be. So, in the spirit of  Chris Brogan, here’s the three-part challenge, for…let’s say one day. If you can manage a week, great. But let’s start with a day where:

  1. During the day, you only check twitter once an hour, to see if anyone’s tweeted at you. Don’t respond.
  2. At any time during the day, you can send OUT tweets any time you like. Say how you’re feeling. Send that instagram. Cat Pics Galore! But…when you send, only send. Don’t check, except on the hour.
  3. At some point (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime) you set aside 15 minutes to just revel in it. Read all you like, reply to all you like, but set the timer, and when 15 minutes are done, put down the twitter.

Now, if you are not a twitterer at all, you can substitute Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, or whatever for it. I just want you to try it. And see how it makes you feel.

I can tell you how I felt the first time I tried it. It sucked. It felt like I was in withdrawal.
And that’s the first step, right? Identifying and admitting that…we may have a problem.Lemme know how it goes. I’m @luvlifepractice, btw.

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