A little over a week ago, I attended the amazing CocoaLove conference in Philadelphia. While I had an amazing time, I left feeling rather down about myself and the community I spend a lot of time in.
Ultimately, the talk that I found continuing to resonate the most after I left was William Van Hecke’s talk on feeling good.1 A large theme of his talk was the negative feedback loop that tends to occur in our community; a negative comment is often easier to get across than a positive one. William described the Internet as “a car horn you can honk at the world,” and it was pretty clear from the laughter in the room that everyone got what he meant by that.
One place where the Internet seems more like a car horn than others is Twitter. As this article explains in more detail than I can, Twitter doesn’t exactly lend itself to the kinds of friendly conversation it used to. In the early days of Twitter, when everyone knew each other (usually from somewhere outside of Twitter), it was possible to work around it. As Twitter grew, though, the sheer number of people who could become part of a discussion made mutual understanding between all parties unlikely, if not nearly impossible. Information-light angry (or sarcastic) soundbites became the easiest way to get a point across.
Over the last two years, this change in conversation tactics led to a shift in how I felt about the people I interacted with. People who I knew weren’t jerks in real life ended up seeming like jerks on Twitter. Late last year, it reached a tipping point; I unfollowed 85% of the people I followed in an attempt to get rid of the negativity I was feeling.
But that didn’t stop it for long. Even with the much smaller number of people I followed, it felt like the negative feedback loop got worse and worse. Slowly, even my closest friends were included in the group “those jerks on Twitter“, and then it hit me…
I realized I was one of those jerks.
To be clear, I don’t think any of the people I dealt with on Twitter are actually jerks. (Well, okay, probably some of them. But I don’t really know, do I?) It’s the brusqueness of the 140-character limit and the way that tweets can spread far beyond their intended audience that makes people seem like jerks.
It turns out that thinking that everyone in your industry (yourself included) are massive jerks isn’t exactly all that healthy. It led to feelings of utter despair where I considered getting out of the software industry entirely. Which, of course, only made my feelings about myself worse. Had I spent ten years of my life getting to know and work with a bunch of terrible people?
Then the CocoaLove conference happened. When I suddenly got a chance to talk to the same people I thought were jerks in person, I found out they really weren’t. I even met someone I’d blocked on Twitter, and they turned out to be a really nice person in real life.
It finally hit me: the way I felt wasn’t “people on Twitter are jerks,” it was “people are jerks on Twitter.”2 After this epiphany, and a brief hiatus to see if I could even break my own habits, I’ve made my decision: I’m getting off of Twitter, effective immediately. A link to this blog post will be my final tweet, and I’m only going to watch for replies until Tuesday. As part of my hiatus, I’ve already deleted all my Twitter apps from all my devices, and I’ll be scrambling my password on Tuesday to even prevent myself from logging in without going through the “forgot my password” hoops.
I don’t plan on completely leaving the community. In fact, I’m hoping that getting rid of all of my focus on Twitter will allow me to focus on other things, such as this very blog. Heck, I’ll probably even be back on Twitter around WWDC time with my WWDC Parties account. If you want to get ahold of me personally, my e-mail is publicly available, and I’m happy to share my iMessage address with anyone who asks.
I thought long and hard about whether I even wanted to write this post. The mere existence of it goes against much of what I say in it. But I felt like I owed the many people who I count as friends that I only know through Twitter… something. Thank you all for the wonderful times I’ve had these last 7 years. Goodbye.