Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wasting time on Twitter

Do you waste your time on Twitter? I ask myself this all the time. I've been here, in this neighbourhood with you, for 18 months. When I'm here, I'm not there. There being with the kids, thinking about my job, cleaning up, planning meals, doing laundry or getting ready for bed. Time on Twitter or blogging is time my "real" life is donating. Is it a good investment?

Let's review some data. Since joining Twitter as Mrs. Which:

Mutual Followers: 878 
Listed: 151 
Regular Interaction with: 117 people (give or take)
Blog Followers: 60 (although many comments come from non-followers)
Blog Views (data available only for the last 6 months only): 3715

What does this little block of data tell me? To me it says that, regularly, I dip into the immediate thinking of a statistically relevant sample of 878 people and take whatever is there to think about. I also spend more time getting to know about 117 individuals that I could never otherwise encounter. The data also tells me that, if I take the time to make words of my thinking and tweet that, a statistically relevant sample from 878 people is likely to read it in passing and possibly benefit, or add new thinking. 

Blog Posts: 114 (but 33 are still in draft, so really, 81)
Story Starters: 12
# Early Readers: 13
Short Stories: 1 Completed, 1 in progress (1/3)
Children's Book: 1 Completed, 3 in progress
Novels: 1 in progress (1/3)

This block of data represents my creative output - the tangible outcomes of my time on "social media." What it tells me is that I've done more creative writing since joining Twitter than I had done in the entire decade prior. I'd always written, but I'd never permitted myself fiction. The blog is of particular interest to me, because I play with magnifying and fictionalizing my own experience, which has let me move beyond an invisible barrier I was keeping between reality and fiction. 

But now, the water gets murky. Because I'm out of data, but I have little information. Isn't that always the way? The things that really matter, they don't show up in the numbers. Numbers and words need each other. 

But if I could take the time, and go back through all my 11,595 tweets (!), here is a partial list of the categories I might use, and the metrics associated with them:

  • Asked for help: #times
  • Asked for love: # times
  • Created boundaries as a field, not a wall : # relationships maintained
  • Spent time delving into and crafting my thinking into language before moving on: # thoughtful tweets
  • Took in feedback and perspectives from places I never could have accessed: # times scanned stream
  • Felt inspired by other people's writing: # blog posts read, #novels read after twitter recommendations
  • Felt proud of my own writing: # people for whom it resonated
  • Supported other people through pain: # times someone felt better after an interaction
  • Encouraged other people to stay with it: # times someone moved past a barrier after an interaction
  • Gave other people something to think about: # times someone asked themself a question after reading
  • Cried: # times my heart opened
  • Laughed: #times I felt understood
  • Imagined: # times ideas leaped to life
  • Wondered: # times I thought about a Twitter friend
  • Wished: # times I shared a wish with another human being
  • Hoped: # times twitter helped me keep my grip on hope

There are two other tangible things I want to mention. The first is that, over the last 18 months, I've lost 20 lbs. I haven't dieted. I've just...felt more compelled, more often, to make better choices. Eating, exercise - I'm still pretty slack sometimes, but more and more I find myself not needing food to cope, seeing time taking care of my body as a luxury and a joy - a chance to play. Can I attribute this to Twitter? This supportive outlet I've developed, my little blanket fort, has definitely helped me ground.

The second tangible thing is that I found the illustrator for my children's book through Twitter. She encouraged me to submit it to her publisher, and it was accepted. So I can directly attribute the publication of my book in April, 2012 to my time on Twitter.

I'm well aware that this is a sorry excuse for a cost-benefit analysis. I haven't even provided any data about HOW MUCH time I spend. The truth is, I don't know. I fit it into the cracks and crevices. That's the beauty. A great deal of the time I spend on Twitter is my time-between. Between the kids' tooth brushing and bed, when I'm ordered from the room while they dress. Between turning on the burner and the water boiling. Between putting the kids to bed and doing the chores, when my body and mind just need a break. For the most part I tweet and run, maybe do a quick scan on the fly. When I do sit down for 20 minutes, it's usually time I couldn't bear to spend productively because I just need a rest from the production. 

It's both restorative and generative time that, largely, would otherwise be wasted. I achieve a depth of connection in some ways, and a shallowness in others, that fits perfectly with the time, energy and attention I have to give. It's like an accelerator, sliding learning into the grooves.

For time spent blogging and writing, I can do a bit better. Based on my writing patterns and regular times I make available, I'm guessing I spent between 100 and 120 hours of the last year on creative writing. It averages to 10 hours a month, 2.3 hours a week, but it doesn't play out like that. It's more feast and famine. This metric does not mean that, given 3 weeks of full time work, I could produce a children's book, 1/3 of a novel, 81 published blog posts and a short story. What it means, to me, is that I've carved out times for writing, and made good use of the time that shows up in between.

In essence, what I'm saying is this: not only does Twitter not waste my time, it actually gave me time back that was otherwise wasted. It filled my cracks and crevices with creative interactions, new thoughts, connection that I otherwise would not have experienced, and allowed me to do things I've never managed to do before.

Will it always do this for me? Who knows? I'm thankful to have had this tool for the past year, this way to connect with so many people, and to become a person who values connection and seeks it in my daily life without subterfuge. 

Before the next time someone asks you why you waste your time on Twitter, I hope you'll do your own mini-Cost/Benefit analysis. And please, share!