Why would anyone who teaches mindful awareness to kids and families tweet? Isn't Twitter the height of mindlessness embodied in an endless stream of random and reactive virtual chatter known as tweets? By churning up mental noise, rather than quieting it down, isn't Twitter the opposite of mindfulness?
Just in case there's anyone reading this post that still associates tweeting with tiny birds let me backtrack a bit. Twitter is an outrageously popular social networking website where users post short messages called tweets. Think of a tweet as a micro-mini blog limited to 140 characters. A Tweetor is someone who has a Twitter account and posts tweets. To automatically receive every last one of a particular Tweetor's tweets just follow her. The number of followers a Tweetor has is a sign of online popularity or validation, so often a Tweetor's real-life friends will follow her just to show support. Sound inane and sophomoric? You bet. So how did this seemingly dopey venture attract $55 million in funding and 9.8 million unique visitors in February alone?
Looking past the quite modern aspects of online twittering there is something rather sweet and retro about the whole thing. Twitter is, in many respects, a call back to sewing circles, ice-cream socials, and mixers. These old-fashioned social events of yesteryear were primarily about making friends, having interesting conversations, and learning something new. Not so different from Twitter's mission to: "be a way for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected." At it's best Twitter is exactly what it sets out to be. For instance, I pick up odd bits of useful information on my Twitter feed. Tweets (or retweets) from colleagues that link to articles are usually worthwhile. I've gotten tweets from friends that have made me laugh out loud and others that read like poetry. A tweet about the uber-trendy presentation technique called Pecha Kucha (Japanesse for chatter) has changed the way I give public talks. Like mining for gold, there's a wealth of wisdom and untapped natural resources buried in the seeming chaos of Twitterdom, just waiting for you to tap into. How? The same way you tap into them in conversation -- by listening, reflecting and speaking with care.
* Start by reading rather than tweeting. Spend some time reading other people's tweets to get a feeling for the Twitter landscape. To find other like-minded Tweetors, visit the Twitter tag gallery and type one of your interests into the search box. Voila! Up pops links to other users who tagged themselves as interested in the same thing. Read their tweets and you'll find that, just as in real-life, there are Tweetors you like and others that bug you. Figure out what inspires you to click on the link to follow someone else and you're ready to start tweeting yourself.
* Be lean in your tweets. By design, Twitter keeps tweets lean by limiting their size. But being lean in your tweets goes beyond word count to the number of times you tweet each day and what you tweet about. It's safe to assume that no one (with the possible exception of your mom) is interested in every bit of minutiae that makes up your life. A couple of interesting observations, artfully rendered, once or twice a day, is plenty. More than that and you risk falling prey to the common Twitter custom of un-following anyone who tweets more than 5 times a day.
* Tweet what you know. For Twitter to be anything other than a time-suck, the process needs to be meaningful for both you and your followers. Tweet about things that resonate with you and you'll attract like-minded followers. Follow those whose voices resonate with you and you'll learn something from what they have to tweet.
My perspective might be slightly different from the conventional wisdom, but it works for me. Sure twittering can be a distraction and a time-suck but it doesn't have to be. If you're smart about who you follow, and attract smart followers, it can save time by expanding your knowledge base. Sure most of the tweets in Twitterdom are inane - but that can be true in conversation too. If you choose your friends wisely, both real and virtual, you probably won't be inundated with mindless chatter. But if you are, silencing the virtual chatter is just a mouse-click away.
Follow Susan Kaiser Greenland on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sKAISERg