Dealing with my Twitter addiction or: please be kind and retweet

twitterHello world. My name is Larry Schlesinger and I am an addict.

It’s not crack cocaine, or alcohol or heroin or chocolate that I can’t get enough of.

I am addicted to Twitter. I make this confession openly and honestly and promise to change.

I realised I was addicted to Twitter – really realised – when I sat down on a Tuesday evening last week in front of the television to watch an episode of my favourite show, the UK detective drama Midsomer Murders. As the killer was unmasked by Detective Inspector Tom Barnaby of Causton CID, I was completely clueless as to how the great sleuth had reached this stunning conclusion (Who would have thought it was the priest with a limp in love with his brother’s ex-girlfriend?)

The truth was I had completely lost track of the plot, Christ, I didn’t even know who the main characters were anymore.

It was all because of Twitter.

It seemed impossible that I could go more than 15 minutes of a Midsomer murder (in some quaint flower-encrusted cottage) before, with sweaty palms and gritting teeth, I yanked my phone out of my pocket and ravenously checked the updates on my Twitter feed.

Had I missed something? An explosion? A plane crash? A new government crisis? Had Tony Abbott spontaneously combusted? Had someone cooked a hamburger all by themselves? Or remembered the name of their dead pet parrot? Or decided they liked the colour blue more than red?

How could I possibly go on watching Barnaby as he traipsed through the English countryside finding clues while all these important things were happening in the lives of others – some of whom I don’t even know?

And then the utter ludicrousness of it dawned on me.What the f-ck was I doing? Had I gone mad?

Yes, Twitter is without any doubt the most powerful social media device in the world bar none – I realised this the day someone at work yelled out: “Someone has just tweeted that Oscar Pistorious has been arrested for shooting his girlfriend” – but the addiction (and the envy: he has how many followers???) came much later.

Never mind breaking news about really significant events – where Twitter has its true power – I had to know the insignificant minutiae of everybody else’s lives – and tell my eager 1,500 or so followers all the boring crap about my own. Had it really come to this?

Of course I am not the only one addicted like a twit. There are millions of us updating the world about ourselves, 140 characters at time. We’ve all become experts at the “#” and “@”. We know what’s trending. We know who said what to whom.

Get on any train in Melbourne or Sydney or Paris or London, or a bus in Dar-es-Salaam of Caracas, or a camel in Morocco and there will be someone tweeting or retweeting or favouriting or replying.

The kind of crap you used to mutter to yourself on a lonely stretch of highway as the tumbleweeds drifted buy  – that’s what’s become breaking news in the Twit-o-sphere.

– I just saw a dog that looked like my grandpa. Better tweet that.
– What a beautiful row of palm trees. Better tweet that. Etc etc.

I am pleased to say I am dealing with my addiction, though temptation is the route of all smart phone evil.

For the last two days, there has been no Twitter and no inane tweeting after work. I’ve actually given my wife and my daughter my full attention between the hours of 6.30pm and 8.30pm. It’s been a struggle, my palms have been itchy, my fingers twitching, seeking out the phone I’ve stuck in a locked drawer, but I’ve managed…somehow.

Home in the evening has become a Twitter-free zone, especially as the bodies start dropping all of over Midsomer County, the deadliest county in England.

Baby steps, Baby steps…each day is a struggle, but I think it is getting easier.

I’m so pleased with myself, so delighted with my progress that I think I’ll celebrate. Yes, this is what I will do: I’ll compose a little congratulatory message to all my ‘friends’.

Exactly 140 characters.

Death by @Twitter: Do my tweets matter that much?

A strange thing happened to me on Twitter a little while ago.

It was at the time that the Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was being sent to jail on outrageous, fabricated charges in Egypt and I tweeted something like:

I think the Abbott govt would have made more of an effort to help Peter Greste if he worked for News Corp.

The tweet was in bad taste, but I had blundered even further by being completely unaware that the verdict had just been handed out in a Cairo kangaroo court.

It stayed up a couple of hours while I was out at the movies.

When I returned, my Twitter notification box was lit up: half a dozen people had seen my remark and hurled abuse at me – via tweets calling me an insensitive so and so.

Others had retweeted their condemnation of my tweet. The wheels – I thought – were in motion.

For a moment, I was in a blind panic. Would I suffer the fate of Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted about going  Africa and getting AIDS and become a social media sensation (for all the wrong reasons) and get sacked?

Justine SaccoWould #whereisLarry? start trending?

In a cold sweat, I frantically deleted the tweet and tweeted my apologies to the most incensed in the Twitter-sphere (Complete strangers actually).

We all made up – and life went on.

Looking back on it now, I can’t decide if I completely over-reacted or on the other hand – had defused a ticking time bomb.

I think perhaps the former: My tweet was not nearly provocative enough and it was neither racist, sexist or xenophobic, the kind of tweets that really land you in to trouble.

In fact, now I kind of wish I’d left it up – just to see what might have happened.

Andy Warhol famously predicted in 1968 that in the future, everyone would get their 15 minutes of fame. He probably never thought that so many people would achieve it via social media or reality TV?

Had I missed out on mine?

The strange, dangerous, addictive world of @Twitter

twitterA colleague at work tells me I’m the worst tweeter in the world.

I laugh and shrug, but agree he could be right  (some of the time).

Mostly, it’s to do with my inane comments on sport, particularly Australian Football, which I admit I know very little about.

Still that doesn’t stop me winding up my 1200 or so followers, some of whom are friends who support opposing teams to the high-flying Sydney Swans, the team I barrack for.

What can  I say, I like to wind people up by saying this coach couldn’t teach a primary school woodwork class or that full forward couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo – let alone guide the Sherrin through the middle posts.

My problem is that I occasionally tweet my private thought and let’s be honest everyone has some pretty dark or silly ideas running through their brains at one time or another (before Twitter came along in 2008 the worst you could do is send a text message while drunk or angry) .

Some tweets are so explosively bad, they have the potential to be disastrous.

This was famously illustrated last year when PR executive Justine Sacco tweeted to just 400 followers before boarding a long-haul flight from the US to South Africa:

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Twelve or so hours later, her racist remarks had been retweeted thousands of times – by people who had tens of thousands of followers creating a huge multiplier effect – and the Twitter-sphere was up in arms.

A hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended around the world and Ms Sacco found herself with 8000 unwanted “followers”.

Ms Sacco lost her job, her reputation was in tatters and she promptly vanished from Twitter and social media to lick her wounds (though amazingly someone has hired her again!)

Of course other more famous people have gotten into trouble for tweeting including fiery cricketer Dave Warner, who tweeted an expletive-ladden attack on cricket writers and was promptly fined by Cricket Australia and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher who tweeted to his 8 million followers his support for American college football coach Joe Paterno after he was sacked for not doing enough to prevent the abuse of children by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

A bad tweet can end a career, ruin a reputation and cost a lot of money in legal fees – comedian Roseanne Barr was sued by the parents of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin – after she tweeted their home address. The Zimmermans claimed Ms Barr incited a lynch mob. She later deleted the tweet but the damage was already done.

Undeniably, Twitter has incredible power.

While Facebook’s influence is arguably waning, Twitter is getting bigger and bigger (pop star Katy Perry has 54 million followers) and it has that incredible multiplier effect through retweets. Give a tweet time (as in the case of Justine Sacco) and the results can be tsunami-like.

Twitter’s power is its immediacy, punchiness (just 140 characters forcing people to condense their thoughts into bite size chunks) and ability to reach so many people.

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and others, where there is some level of privacy (messages can be restricted to friends and networks), Twitter is a free-for-all where everything is public.

It’s an addictive place where you can read the private thoughts of some of the world’s most powerful people  like right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch  – @rupertmurdoch  – who actually writes his own rambling tweets.

It’s where you can interact with your favourite celebrities (who doesn’t like to brag about getting a reply from a favourite actor or a retweet or mention) and get involved in discussions on politics, sport, religion and every topic in between.

There’s a strange kind of pleasure when people from far-flung places respond to your tweets. For example, this exchange after I posted my thoughts on the book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which I had just read. I got a reply from an actor appearing in the play of the novel in the UK.

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Twitter is a great place for sharing stories, thoughts, inspiration, recipes, photographs, anecdotes, jokes and grievances (nothing better than winding up a big corporation who can’t help themselves but responding to every criticism).

Twitter is where many of the biggest news stories are broken (I remember a colleague at work shouting out: “Someone has just tweeted that Oscar Pistorious has shot his girlfriend” before it became a huge worldwide story).

But you have to be careful what you write even if you are a humble journo hack like me.

A point I have to keep reminding myself every time I think I’ve thought up something witty to say and have my finger hovering over the “Tweet” button.

“Just remember Justine Sacco,” I tell myself.

Follow me @larryschles