Wow. If You Think Quitting Booze Freaks People Out, Wait 'Til You Quit Twitter

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I promise this is my last word on the subject.

I had already promised myself, actually, that I wouldn’t write any more about my decision to quit Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare, Blippy, Yammer, Dopplr and every other social network other than Twitter. But then I added Twitter to the list – deleting my 10,000+ follower account and returning to more traditional blogging – and suddenly all (social media) hell broke loose.

For reasons I can’t quite understand – it’s not like I’ve quit food or oxygen – my inbox has since been flooded with emails. Some are just standard notes of congratulations for cutting the cord while others scream that I’m a Luddite who doesn’t ‘get’ Twitter (by and large these are the same people who describe themselves as “social media ninja”s on their profiles: the modern day equivalent of those “My other car is the Batmobile” bumper stickers).

The majority of messages, though, are from people who are strongly considering following my lead, but are worried that their body or mind might not be able to cope with the shock.  How do I feel since quitting? Can I offer them any advice?

The semi-amusing thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of email flood of congratulations, insults and pleas for guidance. It happened last October too: when I finally made the decision to quit drinking. Make of that what you will.

The difference is that, back in October, I completely understood the tsunami of mail. Millions of people struggle with alcohol addiction – and for those who do, it’s a serious problem. Any advice or encouragement could be the difference between life and death. Certainly it was for me.

But giving up Twitter? Seriously? Are there really people who can’t get out of bed in the morning without sending a 140 character update, just to stop their thumbs shaking from the night before? (The RT DTs?). Or addicts who surreptitiously tweet throughout the work day, from a phone hidden in their desk drawer, hoping that their workmates don’t find out? People who are unable to stop at just one “OH:”, sending more and more before they blackout, ready to start the whole Bukowskian cycle again the next day?

Judging by my inbox, the answer is yes, there are.

But, unlike with drink, I don’t feel their pain. In fact, giving up Twitter (and the rest) has been a veritable walk in the park. I’ve barely suffered any withdrawal symptoms, I don’t feel any sense of loss, and I’ve certainly not found it any harder to enjoy parties or talk to women without a phone in my hand (and I say that as someone who not long ago started dating a flight attendant after I tweeted about her on a plane. Seriously: I had a problem.)

I admit, though, it does feel odd. For more than two years I’ve been accustomed to sending half a dozen tweets a day, whenever something even vaguely notable happened. Lunch with a friend? Tweet. See someone nearly get hit by a car? Tweet. Think of a funny (ish) joke? Tweet. Fight with a friend or loved-one? Cryptic tweet. Like a Japanese tourist compulsively photographing everything he sees, it was almost as if something didn’t really happen unless it was captured in 140 characters and shared with the world.

At a stroke, that’s all changed. Now if I see someone nearly getting it by a car, my initial reaction is the same as before – “holy shit! someone just nearly got hit by a car!” – but that reaction remains inside my head. And yet, amazingly, even without my 140 character acts of vital citizen journalism the world has carried on turning. And what of jokes? Is my brain filling up with amusing observations and bons mots that, unless released, will cause it to haemorrhage? No. I just write them down in my notebook to be used later: an act which – and this did surprise me – gives me almost exactly the same satisfaction as sharing them with 10,000 followers.

The only downside, really, is the occasionally jarring sense that something is missing from my enjoyment of an experience. An involuntary twitch as I reach for my phone and realise I don’t do that any more. I imagine anyone who has quit smoking feels a similar way occasionally; particularly in postprandial or post-coital situations. But the feeling soon passes. Maybe I should start chewing gum?

As for the benefits: they’ve been both noticeable and persistent. For one thing I’ve rediscovered the joy of making notes, and then refining those notes – sharpening jokes and tweaking arguments, all using a pen and paper – prior to publication. I’ve also come to re-appreciate sharing thoughts with my actual friends – taking the time to email or text or IM someone who I actually know in the real world, to share something I think they alone would enjoy or appreciate. I’ve remembered what it feels like to laugh loudly at a joke without having to disrupt the flow of conversation for two minutes while I “overhear” it. I’ve become closer to my real friends, and more distant from total strangers. Which seems like the right direction for things to be moving in.

One of the other things I’ve been asked – probably fifty times – if whether I expect to stick to my decision over the long-term or whether, like others who have tried to quit Twitter before me, I’ll come crawling back in a few weeks.

My knee-jerk response is to scream “are you kidding me? I’ve been sober for 312 days. If I don’t miss that shit, then I think I’ll be fine without knowing what Guy Kawasaki thinks about the world.” (SPOILER ALERT: nothing)

My more, uh, sober answer, though, is disturbingly similar to the one I give about returning to the sauce: I don’t know if I’ll go back to it. Certainly my life is noticeably better without it, I have more time, I’m closer to my friends and I’m getting more work done. But who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow?

The only thing I do know is that, in terms of things that are actually hard to live without, I’m far more likely to succumb to the craving for delicious, delicious beer before I surrender to the almost negligible desire to send another fucking tweet.

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