Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I Unfollowed And/Or Blocked You On Twitter

Recently I began unfollowing every hacker or tech news source which appeared in my feed.

I'd like to illustrate one of the reasons for this deliberate and very brute-force information diet hack. It basically comes down to time management.

At some point in recent history, this happened:

I was not there. In fact, during the particular moment pictured here, it's very likely that I was instead reading Hacker News and/or arguing with some fat dude somewhere on the Internet about some kind of computer bullshit. That represents a near-total failure of time management and life choices. I've prepared a diagram to clarify.

I want to qualify this statement, because there's a real problem with sexism in the programming world, but for me personally, a bunch of girls in brightly-colored bikinis wins out 100% over arguing with anonymous computer dudes on the internet, every single time, and not just because they're women in bikinis, but also because bright colors are easier to see than the grey-text-on-a-grey-background experience of Hacker News.

when I become emperor, anybody who makes a web site without reading robert bringhurst will be beheaded

Obviously, if you're a straight woman or a gay dude, you might want to replace "girls in bikinis" with "boys in bikinis." Hell, you can make it animals for all I care. Maybe what excites you is a rabbit fucking a chicken. Who am I to judge?

it's kind of disturbing how many different things you can find rabbits trying to have sex with on youtube, including guinea pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, people, teddy bears, and balloons.
Irrespective of the specifics, my point here should be clear. "XYZ in brightly-colored bikinis" wins for many different values of XYZ. And in some cases, you can take out the bikinis and the XYZ, and win on bright colors alone.

This much, of course, is obvious to anyone who likes to have fun. But anyone out there who's made a living as an actor or a musician (or even just tried) knows that if all you want is to have fun, making it a hobby is your smartest move. For every actor who becomes a star with their first audition, or claims to have become a star with their first audition (citation needed), there are hundreds who worked their asses off before becoming stars, and thousands who worked their asses off without ever becoming stars, but were thrilled just to become working actors -- and thousands more who never got anywhere. Music is pretty much the same thing.

When I purged my Twitter feed of tech content, a ton of music and acting content remained. This had a very interesting effect. Almost immediately, I found myself thinking of my own music and acting in more serious terms. There are tons of other hackers who make music, and there are tons of musicians who also write code, but it's different when all you hear from is people who do it for real. Doing it for fun, to relax, after a hard day's work, is different from working your ass off for years. As a guy who's done his fair share of working his ass off, I like reading tweets from other people who've done the same thing and really gotten somewhere as a result.

So I started following more actors and musicians. It's a peer pressure hack. Peer pressure is one of the most useful and powerful forces in human psychology. It's probably second only to habit and/or hypnosis. The most amazing thing about peer pressure is that few people ever discuss how incredibly handy it is. The majority of the discussion around peer pressure is idiotic handwringing about how teenagers should resist it. But peer pressure is so powerful that if you want to change who you are, all you really need to change is who you communicate with on a regular basis.

I want to change who I am. I always have and I probably always will, because you can always get better, and after you've changed yourself once, you look for ways to do it again. For instance, in 2009 I lost 82 pounds in six months. It was a profound transformation.

Unfortunately, I got that weight back a few years later, because I got bored and completely abandoned the healthy eating habits which drove the change, but it was still an awesome experience, and I'm definitely doing it again.

I experienced another transformation in that same time period. In 2008, I was so fundamentally disorganized that I considered it part of who I was and would always be. By 2010 I was organized as hell. That was also awesome.

I can think of several experiences like this. Some of them were awesome and all of them were interesting. A lot of people seem to think that being "a morning person" or "a night person" is some utterly fundamental element of who a person is -- the language itself conflates that particular behavior with identity -- but I switch back and forth every year or so. I once thought myself doomed to never understand math, but I got good at it. I was a guy who couldn't draw, and became a guy who could. I've been a nerd and I've been a party kid. I've gotten beautiful women to go on dates with me despite not even speaking the same language, and I've had people ask me if I was a real-life 40-year-old virgin.

papa was a rolling stone

Identity is much, much more malleable than most people imagine, which is what makes acting such an interesting art form. It can be about the essence of being, but it can also be about the bizarre permanency of personal illusions, and it can even be about both those things at the same time.

However, what acting is mostly about is drama. I have many times been agitated about hacker drama, but I'm not one of those people who say "I hate drama" all the time. Firstly, because everybody knows that people who say "I hate drama" all the time actually love drama, and live for it. Secondly, because I know I love drama. That's why I've been studying acting seriously since 2004 -- among professionals, with one of my coaches being a two-time Emmy winner. I freaking love drama.

But geek drama is to good acting like Cheetos are to organic strawberries. Is it really so surprising that people who mostly communicate over the Internet are constantly misunderstanding each other? It's tiresome, histrionic, and almost always very poorly reasoned. And another major benefit of unfollowing every hacker I had followed on Twitter was that all this low-quality junk food drama just disappeared.

Another noticeable effect, I'm sorry to say, was an immediate and massive decline in the number of negative tweets. If you're only following successful musicians and actors, you're going to see less negativity. The obvious reason is it's bad PR. But there's another, more important reason. These are people who work really hard to create a lifestyle that many many people dream of, but few ever get to experience. Spoiler alert: people who are incredibly fortunate are typically positive about stuff. (And if they're not, I unfollow them.)

Whether you term it with a metaphor of hygiene or nutrition, the information you consume affects your perspective. Habit-forming distractions are everywhere on the internet, but focus is more valuable than Twitter could ever be.

I delete all my Twitter apps probably at least once a month. But when I am reading Twitter, I'm very aggressive about controlling its peer pressure effects. I think this is a good decision.