I have a complicated relationship with Twitter. On the one hand, it’s a platform where I can go, any time I want, to find inspiration about all of the things I’m interested in. Every day, amazing people are publicly posting their ideas about online teaching and learning, higher education, feminism, and writing -- just to name a few. The abundance is awe-inspiring, but, at least for me, Twitter can also function as a trap for self-deprecation. At the same time that I’m celebrating the accomplishments of others, I’m thinking about all of the ways that I might not be amounting to much myself.
This tension got me thinking: Do you have to be emotionally evolved to effectively engage Twitter? And, if I’m not quite there yet, do I need to put myself in a Twitter time-out?
Read on for a description of how considering a Twitter time-out taught me a few life lessons about moving away from seeking external affirmation and toward self-assurance and supporting others.
From Twitter to Tangible
Lately, a lot of the tweets in my queue have emphasized opportunities for professional networking on Twitter. People are really maximizing this potential, creating collaborations that have resulted in the design of projects, conference presentations and even entire books. This is where that awe-inspiring element comes in -- there are seemingly endless ways to start making magic with strangers!
I always start scrolling through this magic from a place of genuine enthusiasm, a desire to learn more about these stories and celebrate them for their own merit. But then, because it’s me, I start to wonder why I’m not a part of these partnerships. I engage a virtual self-flagellation of sorts. Are my ideas irrelevant? Am I not interesting enough? Why has no one ever invited me to take something from Twitter to tangible? Instead of operating as a space for self-actualization, Twitter becomes a cavernous vacuum for my own sense of inadequacy. There’s nothing quite like the hollow echo of an unnoticed tweet.
I’m guessing my need for acceptance, virtual or otherwise, comes from the fact that I moved around a lot as a child. I grew up with a single mother who believed that starting fresh was more about geographic repositioning than it was about mental mind-set. Chasing a dream meant chasing a new location. And when a dream didn’t materialize, the motivation to move did. Sometimes we moved more than once a year. My transitory childhood has resulted in my being quick to form friendships -- I know what it is like to need a support system stat, no time to waste. This sense of urgency has followed me into adulthood, and to virtual spaces. I’m ready to be BFFs way before forever. Maybe that’s part of the problem -- am I too intense for the Twitterverse? As I age -- hello, 39 -- I’m coming to understand that some of this intensity is directly related to an unhealthy desire for outside recognition and reward: I’m on a seemingly never-ending search for external approval.
In her essay advocating approaching the world from affirmation, rather than for affirmation, @BerondaM eloquently argues that “where and how we seek this affirmation is what leads us astray or towards our path of fulfillment and impact.” I’m invested in social justice, so I want to be careful here not to cross a line between expressing admiration for this message, and appropriating it. Some of @BerondaM’s points are specific to lived experiences outside of my own -- for example, those of African American women in academia. However, she also argues that actualization cannot occur for anyone until there is a shift in recognition -- where we rely less on external measures of value and success, and more on internal and intimate forms of acceptance. Both messages resonated with me because of their focus on making the most of a personal mission.
Maybe that’s part of my Twitter problem. I’m too worried about the projection of myself and not enough about my own authentic possibility. I’m starting to recognize, at least on some level, that no external appreciation, Twitter magic or otherwise, will actually satiate me. Not every notice is nourishing, after all.
Rethinking My Twitter Purpose
At first, I thought the answer to this problem was taking a break from Twitter, avoiding engagement until I could sign in as a more secure version of myself. But then I realized that that transition might be ever ongoing, and I didn’t want to miss out on all the important insight sharing that would occur as I awaited emotional evolution.
I also started to do some soul-searching to try and figure out why this Twitter distance left me so distraught. Sure, there was an element of feeling like I’d been left behind. But more importantly, perhaps, there was a feeling that I wasn’t actively participating in, or contributing to, anything meaningful. That insight got me rethinking my Twitter purpose. In addition to recognizing my own possibility, I need to amp up my support of others. Instead of feeling slighted by my scrolling, I need to see it as a way to strengthen community.
Just around the time of this rethink, I saw this tweet from the always inspiring @karenraycosta.
In it, she uses @austinkleon’s #ShowYourWork to remind us that social media is a place where people should be fans first -- that community comes from purposeful choices about connection. Rather than viewing Twitter as a platform largely for self-promotion, then, I need to use it instead to harness the power of perusing. I need to focus less on acquiring my own accolades and more on acknowledging the accomplishments of others.
I want to linger and listen on Twitter. I want to notice.
Twitter Is a Place for Taking Turns
Initially, I felt like Twitter was a place where I had to sacrifice my self-worth. Now, I no longer see the need for a Twitter time-out. Instead, I’m viewing my participation on the platform as a chance for practicing my own internal affirmation as well as celebrating the accomplishments of others. Twitter is a place for taking turns.
In the future, I’m guessing I’ll still have an original idea or two to tweet, but I won’t be doing so for an acknowledgment cookie. Instead, I’ll be more focused on all-around authenticity -- paying it forward, letting go of a tendency toward the self-deprecating and starting from a more supportive stance.
For me, such a stance necessitates my being a nurturing node for others first. I’d love to listen to you. Let’s connect: @niyamirandabond
Niya Bond is an online English educator, academic adviser and Ph.D. student studying online teaching and learning at the University of Maine.