Hi, I’m Steve and I’m a Twitteraholic

Can we quit or limit our social media use without experiencing withdrawal?

Posted Jul 31, 2018

Last week, David Spade (or maybe one of his lackeys) retweeted one of my comments about his new audiobook and Netflix movie and I was high for hours. Same thing happened when Monica Lewinsky, Lou Diamond Phillips, Dan Harris, Adam Carolla, and Dr. Drew retweeted something I wrote. I felt a physical buzz that bordered on elation. That’s sort of stupid, right? Should celebrities (or again, their hired people who operate their Twitter accounts if it’s not them for really real) be able to alter my mood like that? I guess the short answer should be solid no, but it’s also a hazy yes.

I joined Twitter in 2011, for the primary reason for growing the exposure to my 30-years plus training and consulting business without having to set up a Facebook page. Many people in my life are big FB fans, reading it and posting on every subject, all the time. Not me. Not my cup of tea. Twitter seemed somehow better to me, faster, more tightly curated at 140 characters (now 280, as we have all become so importantly verbose). I liked how quickly national and international news stories broke and updated, even faster than on the websites run by the media conglomerates. The humor on Twitter makes me laugh and it proves there are some really clever people out there who don’t always work in Hollywood.

Although I consider myself a Twitter connoisseur, meaning I try to write thoughtful, insightful, informative, or witty tweets, I must not be very good at the form. Despite my national reputation as a thought leader in certain areas, I only have about 1,000 followers. My best friend of 47 years is Major Garrett, the Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News. Just to give you a sense of Twitter scale if you’re not on the site, he has 185,000 followers. President Trump has 53.4 million followers, Kim Kardashian West has 58.4 million followers, Lady Gaga has 76.4 million followers, and Justin Bieber has 104.1 Million followers. The guy that just started his plumbing business has 12 Twitter followers. Relativity has its place in our world of who and what is important, it seems.

In days of old, each morning before coffee, I used to check my email to see what I needed to respond to or do for the day. I then checked Twitter to see if the world was still standing. It may have taken me five minutes for the first task and 35 for the second, which foreshadowed the larger problem for me (and I’m assuming others like me), which was that Twitter is a Time Suck. Like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, you can go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and when you finally come up for air, it’s lunchtime. The New Me is trying hard not to be like the Old Me. Part of my recovery from my Twitter Addiction (which will be in the DSM VI perhaps?) is to first admit I have the problem.

Part of this social media obsession/compulsion seems to be rooted in our feverish national desire to avoid “missing something important” that other people might quiz us about later. Part of it might be that we rightly feel that we “need to know about” whatever news story is immediate, frightening, or anger-inducing. And then I guess there’s my category, which is that I get an endorphin rush when someone of prominence endorses my little message.

I define addiction as Dr. Drew Pinsky does, a set of high-risk behaviors that have consequences. (Did I mention he retweeted me once?) So this description suggests that if you drink at work, gamble away your kid’s college savings, or steal from your grandma to buy heroin, you are going to face the music at some point. We all know the consequences of

Used by permission from Addiction Concepts
Source: Used by permission from Addiction Concepts

addictive behavior can affect your health, freedom, relationships, family, career, and send you to a jail cell, hospital bed, or your grave if left unmanaged.

Can I quit Twitter? Of course! I’ve done it dozens of times! (Old cigarette smoker joke there.) But I still sneak back to that little icon of the blue bird after I said I won’t. Why? I’ll admit to more than a little anxiety if I go without Twitter for a few days (vacation, phone broken and in the shop, stranded on a mountain).

Let’s examine the reasons, which may ring some bells for some of you, why we have become Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram followers and addicts:

I’m bored and have a few minutes to kill.

This seems to be when I dive into Twitter the most, on the plane before we take off, in line at the bank, at a restaurant eating alone (I follow the useful rule of not looking at my phone in social situations), or sitting at my desk between webinars.

I’m procrastinating on some work project I really don’t want to do.

This is both a productivity killer and a time killer because I delude myself into believing that because I’m a writer, somehow spending hours on Twitter instead of actually writing something useful is “work” and not goofing off.

I’m lonely or alone and need an onscreen endorphin boost.

I travel a lot and it’s easy to spend time with Twitter at my restaurant table or my hotel room. If people have retweeted or liked what I’ve written about, here comes that tiny buzz of satisfaction.

I want an update on a news story or trending issue.

This can be read two ways: true, I do, or false, I’m covering for the undeniable fact that I want to purposefully slip back into time-wasting mode. Plus, as we all truly know, if it’s really significant, important, life-altering, or life-threatening, you’ll find about it in different ways soon enough. Besides, much of what passes for news these days is stuff that might happen and that we’re supposed to be scared of: Ebola viruses, nuclear war, the end of civilized society as we know it, etc.   

I want to read more about a subject.

Again, pros and cons here too. Some Twitter posts connect me to links for deep-dive articles about subjects I do really want or need to know more about. All things in moderation here, though. You can start in the morning and look up from your screen and realize the sun has gone down.

One way I am starting to wean myself from my Twitter addiction is to remove all people or sites from my timeline that have anything to do with national politics. I’m plenty weary – as you may be too – of the arguing, criticizing, ambushing, attacking, fighting, name-calling, shaming, humiliating, cursing, etc. – that has replaced our once-polite discourse.

The Era of Outraged Entitlement now plagues nearly every subject on social media. So out went the politics, Trump this and Hillary that; North Korea and Iran went bye-bye, to be replaced by tweets about stuff I really care about and, more importantly, that don’t make me feel bad. This includes: pictures of Pugs in particular and cute dogs in general; major and minor league baseball; the NFL (I skip the kneeling for the national anthem stories); writers and the craft of writing; new and old movies; libraries; comedians; and the local Colorado traffic and weather. That’s it.

I’m trying to scale back my Pavlovian reach for my phone. I don’t lunge for the Twitter app while I’m still in bed or worse, while getting ready for sleep. I’m trying to cut down on my visits and be more thoughtful of the fact that the time I spend or waste on Twitter is unrecoverable and therefore more precious. The battle to disconnect continues.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht. So it appears I’m still a work in progress.

Dr. Steve Albrecht is a keynote speaker, author, and trainer. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He is board certified in HR, security, coaching, and threat management. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 19 books on business, HR, and criminal justice subjects. He can be reached at DrSteve@DrSteveAlbrecht.com