Some mornings, when I check Twitter, I feel like a rat pressing on a lever. Will this be the push that delivers a fine hit of recognition and praise -- or will I instead feel like the nerd on the edge of the playground?
It's embarrassing, this sensation. It makes me feel ludicrous, immature and depressed. And even worse is the fact that people often recognize quality online -- so if you aren't noticed and re-tweeted, it really might mean you suck. Or your work does.
The odd mix of professional and personal adds to my queasiness. Am I commodifying my relationships? When people don't respond, do they not like me -- or do they not like my writing?
Or -- far, far more likely -- is it simply random, nothing to do with my narcissistic needs? None of these thoughts leads anywhere good.
Recently, however, I attended a wonderful panel on social media convened by the oddly-named but excellent SWINY (Science Writers In New York). Speakers Nancy Shute, David Dobbs and Dave Mosher all made excellent points that touched on these questions. Dobbs pointed out that Twitter is the most life-like of social networks, oddly replicating the gossip and status-seeking that accompanies all human group activity.
This may be why it makes me feel the most awkward -- part of the reason I became a somewhat solitary writer is because dealing with group situations can be difficult for me. And that's especially true when I feel like I don't know what the rules and the customs are -- or if they are ill-defined or variable. One of the reasons I'm obsessed with empathy and collaborate to write books like Born for Love is that I've come to recognize, often painfully, how much I need social support.
The most frustrating part for me is the intermittent reinforcement: as behaviorists know, the most "addictive" experiences, the things that drive the most compulsive behavior are those that don't deliver a reward every time, but only provide (intense) satisfaction erratically. This is what bad boy lovers and cocaine share.
And now Twitter!