David Fisher 's Opinion

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Life is meant for living, not tweeting

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Herald reporter and Canon Reporter of the Year David Fisher explains why he's become a Twitter quitter.

The largest Twitter accounts in New Zealand are still very small.  Photo / Thinkstock
The largest Twitter accounts in New Zealand are still very small. Photo / Thinkstock

When I set out to explore Twitter, I had no idea it was possible to spend so much time to such little purpose.

I had an account for research for a few years but hadn't posted on it until about August 2012.

Then, curious about how one actually engaged with social media, I started to tweet.

Until then, my only social media involvement was passive. I had used it for work. I could find people I was writing stories about, see what they were talking about, look at their social circle by checking followers and those they followed. It teaches you there are no secrets online, so engaging with Twitter was an interesting prospect. In effect, you were grabbing a spot in a crowded area and sounding off.

So I tweeted. I found people through social media I enjoyed engaging with and some I found obnoxious. It was a bit like going to the pub, except your social circle was dictated by whoever might barge into it. I quite like that.

I've always enjoyed the transparency that comes through interaction with readers and on Twitter there is constant interaction.

I also found that as follower numbers grew, I became a target for people with an axe to grind. That took some of the fun out of it. Relentless sledging is unpleasant.

But that wasn't what killed it.

The end of Twitter for me was realising it wasn't really serving any purpose related to what I want to contribute through the job I did. I know who I serve - readers/public - and the Twitter feed I created didn't really do that. Twitter has no resonance, unless it is driven relentlessly, and the churn of content demolishes anything you might try to constructively build. It doesn't go anywhere. Like those bars with no closing time, it is endless and goes on and on.

I found weird things - I'd ask questions of politicians then later see tweets flash by with links to news stories based on the MP's tweeted answer. I'd deconstruct reports as they were released and find the results built into an analysis in some newspaper somewhere. I'd fight with those obnoxious characters and find the dialogue misconstrued or misquoted elsewhere.

As time went on, it became clear I, as a journalist, was part of the dialogue rather than simply recording it. And from all of that, Twitter didn't create anything of value for the time I put into it that couldn't have been produced elsewhere.

That was the nub of it - time better spent elsewhere and who I was serving. I stopped about 18,000 tweets in, written over an 18-month period. That's a lot of content, some irrelevant (The Ridges was gushed about for about 50 tweets), but also some with solid research behind it.

One day, I was sitting in the newsroom watching a Twitter storm flare and die in a matter of hours.

It's common to Twitter - an intense ranting outrage online that roars and fades in an afternoon . It blew through my feed and after it had gone it was as if it had never been there. I looked at my screen and thought: What on earth am I doing?

What went wanting for the time sacrificed online? What time had I missed with friends? And family? How many disjointed pieces of research get spat into cyberspace when bolting them together might have meant something? What arguments was I having online that I could better direct elsewhere?

The largest accounts in New Zealand are still very small. At close, I had 2900 followers - apparently an "influencer", but a ridiculous number when you consider the reach of the Herald every day.

There's ego, too. Twitter is a great place to feel clever or witty. That ego-stroking effect can be beguiling, and lends itself to the compulsive nature of Twitter.

I wound up with an attention-drag, dipping into Twitter when I could have read a judgment, spoken to a contact, spent time with my family or whatever else lost me when Twitter stepped in.

So I took a month off. In just days, my focus sharpened and I stepped back into the world. My son, 7, asked after Twitter and when I told him it was gone he said, "Good," and hugged me. The people I had met online reached out in other ways, which was lovely.

The people I didn't enjoy disappeared. I had lost nothing, really, and gained much. Twitter is a time and attention soak and I loved it not at all.

A few days ago, I killed my account. There were a final few tweets; a final indulgence in an environment of which I had tired.

You can't spend your whole life at the bar. You have to live it.

- NZ Herald

David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher was named best reporter at the Canon Media Awards 2013 for a portfolio of investigations, including the revelations of air force failures following the fatal Anzac Day Iroquois crash; an exclusive interview with Kim Dotcom; the donations to John Banks' mayoral campaign; and a report on the huge ACC privacy scandal. PGP Key here.

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