Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet on March 21, 2006. It read, “just setting up my twttr.” The social media site was created to answer the question: what are you doing? Users responded with mundane activities, memes, and photos of their pets.
When you’re writing a life story, that’s the wrong question. It doesn’t get at your essence, your core. To do that, we need to ask ourselves—what have I done in my lifetime? What have I learned? What am I proud of? What could I have done better? What difference have I made in my family, my community, my career?
These kinds of questions are not commonly asked in our daily lives. Sometimes they’re never asked of those we think we know and hold dear, and only after they’re gone, do we realize what we’ve missed.
Today, the prevalence of social media may lead us to believe that we’re documenting our lives via photos, videos, and messages. But who’s going to comb through and curate all of our content into a digestible format, into a narrative that tells a substantive story about our lives?
Twitter wasn’t intended for that purpose. It originally had an iconic 140-character limit, forcing users to keep things short and sweet—and fairly superficial. The platform promised to keep us connected. We no longer had to pick up the phone to call our family and friends to ask them about their day. If they were on Twitter, odds are, we already knew.
Even though we’re more connected than ever online, researchers found that, for young adults, heavy use of social platforms was associated with feelings of isolation. In another study, 60 percent of respondents indicated that using social media negatively impacted their self-esteem. And most recently, a psychologist at Penn State discovered a causal link between time spent on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram and decreased well-being. Something’s not right.
On December 8, Dorsey posted the following: “Myanmar is an absolutely beautiful country. The people are full of joy and the food is amazing. I visited the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. We visited and meditated at many monasteries around the country.”
Three days later, amidst backlash for his tone-deafness (having neglected to mention the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya Muslims), Dorsey wrote the following: “I’m aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar. I don’t view visiting, practicing, or talking with the people, as endorsement. I didn’t intend to diminish by not raising the issue, but could have acknowledged that I don’t know enough and need to learn more.”
On December 15, 2018, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution, with a vote of 394 – 1, declaring that the crimes committed by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya Muslims constitute genocide.
A year ago, Twitter doubled its character count to allow its users to express more of their thoughts. However, since then, the most common length of a tweet actually dropped from 34 to 33 characters. Twitter is its own form of writing and communication. With the character limit, it forces us to choose our words carefully. Or not. Quite frankly, if you’re not a celebrity, whatever you write will likely be lost among the 500 million tweets sent per day.
Some people are drawn to the relative impermanence of social media, which became even more apparent with the release of Snapchat, a media-sharing app known for its disappearing messages.
But why not create something that lasts?
Documenting your life shouldn’t be based on banal observations or limited to 280 characters. It should be thoughtful, tempered with time and full of reflection. Recollecting meaningful moments and putting them down on paper takes more than a minute. Writing your life story requires a deliberate process and curation skills to find the thread—the heart of your story—that has been woven through your experiences. It starts with asking the right questions.
And in closing, for all the woes of social media, it does get one thing right: the best time to share is now.