Why Twitter Fascinates Me and Makes Me Feel Bad At The Same Time

The Internet is addictive. We all know that. But I believe that  how that addiction feels depends greatly on one's age. I'm 56 now, at least according to my birth certificate. In my mind, I feel somewhere around 28. (hmmm. half?) The gulf between my internal age and my real age hits me most when I work with young entrepreneurs. Three of the company founders I invested in are 21 (okay...were 21 when I invested a few months ago.) When I work with them, my internal voice says I'm just a little older than them. After all 28 vs 21 isn't that big a deal.

But then various realities strike. There will be an occasional comment from them that they are looking for someone with experience who can help them build their company. Experience? From a 28 year old?
Oh, and then some stories slip out that are really dead giveaways: "When we started Wildfire in 1991, the Internet didn't exist." Oops. Or: When I started Avid, a 600MB disk cost $5,000. Oops. Or: When I was in engineering school, a mini-computer with all the goodies was the size of refrigerator, cost $50,000 (today's dollars), and had to be booted by flicking nice big colored toggle switches on the front. Uh oh. They may figure out my real age.

And then there's Twitter. This is a product that should win an all-time design prize for highest human impact vs. least engineering complexity (yes, there's scalability and some complexity you don't see that easily.) What other products can match it for high simplicity and high impact? I'd say email is similar. Even HTML and the World Wide Web can't quite compete in the ratio, because they are quite complex.
Okay, I'm going to officially admit it. I'm 56. I grew up when science fiction really was fiction. I grew up when every year a new aircraft came out, and it looked wildly different from other ones. Think Boeing 747 and the Concorde. Nowadays, every airplane looks the same -- it has two engines, and the only issue is what gas mileage it gets. I grew up at a time when futurists would imagine things, and we'd confidently say "well that will never happen in my lifetime."

Using the phrase "my lifetime" is another giveaway about age.

When I was a kid, there were three TV networks. Plus a few more channels that played reruns. That was it. Cable TV had not been invented. In those days, everyone was clear that "rabbit ears" were TV antennas, not something on a rabbit. And, in those days, nothing worked perfectly. TV had ghosts. The color was always wrong. Cars stalled. Even good ones. Cars rusted. Everything was analog. Oh, but the phone network - that was perfect, if rather expensive to use.

A television network was one of the most powerful things in the entire world. David Brinkley used to sign off ..."and good night for NBC news." Watching the 7pm news on NBC was ritual in our home.

Today, each person can have a transmitter with a reach way beyond what NBC had in the 60's or 70's. They are not burdened with worrying if their 2000' tower in will be blown over in a snow storm. They are not burdened with the power bill that comes with putting out 1 million watts of effective radiated power from one of those newfangled UHF transmitters you need for those stations in the wild west expansion of channels 14-88. (now given over to the cellular phone industry!) Each person gets a transmitter that can reach the entire world. For free.

And this free Twitter transmitter can do way more than the billion dollars of infrastructure that NBC had. It can send HDTV. It can offer someone a CD-quality song download. And it can send someone a link. A link? Oh, I forgot...that science fiction about giant databases that store everything -- that already happened, say ten years ago, so with a simple pointer, you can send someone off to find out anything about anything, in a few hundred milliseconds.

So what's the problem? For me, the problem is, I didn't grow up with streams of information that were, frankly, this interesting. People who don't understand how Twitter works focus on the iconic "I'm eating a sandwich" tweets and say "what good is this thing?" Actually, my issue is that it's too good. I follow about 230 people. All people I know. Generally, I'm interested in everything they have to say. I find virtually every link they offer to be of high interest. I find that knowing what they are doing is actually interesting news to me.

It gets worse. I often realize that people are doing things I could have done too. So, I realize I'm being left out. But not by them. It's my fault. I didn't sign up for that amazing event, and I could have. Because from earlier tweets, I knew it was happening. I'm being left. That's bad. And it's only my fault. That's worse.

But wait, there's more. People, more than occasionally, say amazingly clever things in 140 characters. Makes me realize that I seldom do that. And that I don't really want to, but that's not the point. Shouldn't I rejoice in the talents of others? I do. And yet, I do have that voice in me that says "Why can't you do that? When are you going to learn how to do those clever tweets?" Clever headlines too. Never learned that.

And while NBC's transmission network was one way, Twitter's is instantly two way. There's just no excuse for not having a conversation. Just click reply, and you only need to say a few words. Trouble is, I was painfully shy as a kid, and it's still hard for me to manage lots of conversations. I'm a one-on-one kind of person. So I find myself feeling instantly involved in 230 people's lives, instantly interested, and quickly feeling like I should converse but don't. Doh.

Finally, there's the pain of success on Twitter. I've got over 2700 followers now. And notices of more pop into my email every day. I see some amazingly clever folks start following me, and it makes me think: "When was the last time I tweeted? Did I say anything worthwhile?" Hmmm. Been a long time. And no, not clever. Maybe passed on a link. Or maybe a link to my blog post. Those are good. People seem to like my random and sometimes wildly in-depth blog posts. And they seem to forgive me that while I am an angel investor, I hardly ever write about that.

I feel amazingly blessed that I can write something like this blog post, and in seconds, Twitter informs people all over the world, and many take a look. Some even read the whole thing. Some will retweet parts of what I said. Others will say something clever and post that.

And I'll miss most of it because I don't get on Twitter that often. It's just too good.