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michael_nielsen @michael_nielsen
, 33 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
Twitter has made a huge positive impact on my life. Lots of people complain about it, so I wanted to write some notes about how I use it.

Love to hear others' strategies too.
I will unabashedly say this at the outset: my Twitter feed is filled with wonder and surprise and delight.
Intellectually, it feels collectively like having Nobel laureates in all disciplines hanging out in the tea room just down the hall. I can pop in whenever I like, hear them noodling, occasionally contribute myself.
Yeah, it's not all at that level. But you can skim and easily find a lot of very insightful material. It doesn't usually have the intense cumulative quality of great in-person conversation. But there's value in one-off insight, too.
Twitter's not so close emotionally (at least, the online component, for me), but there's still something I value immensely: many people I follow are unapologetically optimistic and idealistic, always working to make the world better. I find that infectious and buoying.
I think of Twitter as the online component of a vastly improved offline experience: a better community, better friendships, better work, a better life.
I've met so many wonderful people here: good friends, valued collaborators, and so many far-flung interesting acquaintances. I only wish my immediate family were more active. (But hi to @ash_ricardo and @ianjmeadows!)
Among the wonderful people I've met directly through Twitter: @patrickc, @andy_matuschak, @juliagalef, @kevinsimler, @webdevMason, @timhwang, @natfriedman, @starsandrobots, @devon_zuegel, @ahandvanish, @ncasenmare, @3Blue1Brown, and so many more.
Oops! That should be @devonzuegel!
99% of our cities are dark matter: we know almost nothing of what is happening. Most of the people, conversations, and events that I would most enjoy I will never even hear about. Twitter changes this, in a significant way.
I try to use Twitter as a "yes, and..." medium, riffing off others. I nearly always ignore disagreement, and try to very rarely disagree myself. It's too much like jamming with Yo-Yo Ma and pausing to point out he got a note wrong.
Yeah, sometimes I mess up and argue. But that makes me the guy
shouting at Yo-Yo Ma that he got a note wrong. I gotta get with the program!
There's definitely a place in life for good argument, a favourite pastime of mine. But with rare exceptions, Twitter isn't it!
I love following people who will share the strange and the unexpected. @Oniropolis & @UrbanFoxxxx & @devonzuegel on cities. @timhwang & @atlasobscura on everything.
I love following people who are relentless optimists and idealists and fallibilists - most of the people on my… list.
I love following people who are making amazing things, or incredible art - people like @ncasenmare, @3Blue1Brown, @starsandrobots, and @quasimondo.
I love following people who are generous and positive and inspiring, people like
@juliagalef and @TheFrankOzJam.
A great question in all fora is "What is conversation for?" Honestly answering the question for myself is sometimes confronting! And it's interesting to think about what other people may be using conversation for, their implicit (or maybe explicit) models.
There are Twitter uses who use it: to complain, often as a means of tribal bonding (many complaints about politics and social issues); to nitpick; to be outraged; to establish their superiority in some way.
Politics on Twitter is particularly strange. Many otherwise extremely bright people suffer from Dunning-Krugeritis on this: they think they're insightful, but constantly tweet recycled talking points I can hear in a million other places.
(Yes, I'm guilty of all of this on occasion! Working on it!)
When determining whether I want to follow someone, I look at their last 10 or tweets. Do those Tweets make me happy? Feel awe? Feel more optimistic? Feel the urge to do something? Teach me something strange and wonderful? Reveal a new world? I'll almost certainly follow.
The amazing thing - the truly incredible thing - that Twitter reveals is that there are effectively an infinite number of such people in the world. Of course, I've always known it, and in big cities it's easy to experience. But T makes it such a routinely lived experience.
If they make me angry, or feel outrage, or feel sad... well, I'll be very, very cautious in following. Those aren't what I usually want in my life. That's not to say there aren't very insightful people I follow like this. But I am cautious.
Some people retort that this means I'm not paying attention to important events. Maybe. But I think Twitter is a bad medium for paying attention to many classes of upsetting, important events, and so I choose other media.
As an example, I'd much rather read the IPCC report (and backing papers) than listen to people argue about climate change on Twitter. I don't mean that as a theoretical example, I mean: I've read a bunch of the IPCC report, & supporting materials. It's a 100x use of my time.
I generally dislike self-righteous claims there is a right way to do Twitter. A common one is people who say that if you're not following people you disagree with, you're doing Twitter wrong. Rubbish. It's fine to just follow stuff you love.
Alright, enough about what I try not to do. A few more things I like to do.
Follow weird stuff. Follow unusual corners. I enjoy Nigerian tech twitter. I enjoy short-story twitter. I enjoy urban design twitter. I enjoy the zillions of clever bots . I keep meaning to get into opera twitter, but never quite manage it.
Look at the last 1000 people @pmarca follows. He's interested in so many corners of Twitter.
I "follow" 2500 people, but don't try to keep up with my Twitter feed at all. I just dip in, to hear some of what those people are thinking about.
I particularly enjoy my… list, and check it often.
This is all just my own way of being here. I don't claim others should follow these rules of thumb, but they've given me a good experience. Thanks to everyone who makes that happen!
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