Question 15 of 365: How do we form our Digital Habits?

Question 15 of 365: How do we form our Digital Habits?

I’m sure that many of our digital habits would qualify as addictions. Whether that is tweeting, texting, googling, emailing, or simply youtubing; each of us has developed a series of habits related to digital content. We are drawn to do these things on a daily basis without being asked to do so. For many, the habits are probably more productive than those of smoking, drinking, or commuting. But, no doubt, there are some not so great results of our digital habits.

We may be more withdrawn from our experience because of Digital habits, or perhaps we are more plugged in to them. Our documentation of them with status updates and posted pictures is certainly improving our ability to remember some pretty important events. I can personally verify that I only remember my children’s birth as well as I do because I have the “minutes” recorded as tweets. Those experiences were captured by my digital habits. I only wish I could have done the same for my wedding (we also should have had people doing video all over the place). Right now  it is just this whirlwind of experience that I loved, but can’t really remember because it is such a blur.

As to the question at hand, we can just make the assumption that these Digital Habits are a reality and one that we must face head on. So, we probably need to think through how our Digital Habits are forming in the first place. Again, I must start from my own experience.

On Tuesday, the 20th of March, 2007, I sent my first tweet. While I had been aware of twitter for quite some time before that, I first gave it a real shot by stating: “I’m figuring out how twitter can be used in middle school.”

I didn’t tweet another thing until May of the same year. The very next tweet was something more auspicious in nature: “I’m finding out that twitter can increase your blog readership.” Clearly I saw some benefit, and so the tweets started to pick up. I tweeted a total of 8 times that May, including a totally existential posting thanking a “steve”: “Thanking Steve for the link to the 6.99 microphone deal:” Clearly without the capacity to use the @ symbol, I didn’t really get the conversational aspects of Twitter. My first use of that symbol was not until June 10th.

Then, I started trying to add twitter into my every day speach, even making up words in some cases “The twaiter[?] was just for me, although you can make a dentist appointment for yourself as well.” It turns out that I was sending that with Jott, a voice recognition software for cell phones, so I can’t really take credit for that one (but, I was trying to say “the twitter”, which was clearly before “tweet” came into popular usage.)

I then started to link to my podcast and blog frequently for a few months, but in August, September and October of 2007 I sent out only 6 tweets in total. What happened during those months? And then, 78 tweets in November. This was an absolute explosion of content. What happened during that month too? It was during this month that Twitter became a digital Habit. It became the place that I asked the majority of my questions. It became the way that I collected contact information and the way that I collaborated with those new found contacts. November of 2007 was when I “got” twitter.

It took me 9 months and a few dozen tweets before I could call it a habit. Before that, it was just something I checked in with a few times a month. The habit happened because of this tweet: “New blog post: 101 Tools and Resources for Authentic Learning…” (which was the first one on November 1st). When I released that single tweet, I realized that I wanted to start sharing pretty much everything that I was thinking about and asking with the people that I resourced in creating the 101 Tools and Resources. I figured out that it wasn’t enough just to share the big “information”, I had to share the small stuff too. I had to work with others in order to create more meaning.

So, I guess I formed this digital habit out of necessity. I needed to share and be shared with. I needed to find connection. I needed to @ as many people as possible (the ratio of regular tweets to @ tweets shifted from 15:1 to about 1:2, which is the clearest definition of this change). That is how I formed my digital habit, and I think that is how we form most of them. When we start talking to other people more than just talking to hear ourselves. That is when we truly see the benefit. When we know someone is listening and will respond, we find that it becomes an essential part of our daily activities. For better or worse, we need these digital habits to bring meaning into our modern lives.

(Also, if you are wondering how I looked back easily at those long forgotten tweets, I used tweetbook, which is a fantastic service)

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  1. Getting to the actual commenting part of this post took a bit longer than the others. I started digging. My tweetbook has been completed. Here's the thing, though. It hasn't really. I mean, I have a book with 144 beautiful pages of some really thrilling and compellingly disjointed prose, but it doesn't have my first tweet. For whatever reason, my twitter book starts April 8, 2008. It was a Tuesday.
    (Now, I get the silliness of what I'm saying here, but bear with me.)
    I was tweeting at least before March 29, 2007 as evidenced by this brilliant series of chat messages to my friend Max who was the editor of an alt weekly called _Creative Loafing_ at the time:

    me: Have you seen this:
    max: sweet
    me: It's distinctly addictive.
    Twitter's about to blow up.
    the Loaf should get on that.

    As I said, brilliant, right?

    Now, I'll freely admit I had no idea what I thought I was doing when I sent that first tweet. The same can be said for my first e-mail or post to friendster. Still, habits were formed. Now, with at least 4,065 tweets, I want to know what that first tweet was. I can't imagine it was anything deeply prophetic, but I'd like to trace my adaptation of this tool and its effect on my online mask.

    Here's the nagging question, why? Why is the history of this digital habit so troubling to me? I can remember the little point-and-shoot camera I got for my fifth birthday, but I have no idea whether the photos from that first roll of film survived. Why don't I care about that? Surely, they tell me more about my past than my tweets. What is it about our digital habits and histories that elicits such a feeling of entitlement? Does the knowledge or assumption of archiving perpetuate the habit?

  2. One thought that I have on this issue is that it is entirely possible that
    you used a different account on twitter. I have been trying to find my first
    blog that I started in late 2004 for years now and I think it is just gone
    into the ether. I would love to take a look at those first few posts again.

    I'm not sure why it matters, but it does. When we have offloaded so much of
    our brain into a medium, it would be really nice to still have access to all
    of it. I do feel like by missing your first tweets, you are missing part of
    your thinking and there is a loss that goes along with that.

    But, I don't think it is a loss any greater than washing something important
    you wrote in your jeans.

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