I made a number of confessions in my Northern Voice talk on Coping with Social Media, and in Gillian Shaw’s related story for the Vancouver Sun. But the one that was met with the most surprise — and in a couple of cases, horror — was the revelation that I no longer look at the “all friends” column in Tweetdeck.

“All friends” is the column that corresponds to the main news feed you’d see when logged into Twitter.com: the complete, real-time feed of all the tweets from everyone you follow. In my case that’s more than 600 people, so reading everything in my  “all friends” column would be pretty much a full-time job. But that’s not what turned me off: after all, I don’t feel obligated to read everything that gets posted, and in practice I just dip into my Twitter feeds through out the day.

The real reason I gave up on “all friends” is that it makes me neurotic. I have a pretty  bad case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) at the best of times, and Twitter is like a 24/7 FOMO immersion. I literally cannot think of a single time I have looked at Twitter without seeing a tweet that provoked feelings like:

  • Why didn’t I go to that conference?
  • Why didn’t I write that blog post?
  • Why didn’t I get invited to that party?
  • Why didn’t I know that news story already?

Getting rid of “all friends” doesn’t eliminate the neurosis entirely — nor should it. A psychologist once told me that the best way of getting over my fear of driving on bridges was to drive on bridges all the time. (She was full of shit, BTW.) So I try to take the same approach to Twitter: to look at my Twitter catch-ups as a little laboratory in which I can work on my FOMO, jealousy and envy without anyone watching.

And what’s great about focusing my Twitter attention on my “love” list (the people I love, or feel like I would love if I knew them better) and my “inspire” list (the people who inspire me) is that it creates a safe zone for that work. Yes, I am eminently capable of feeling jealous of my friends. But at least that jealousy is mixed with delight: I’m so happy to read about a friend giving a great keynote, or writing a brilliant article, or going to a really cool party without me (as long as it’s a really cool party in another city). And catching up on my friends’ activities and accomplishments has a clear purpose: I want to know what they are up to and what they are thinking about, and I’m not going to let my own insecurities get in the way of that contact.

But what about all the stuff I’m missing by not reading “all friends”? Sure, I miss some headlines. For example I didn’t know about the whale that materialized in False Creek last week. And the knowledge that I’m missing a lot of what’s going on can trigger yet another wave of FOMO.

What helps is to remind myself that I’m missing most of what goes on, anyhow. The world is full of a lot of people and events and news and stories. If I dedicated myself full-time to keeping up, I’d be able to stay on top of maybe .000000000000001% of what happens.  Without my “all friends” column, that gets reduced to knowing only .0000000000000001%. So what?

The real challenge of eliminating “all friends” — or any other form of news consumption — isn’t about missing out. It’s being caught missing out; being caught in the act of not knowing.

Stay tuned for more on the return of “I don’t know”.