Can Twitter help the Quitter? It's a question posed to me by Steve Ondersma, scientist at WSU Med School in Detroit, as I head into my third smoke-free week. "Wld lov yr thoughts!" he tweeted. It wasn't a question I'd considered before.
I hadn't joined Twitter to aid my quest to quit-smoking; I'd joined to promote myself as a Canadian author, 'get my name out there in cyberspace', curry friendships and potential readership, reach my goal of becoming a published novelist. By tweeting about my real-life quit-smoking efforts, I hoped to entice people to read my 'important' website stuff. Until Steve tweeted me, I hadn't thought that perhaps Twitter was also helping me reach my smoking-cessation goal.
"What has the world come to?" I lamented to my publicist. "Are people really relying on faceless friends and electronic messages of 140 characters or less for moral support? What happened to family and friends? Phone calls and hugs?"
One of the hardest parts of my stop-smoking strategy was announcing my intentions to family and friends--a necessary step in order to increase one's chance of success, according to smoking-cessation specialists. It was difficult to do, not only because I was scared that I was setting myself up for a very public failure, but because people's reactions are not always helpful. Comments like "It's about time!" or "Now you won't stink!" are a little tough on a fragile ego, especially when delivered by people you love.
On the other hand, announcing my decision to the entire world via Twitter was surprisingly easy, perhaps because I was masked in anonymity. Perhaps because with Twitter, escaping judgement was simply a keystroke away. Unlike my announcement to family and friends, my Twitter announcement had to be succint--less than 140 characters. There was no room for parlaying reasons, excuses, history, and blame. All I had to say was, "Hey, World. I'm gonna quit smoking."
Come to think of it, I have found Tweeting to be a lot like cigarette smoking. It takes less than five minutes. It provides short, intermittant breaks from the daily grind. It's readily available at all hours of the day and night. It provides a small burst of pleasure. It's addictive--the more you do the more you want to do.
Tweeting has soothed me when I was uneasy, energized me when I was tired, lifted my depression, and offer a me a social connection that rivals that of the smokers' circle. It's something I look forward to doing--something that gets me out of bed in the mornings.
Twitter's simularities to smoking, especially when coupled with its differences (such as much lower cost and no proven ill side-effects), may indeed prove Twittering to be a valuable alternative to smoking--just not when one is driving. Please.