Why I Don't Follow You on Twitter

by Mike Shea on 18 February 2011

30 Second Summary

Don't worry that I don't follow you on Twitter. I'm weird. My my obsession about my attention results in strange archaic guidelines for those I follow and those I don't. Whether I follow you isn't a sign of my affection, just a sign of my undivided attention. The twitter accounts I follow have a high signal to noise ratio. They speak to me about things that interest me, improve me, or make me happy. Unfollowing you isn't judgement or a command to tell you how to use Twitter. You are free to post whatever you want however you wish. My attention, however, is not free. There are lots of wonderful people I don't follow. If you want to tell me something that badly, send me an email. You also have this freedom. Focus your attention where you want it, not where you feel falsely obligated to spend it. If you don't like what you're reading, stop reading it.

Twitter and GTD

Few use Twitter the way I do. When using Twitter, I must process every single tweet from each source I follow. I don't just dip in from time to time, reading some piece of the river as it flows by. I read everything. Because of this, my stream is narrow. I can only follow people up to the point where the total amount of tweets flowing by is something I can digest daily.

This comes from my mental workflow of Getting Things Done. Little flows into my life that doesn't get processed, analyzed, and turned into either an action, a project, an event, or gets tossed. Much of Twitter gets tossed, but there are a few golden nuggets in that stream that have led to some pretty great things.

It's not you, it's me

Because of my "must process everything" handicap, and it sure can be a handicap, I have to pay particular attention not to who I follow, but from what I receive from them.

Do not misunderstand me. I'm not telling you what to do. You have the freedom to post whatever you want to Twitter. You have the freedom to use Twitter however you want. I'm not telling you to stop posting whatever you want to post as often as you want to post it. I'm telling you that, personally, I may not be interested. I have limited time and attention and I want to focus it on the things that interest me, help me, or make me happy. If I unfollow you, it isn't judgement and it really doesn't matter. Keep posting what you love.

I could be like Guy Kawasaki and follow everyone on the planet. Do you really think he's giving his attention to every one of his 300,000 followers? He's not. Following everyone means following no one.

Things that are sure to get you unfollowed

All of that said, these are the things that are very likely to get me to unfollow you. Though not as eloquent as the Oatmeal's How to Suck at Facebook, I hope it clarifies what I seek. Again, I don't care if you do these things. That's up to you. Whether I spend my attention reading these things is up to me.

Too many posts

This is the biggest offender. If you tweet too often, it's very unlikely every tweet is gold. If you post long ideas in multiple tweets, I probably don't want to read them all. I'd rather read your linked blog post preceded by a good headline. I'm not really interested in the forty tweets you posted during your boring job on your feelings about Egypt. I'm always looking for someone with a high signal to noise ratio and someone who remembers that it's not all about you.

Automatic posts from some machine I don't care where 4Square says you are. Aside from blog post updates, I want to read Tweets that you've posted yourself, not those posted by some machine on your behalf. I don't care what your score was in Yars Revenge on the iPhone. Yes, the Mars rover got a free pass, but I don't want to spend my attention finding out that you displaced the king of your local Whole Foods.

Chainletter tweets

I don't care how bad you want an iPad or how much you love your mom or how much you support the troops, if you retweet anything that asked you to retweet, I'm not interested. Good retweets of relevant tweets are fine, but contests and chain letters interest me not at all. If you use your twitter account to advertise someone or something even you don't really care about, I won't care either and I won't risk my future attention on the same source.

Religion and politics

Even if I agree with you, I'm really not that interested in talking about it anymore. In general, I find debate and arguing to be useless and tiring. Either we both agree or neither of us are going to convince the other so why are we spending the time on it? I'd rather spend my time on something else, thank you very much. Feel free to debate abortion and gun control all you want. I'll be over here with earplugs in writing about Dungeons and Dragons.

Baby stuff

I know your new baby has just become the center of your universe, but it isn't the center of mine. It's absolutely fine if you want to post every single intake of breath your baby performs, I'm sure the grandparents enjoy it, but it's not really of interest to me.


Maybe you had a hard day or maybe the world has dealt you a poor hand but unless you directly need and deserve my help, I'm not the beast upon which you can lay your burden. There's enough hate, pain, fear, and sadness in the world already. I don't need to seek out more of it. Feel free to write your unread letter or keep up your emo-like journal but I'd rather focus on positive energy.

Your license to unfollow me

I'm sure you have your own list of tweets that drive you bananas and I may be part of the problem. Please, for the sake of our relationship, unfollow me this minute if my tweet's don't make you happy, spark an interest, or teach you something you want to know. I won't be hurt. I don't check who follows me and makes me happier not to.

Some friendships are best courted in silence.

Whitelisting our attention

The tools of the internet these days give us a wonderful ability to whitelist the the things upon which we spend our attention. We can easily hand-select our sources of news, commentary, and personal stories. Use these tools. Don't suffer under a torrent of information you don't care about. Take control over the sources that enter your life and select only those that improve you or bring you joy. We'll all be happier for it.