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Twitter Me This: How To Use Technology to Stay Sober

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I’ve been on the Internet since 1988. As a psych undergrad I conducted what I believe was the world’s first online study of computer addiction in about 1990 at Cal State Long Beach. This was before the web had a graphical interface, and we communicated through monochromatic screens, text only. The survey went out to scientists and students, who were the only people on the Internet at that time. My suspicions were confirmed, or the hypothesis was supported if you want to put it in scientific terms: we were addicted to computing.

Now I realize that this might sound like old news to you. But trust me, nobody was thinking about it 18 years ago. But even though I’ve known that I was a computer addict for all these years, I’ve never once considered giving it up. I’ve probably sent two million emails, conducted a thousand online arguments since then (If you don’t believe me, Google my name). But like I heard a teacher on the Buddhist Geeks podcast say, I think it was episode 8, “There are positive addictions.” He goes on to say that maybe we know this, like being addicted to Buddhism, but eventually go beyond it. I figure if I’m going to be obsessive, might as well use it to my advantage.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog: Using Technology to Stay Sober. I’ve been on Facebook for a couple of years, but just started using it this past year. Same thing with Myspace, though I’ve used it a big longer. I collect friends by searching for whose friends with whom, using search terms like Buddhism or recovery and similar methods. It has definitely helped me make connections that I wouldn’t have ever made. If you recall my article on Getting Naked with the Guru, I went to a retreat and hooked up with a bunch of people who were Facebook friends. We even had a meeting on site, which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Social Networking. So these services are good, and there are more.

There’s something called SoberCircle.com, where you can find me. But I think it’s too specialized. I know that some people think the web is heading in the direction of smaller niche groups but my experience is that sites need a lot of flow to make them go. I remember working for my then buddy Lars down in Santa Cruz, watching how he built a mountain of cash out of pictures of cheap sluts. He was a porn entrepreneur, one of the ground floor guys and he’s got the cash to prove it. Everything was based on traffic. And if you ain’t got the hits, no one gives a shit. Somebody else has another sober version of a Social Networking site, but I couldn’t navigate through it and off I went. I’ve been on Gaia.com, which used to be Zaadz.com, for 3-4 years. That’s a site where you have to tell them a good reason why you’re there to get in. They’re pretty low volume too, with sluggish speeds and very little traffic on the discussion sites. You can check, I created the 12-Step and Dharma “Pods” or discussion groups there a few years ago. It gets about a post a month. Or less. So I’d pretty much given up on using Social Networks for recovery purposes, aside from the occasional contact. I had tried online chat room meetings when I lived in Dallas, having a nervous breakdown while trying to get sober again. I found that they didn’t quite give me the same connection as real live meetings.

Join me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/12stepbuddhist

So now there’s Twitter. And I’m wondering if Twitter has the potential to really move us into a new era of Social Networking for Recovering People. I’ve been using SMS (Single Text Messages, I think) to connect with my 12-Step people for a year or two. I have definitely found this to be a great way to stay connected, invite people to events, “suggest” that sponsees meet me at a meeting, and so on. It really has helped. And you can send me a text if you like through my Facebook account. I even made up a 12-Step Buddhist Daily Meditations SMS program that you can subscribe to. See the box on the right. But the limitation of SMS is the people need to be in your phone book. There’s no way to reach beyond the physical circle of friends to the larger, electronically connected community. Until Twitter that is.

Here’s how it works. You send a 140 character message out to Twitter. Make an account first at twitter.com. The whole world sees your message, and I forget how many they’ve got up there but at least several million Twitterers. If they’re looking at the public timeline, they will see your Tweat, as the messages are called. I think it has something to do with birds but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Anyways, you can also “Follow” people. They can Ban you if they think you’re a spammer, or worse. But you find them by searching for terms in the People and Places box. I searched for terms like Buddhist and Recovery. I followed a lot of those people, and some of the people who were following them who seemed active. Then you can go to search.twitter.com and search for topics that have been Tweated or Twittered. So you search for Buddhist and recovery or what have you. I sometimes search for towns and see who’s interesting in say, Boston or Denver.

You can download Twhirl from Twhirl.com as a desktop application that shows you all your Twitters. You can get Twittelator Pro for your iPhone\Touch and find a lot more detail. There’s even an application that shows you Twitters ALL OVER THE WORLD IN REAL TIME on a global map, WITH instant translations into English! How cool is that? You can send your Tweats by SMS or from the Twitter.com website as well. People on your Facebook and Myspace sites can keep up with you if you install a Twitter widget.

Then a certain percentage of the people that you follow will in turn, become interested in following you. So then when you send out a Tweat, all of your followers see it. I’ve found a ton of interesting links, new ideas, sites, and pictures because I also follow tech geeks to see what they’re finding out at conferences. I’ve met a guy who’s interviewing me for a recovery podcast, a girl who’s doing an article on my book, the 12-Step Buddhist available for pre-order at the top of the page. (-: And yes, a bunch of people who are interested in the work of Buddhism and recovery. This is all in about the past 45 days or so.

I’m thinking that if more people in recovery knew about Twitter, how to use it and why it’s cool, we might discover interesting ways we can get connected and stay connected to ourselves, each other and a power greater than ourselves and others, as my sponsor is fond of saying. One idea is a home group Twittering each other about sponsees, events, meetings, checking in. You could Follow your sponsor and if she’s active enough on Twitter, and I should say that to be noticed on Twitter you need to post a few interesting things per day, then you can stay on top of what she’s doing in her program. Or she can follow you to see if you’re doing ok. These are just some ideas off the top of my head. I haven’t gotten enough local friends on Twitter yet to see it working. But I think it has potential.

I will send a gift from the 12-Step Buddhist Gear Shop to the person who comes up with the most interesting idea. What ideas do you have for using Twitter, or another Social Networking Technology, for your recovery? Please post your ideas in the comments below.  So go sign up on twitter.com and see if we can’t invent something interesting that we can use to help each other grow spiritually and stay clean. Just for today of course. Ok, let’s get those comments in!

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New book release: The Power of Vow: Everyday Tools for Healing - http://thepowerofvow.com Also read The 12 Step Buddhist by Darren Littlejohn (Atria\Beyond Words 2009).

2 comments to Twitter Me This: How To Use Technology to Stay Sober

  • Megan

    Wow, I’m relieved to hear your perspective that the technology bent can be a positive addiction. I’ve been taking a type of refuge in this since I got into recovery…mostly in this website, its Myspace and Facebook incarnations, and the people I’ve been able to connect with through them.

    With Twitter, I think it would be interesting to introduce a topic related to recovery, like surrender or gratitude or whatever, and people can Tweet about what they’re perceiving at that moment as it relates to that topic. I’m picturing the guided meditation about the rock from the first podcast, with recovery concepts.

    It’s a great way to celebrate a clean/sober day milestone with a whole bunch of people at once, also, which seems to be so inspiring to the whole group!

  • LoriR

    Your article made me really curious about Twitter. I’ve been hearing about it for a long while now, but have never checked it out. I just might join it and see what it’s all about. :-)

    Up to now, my experience with social networking has primarily been with Yahoo and Google groups, which I’m not sure qualifies. I can say that, although the traffic on these groups is small, it has been a relief to find like-minding 12-step folks practicing Buddhism in the world. There’s just not that much of that in my area of the country. These groups provide a great complement to my regular in-person meetings. Plus, they also afford me an even more anonymous platform from which I can express myself in ways I might be uncomfortable doing in an in-person group meeting.