how twitter works

June 7th, 2011

It doesn’t. Not really. Twitter doesn’t work. It’s like all those things you think will work that actually don’t work. Like being famous doesn’t work. Or being what you think successful is. Or admired, smart, clever, popular or quotable. Or having more followers. Or getting elected. Or getting an agent or a book deal. Or falling in love. Or getting another wife or husband or career after your last tweet doesn’t quite work. None of it works the way you’re thinking it will.

Twitter is just another name for another thing that will disappoint you, even betray you. It is an agent of your demise – the demise of how you want things to turn out.

If I could just ratchet up those numbers, cross that threshold, send more, get more, do more, have more. You know how that works.

It’s kind of fascinating that when these new things roll around we think, for a minute or two, that they will change human drama, human tragedy, or human history. Revolutionize it! They don’t. They don’t change the ending of anything. They might even hasten it. At best, they hasten the end of the dream.

The way I think of Twitter is the same way I think of advertising. And advertising doesn’t work either. I worked for more than two decades in advertising and PR, alongside great people and with great companies and I learned some great things about life and work. One of the things we all learned was that advertising and PR don’t work. Well, not quite the way you hope they will. Not like magic or make believe. Advertising only works when you have endless sums of money and you pollute the world with your advertising and then it works in the same way trees and rocks and buildings work – they show up everywhere. There’s no magic in that, no strategy or cleverness, just sheer tonnage. And endless money and hopes and dreams and schemes and silliness just circulating around like so much dust.

But when you see the dust! That’s when it begins to work. That’s when the real conversation starts. That’s worth hoping for.

Two new real-life happenings now open for registration:
The Practice of Everyday Life, weekend retreat in Colorado Sept. 16-18
The Plunge in Pittsburgh, one-day retreat right where you think it will be, Oct. 1

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  1. I sincerely wish I could come. Do you ever come to Europe to give a retreat? Could I maybe assist in organising one?

    Comment by Christiane — June 7, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  2. I bet you are a very good PR person. You make the dust of daily life seem so beautiful, so able to inspire us to cease striving.

    Comment by Chris — June 7, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  3. If, by any chance or whim or whatever, you are interested in the subject of dust, I can highly recommend Hannah Holmes’ book “The Secret Life of Dust”

    Comment by Bill — June 7, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  4. I liked this a lot.

    A dharma teacher here in Durango once said. “If a sentence starts with ‘if only,’ it’s probably a delusion.”


    Comment by 6512 and growing — June 7, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  5. Anything in August? I’ll be in your part of the world in August. Maybe I could just come walk in your garden, watch the dust.

    Comment by Marianne — June 7, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  6. Well this is disappointing news. Here all along I’d thought, and I’d heard this from several sources, that if I ran out RIGHT NOW and got myself a shiny new iPad2 that my life — and all life on planet Earth, for that matter — would change forever. Not an iPad even?! Duped!


    Comment by Lana — June 7, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  7. This is such a timely post. I mean on some level it’s not about things but what we think the things will do for us always. Right now, in my life, I feel like I am chasing a lot of things that are suppose to make me happy. However, I am miserable chasing them. If I stopped chasing them, I would be much happier.Thanks for the food for thought. Totally, wish I could go on retreat right now but work beacons. Peace.

    Comment by keishua — June 8, 2011 @ 4:03 am

  8. That is hitting the nail on the head Karen.
    So true yet frustrating in a lot of ways.
    I guess that is what we work on in our practice, not being frustrated or suffering.

    Also I am putting this out there for everyone to see. I think we need to have you visit Chicago for a short retreat or even a one day retreat.
    If anyone from the Chicago area is interested in helping me organize this they can email me:

    Comment by Fred — June 8, 2011 @ 5:58 am

  9. I’m so grateful you are here to speak truth.

    Comment by Kathryn — June 8, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  10. And to think that I found your post via Twitter.

    Oh, and I found love too, via Twitter.

    Saying Twitter doesn’t work is like saying talking doesn’t work because all you hear are words. Sure some people shout at you and bug you for money, online and offline. As with anything, online or offline, you just have to choose your words (and who you choose to listen to) carefully.

    Comment by Tori — June 8, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  11. I have to have minimal expectations about stuff like this. What will Twitter do? It will help me feel connected to a few people for a few seconds.

    Maybe I’ll come to your Colorado retreat, since I live in CO I might be able to swing it.

    Comment by Sheryl (@papernapkin) — June 8, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  12. That’s right, words don’t work either. Not in the way you think they will work. They certainly never change anyone’s mind.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 8, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  13. seeing the dust, opening my eyes, feeling the burning sting, and trying to breathe through it all (without choking on the dust). thank you for the wise inspiration, karen.

    Comment by melissa — June 9, 2011 @ 6:54 am

  14. Gorgeous.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Kelly — June 9, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

  15. I am now following you via twitter as well 🙂 I quess this is how twitter works 🙂

    Comment by FUnda — June 10, 2011 @ 2:59 am

  16. Ego is so wiley and pesky. It can take over anything, regardles of intention. Thankfully, when we’re mindful we can (sometimes) catch it. 🙂 I tried my own Twitter experiment last year. If interested, I blogged about the end of that experiment:

    Comment by Joy — June 10, 2011 @ 6:32 am

  17. Karen, I feel liberated after reading this. A few months ago I started meditating each morning, or at least spending time in silence, and it has helped me to see into things, the way you see into Twitter. And there is no anger to it, there’s just a letting go.

    My question is – and I hope I am holding it open-handed, for a conversation, rather than gripping it tight, to convince you of something – where is the space for hope? Where is the magic and make-believe?

    Thank you,


    Comment by David — July 14, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  18. My view isn’t a cynical one, David. There is really no need for hope, or a need to strip it away. But holding onto nothing, you can see that it’s all magic and make-believe. It’s all a dream. We can make it an enjoyable dream, however, rather than a egocentric nightmare. We can see where we cast our own shadows.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — July 14, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  19. I just set up a Twitter, and am delighted to read this post. I find it therapeutic already – not having grand expectations.

    I wonder though, isn’t it ironic that you have these intense views about PR and advertising, and yet much of your site promotes your retreats and books?

    Comment by Amy I. Bloom — July 19, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  20. I feel the need to clarify….”Ironic” in the sense that we don’t even realize our self promoting, our own advertising. It has become such a part of our culture. But perhaps it isn’t a bad thing. And maybe it DOES work, just not as we have come to expect, not in the greedy way. Maybe the blogging, the tweeting works as a communication tool, as a motivator, as inspiration. For some of us, maybe that’s enough.

    Comment by Amy I. Bloom — July 19, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  21. Hmmm, same thoughts I’ve been having Amy. I now view Twitter much the same as Facebook or our local paper – advertising. Thai is all. Some people prefer to read the Facebook newspaper about their friends ( I can understand that) So prefer to read the Titter paper about their followers ( I can understand that and some lipe to finger the paper of our local newspaper about many people we may never meet nor engage with but their actions or words may impact us in some way – I can understand that. You make your choice of dust and I will understand that. Much gratitude to you Karen for the wisdom you share. Much peace to your heart.


    Comment by Miro — October 15, 2011 @ 1:28 am

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