I used to make jokes about my Twitter addiction, both on Twitter itself and to less 'connected' friends and relations when they made embarrassed enquiries as to what Twitter actually is. I don't any more; Twitter doesn't make me feel like laughing.
Twitter, we are told, can be as addictive as drugs. I've taken a lot of drugs. They are, indubitably, fairly moreish. Addiction was my thing. I'm a teetotaler of eight years thanks to my imbecilic propensity to excess, and since I stopped drinking and ingesting whatever stimulant I could get my hands on, the only narcotic I've allowed myself to consume is caffeine. I got married, had children and quit my youth's idiocies; what I hadn't banked on was electronic dope.
I've always liked online socialising. I started using the internet in my first job as a games journalist in 1998, and one of the first things I did when the boss's back was turned was to register for Loaded's chat room and start wasting time. This was back in the days of real-time chat' on a webpage. It felt underground. Since then we've seen the internet revolutionise the way we interact with one another, with Facebook emerging as the global connectivity poster boy, but nothing else matches the pure buzz of Twitter.
I use Twitter constantly, all day, from the moment I wake up to the last minutes before I go to sleep. It's not unusual for me to check Twitter on my phone before I turn on the light in the morning, and I usually do a few last refreshes after my wife plunges our bedroom into darkness at night. I have a Twitter app open on at least three devices in the house at any one time: on my PC in my office, on a laptop in the kitchen, on my smartphone or on my Vita. I use Twitter during meals, before I start my car's engine, when we go for family walks and when I travel on trains. I don't read when I sit down to 'relax': I tweet.
If Facebook's the mainstream social gateway, Twitter's the hard stuff. Everything about it provides instant, constant gratification. Nothing epitomises 'f5 syndrome' - the desire to repeatedly refresh a webpage or app - better than Twitter. The 140 character limit on tweets means it takes seconds to contribute or notify, and the codification of posts, with their insignia for replies, direct messages and hashtags, gives a seductive, cliquey impression. When you stand on the outside and watch people voraciously using something, the urge is to join. Once you've on the inside of a universally addicted group, leaving can be very difficult.
Even worse, it's a professional addiction. The biggest problem with Twitter, for me at least, is that it's become a standard for the transmission of news of every type. My main business is running VG247, a video games news site, and Twitter is an intrinsic part of that community. Aside from being a bullet-fast delivery medium, Twitter is a no-man's land chatroom between journalists from opposing sites and magazines, and more often than not engaging VG247 readers happens on Twitter as opposed to the site itself. How am I supposed to stop using it?
A key test of whether or not you're addicted to something is to judge how it impacts your everyday life. Anyone with a drink problem will tell you that when they finally decide to do something about it, one of the first questions they're asked by whoever they stumble to for help - a Google search in many cases - will be to answer honestly about how their habit is affecting their day-to-day existence, specifically factors such as relationships and work.
Twitter certainly affects my work. It fractures my concentration and gives me a depressing feeling I know only too well from my "other life"; the desperate, hollow pressure of waste. If I'm checking Twitter every few minutes I can't write or edit properly. Does Twitter affect my relationship? Probably. When I spend time with my wife at the end of a day and the children are asleep, we usually collapse in front of a TV only one of us watches: I'll be staring at my phone until bedtime. I don't know if it has or not, but could Twitter be affecting my marriage? The answer's obvious.
Of course, Twitter doesn't have to be used in this way. It can be a hugely positive thing, a universally-used system by dissidents, journalists and those seeking to break a wide expanse of official evil. Twitter can be a force for good.
Not for me. People can become addicted to anything, but there's certainly been enough written about the addictive attributes of Twitter recently to make clear it's something I need to be careful with. The enjoyment I get from Twitter has evaporated, a classic sign of overuse. I don't really like it any more. I want to do other things with my time. My worry is that to stop using it completely could impact my business. Once I'd made the decision to stop taking drugs, the next steps were relatively easy as I made my financial living elsewhere. To stop using Twitter isn't so black and white, and my "all or nothing" personality means I can't just use Twitter "a bit".
But it's stupid to even believe that. Maybe I can. Maybe I have to. It's as much a part of my world as the internet or computers. Maybe if I spent more time writing about Twitter than actually using it, it can become a positive part of my life instead of threatening to envelope it.
Either way, it's clearly time to make some changes. Drugs are drugs, virtual or otherwise.
Follow Patrick Garratt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patlike