What happens when a tweet takes over a scholar’s life?

Addiction expert KEITH HUMPHREYS, the Esther Ting Memorial Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, recently wrote a blog post in the School of Medicine’s Scope blog describing what happened when a tweet took over his life.

Keith Humphreys
Keith Humphreys

He wrote, “My typical Twitter output comprises an admixture of addiction research findings, health policy analyses and excruciating puns. I see Twitter as part diversion, part efficient method to learn what my colleagues are up to, but in no way something that could take over my life. Until recently, that is.”

Humphreys decided that thoughts he had been having about Americans’ willingness to comply with a national coronavirus test, trace and isolate program weren’t worthy of a newspaper op-ed. So instead, he outlined his doubts in a tweet that quickly went viral.

“Within an hour of sending out my 9-tweet thread, I received a message from Twitter,” he wrote. “They wanted to know if they should set a filter to slow down ‘notifications’ that individuals were liking, retweeting, responding to or quoting my tweet. Surprised, I re-opened the app and started trying to reply to the flood of messages. But the notification queue filled up again and again and again. I simply couldn’t keep up.”

He soon became the object of attention from journalists eager to interview him about the tweet.

He wrote, “As my Twitter thread reached its millionth user, my editor at the Post reached out to ask if I wanted to turn my thoughts – which I had originally deemed too unimportant for an op-ed – into an op-ed (which I did). By the day after that, Twitter users with truly massive followings, like Paul Krugman and David Frum and Tom Nichols, were tweeting out threads in response to my thread. This led to another avalanche of Twitter responses, as well as another round of journalists calling to interview me about, yes, ‘my tweet.’”

Humphrey ends his saga with a reference to Oscar Wilde, who once wrote that the one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

“I think that undersells the rewards of obscurity,” Humphrey wrote. “Widespread attention and praise from strangers, like many other dopamine blasts to the nucleus accumbens, is a high which fades rather quickly.”

Read the entire post in Scope.