Don’t get Twitter? You’re doing it wrong.

I used twitter for years without knowing why. The microblogging service long ago went viral, but I lingered on the shore of the mainstream. “What is this for?” No one I knew actually tweeted; I felt like a guest three hours early for the party. It is social media, after all, and I was shouting into an empty room.

But there’s a better way to tweet. Forget about following your friends. Oh, you can add them, too. But you should follow everyone. People you love, people you hate, people you love to hate, smart people, spectacularly dumb people. Your team’s star player. The crazy politician from the rival party. Your favorite over-exposing celebrity.

And don’t just follow people. With full-featured twitter clients like Tweetdeck or Twitter on iOS, you can siphon in topical searches, the latest Internet memes, breaking news as it happens, and hyperlocalized info. And each additional tweet-source exposes you to new tweeters to follow. Layer upon layer, topic upon topic, let your stream crescendo into a dull roar of pseudo-relevant babble.

“But,” you might object, “How can I possibly keep up with that many people?” In short, you can’t. You may even miss updates from your actual friends.

Don’t sweat it. Here’s the key: Twitter is not another inbox. It’s not a list requiring scrutiny or sifting. Instead, it’s background noise–the world’s busyness, digitized. Every once in a while, you prick up your ears and listen in–click that link, track that trend, or chuckle at someone’s cleverly concise quip. But you shouldn’t feel any pressure to read all those tweets–to catch up. Give yourself permission to not read it all.

Using it this way respects the medium. Plays to its strength. twitter is not for conversations (who can keep track of all those @replies?). It’s not for stalking friends (that’s why we have Facebook). It’s not for critical messages (that’s why email hasn’t yet died). Instead, twitter thrums–there when you need it, ignorable elsewise.