Twitter & Panning for Gold

The world is awash with the current craze of sending vast volumes of short messages into the ether. Twitter, linked-in, Facebook, myspace and a phalanx of their cohorts extol us to send and receive constant brief updates and information to our friends and followers.

We become welded to our  iPhone or Blackberry  waiting for the satisfying vibration of the next tweet, email, or update.

If removed from this constant flood of stimulus we feel deprived. Disconnected. Alone. Anti-social. We begin to crave them like an addict.

Sure there are benefits in light use, but does it do us any real good?

The media and the ‘herd’ mentality extol us about the virtues of such activity and they focus on  benefits that ‘social networking’ provides – in some cases a form of social status.

“Get with it newbie”, they say. “I have xxx thousand following me, how many do you have….”. Some compare each other’s twitter follower’s list like some strange personally insecure form of rutting ritual. Or when we don’t know some fact we get – “Why don’t you know? I posted it on my facebook page”.

But is all this actually a beneficial activity, or is it the equivalent of the yo-yo or Rubik’s cube of the internet – entertaining fad but of no real long term benefit.

I’d argue much worse than just a fad. I contend that deep engagement with twitter and its cohorts – a state which these tools encourage – prevents you from seizing opportunity and advantage, and building new real relationships with people, friends and family.

They can stop you finding the gold of your life.

Understanding the nature of Twitter and Facebook

Twitter and the like, encourage the sharing of random thoughts or ‘updates’ between people.  Each day people are encouraged to consider tens, dozens or hundreds of ‘updates’ from friends and family.

(NB: I resist using the term ‘social networking’ because that term has become a brand name, which doesn’t necessarily describe what these tools do.)

Panning for Gold on an empty stomach.

Imagine you are a down on your luck gold prospector. With nothing but your wits, an empty stomach and a tin pan you head down to the river to try your luck.

If the river is flowing fast, you may have trouble finding the  traces of gold that prevail and drop into the sediments. In fast flowing water they tend to be washed down stream with the flow.

You try to find the slower flowing edges and eddies where sediments collect. Carefully depositing a ladle of a morass of miry mud and silt, you gently wash and look. Hungry, you concentrate hard. Wash and Look. Wash and Look. Examine and Consider. Until you see the glint of hope and prosperity.

Trying to understand and identify important information is more difficult when you are receiving dozens, scores or hundreds of messages each day. You can’t stop to consider the information provided.

You become to need the stimulus of the next update. The hit. You can lose the ability to identity issues and think strategically, because you are training yourself only to react to stimulus.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt. But remember, you will act tomorrow as you train yourself to day. Practice thoughtful, strategic consideration today, because you may need it tomorrow.

Information and Energy

At any point in time there is a fixed amount of facts in the world.  A finite number of facts and raw observations.  Most pass without the effort of measurement – unknown – at no great loss. Apply a time and a little energy in the form of monitoring or observations and we can collect this as data.

We can take this data, apply a little effort and analysis – a little more energy and then add value to the data – meaning, context, analysis and creativity  to produce information – something that can be of wider use.

Chemistry and food become cook books. Mathematics becomes engineering, physics, which become roads, bridges, buildings which becomes schools, hospitals, office blocks and churches.  Transistors, become computers which become GPS’s which become TomToms and other personal navigation devices. Raw stock tickers  and company financials become analyst reports, which then become investment portfolios.

It takes time and effort to increase the value of information.

That is, the more facts we collect as data, the lower the average ‘value’ of all our information. The more we collect tweets, the lower the value of information we receive.

You can only consume so much.

“It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”
Jerry Seinfeld

Newspapers have long understood that each person can only consume a certain amount of information each day. Sure there is more news than can fill the internet or newspapers each day, but most of it isn’t meaningful. What get’s put into major newspapers is information that would be appealing to the most number of customers both in volume and content.

So metaphorically each of us can only consume our ‘newspaper’ of data and information for today.

So what sort of newspaper would it be to add value to your life. What sort to help you become a better person, father, mother, son, investor, manager of member of your community?

Would it be the Economist, the Australian, or the Daily Truth?

Do you want your life’s daily newspaper to be filled with low value information distractions?

Just Tell me How you are!

Recently, when speaking on the topic,  Anthony Josephs –  travelling preacher and pastor vented his frustration in keeping in touch with people whist he was travelling. He exclaimed, recounting seeing yet another “at home watching TV” type tweet. “ I don’t want to know what you’re doing – tell me how you are!”, he exclaimed.

The low value messages can’t build relationships or friendships or provide real growth of relationships.

Twitter State: November/2009: Kevin Spacey, following 4 people with 1,361,763 followers. Why does Kevin Spacey only follow 4 and get followed by so many. Perhaps he’s twigged on. It’s not about social networking, its about celebrity promotion and publication. Twitter is New Idea without the Paparazzi.

The long term end game of high use of Twitter et al.

Twitter et al and the constant stream of updates, floods with low value information. Using twitter constantly, fills your daily ‘newspaper’ with  less and less information and more and more low value data. Sure, you keep in context with of people, but does it add real value to your life.? Does it build real relationships that cement the bricks of your life? I say no.

It is interesting that the ASX200 has gained 1/2 point  during the hour, but how does that help me to invest better? It’s nice to know that John is having a wonderful time in Kyoto, but how does that make me a better friend of his?

Final Thoughts:

In my recent article on busyness, I made the point that being over busy leads to poor decisions.

Reading and consuming large amounts of low value communication, augments that ailment.

Making comparisons between what is important and what is trivial becomes harder when the rate of communication increases.

Low value communication, doesn’t build new relationships or build long term deep friendships.

I love technology and entertainment, but for twitter and facebook – from now on I’m going to try to use them as little as I can.

Call me on the phone. Come round for coffee. Have a meal with me. I’d love to have a chat and tell you how I really am.

2 thoughts on “Twitter & Panning for Gold

  1. John Cox says:

    I do find it “informative” to know what people are doing via Facebook. I am only friends with people I have met and continue to meet and interact with in an “analogue” way. And I did have a nice time in Kyoto 🙂

    I don’t consider myself an addict but do have my toes in the fast flowing stream – not actively looking for nuggets I must admit.

    Hmmm, food for thought Alan.

  2. Dion Kuehnle says:

    I really find this is a great interesting subject. Never looked at this subject in this way. If you are going to create some more articles relating to this subject, I definitely will be back soon!

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