Lots has been written about the value of Twitter, why people should use it, how people should use it and I don’t really feel like regurgitating the arguments (Chris Brogan wrote a good piece on “Twitter as Presence“, Marcia Conner highlighted the micro-learning aspect of it, and even the pedantic Andrew McAfee mentioned the social benefits of the application). Last month I made a bet that I could go an entire week without using Twitter, Facebook and my favorite social music-sharing site, Blip.FM. And I was successful.
This is what I learned:
- I have a relationship with Twitter: it provides me with the social interaction that I as a social being need. On the flip side, I wonder if my Twitter habit precludes me from picking up the phone or meeting in person to have a robust conversation that is more substantive and fulfilling.
- Facebook and Twitter are my social network relationship managers: I keep up-to-date and make social plans using these two tools. I have a horrible memory and am a fairly social person so seeing what other folks are doing in Facebook and Twitter reminds me of what events I want to attend. And I regularly use Twitter or Facebook to find folks to attend these events.
- The “noise” of Twitter is addictive. Information addiction is becoming more prevalent as we have access to more sources. Our brains are pattern recognizers and it loves new information because it’s trained to seek it out. Twitter offers many things, including fictive learning (the exploration of could-have-been-experienced) and could be just as powerful as experiential learning.
- Twitter lets me see everything that’s going on. Since birth, I have displayed an active curiosity in everything. A few months ago, I asked my mom to describe me as a young child and what I was interested in and she replied, “You were constantly moving. You could never sit still, you could never stay put. You were interested in EVERYTHING. And got into EVERYTHING.” Since i don’t have a cable/internet connection at home, I rely on twitter via my iPhone as my main source of news and communication (for world, family, friend and work updates).
- Anyone can listen and jump into the conversation (but since I couldn’t participant, I had little interest in what was going on). This is a critical aspect of social change. Groups or individuals who are neglected, overlooked or dismissed will not exhibit a need or desire to participate or contribute and will therefore be apathetic.
- The bar is very LOW to participate. Anyone can throw in 140 characters worth of information. This is great for actions like making mental notes, expressing a feeling, asking a question and sharing links or event headlines. However, many things in life cannot be captured in 140 characters and other formats and forums must be used or suffer the consequences of gross misunderstandings and inefficiencies.
- I was very productive during this period. It was refreshing not to share, to focus on me and be primarily self-focused. When I wasn’t consuming information, I was able to process and create it. Since Twitter and social applications are noisy and addictive, I must train myself to limit my usage and exposure to them and I now make a conscious effort to “turn off the noise” and schedule planned periods of time to use them, either as a break to checkout what’s going on or share thoughts.
- I don’t know who I don’t know and I can share with these people. A great learning experience was when I needed to disseminate information for an event to which I didn’t have an attendee list. Not having Twitter at my disposal hurt potential recipients.
- Twitter is not the value..I am. There’s been much discussion over the value of Twitter and the most obvious aspect is the user and customer data. Twitter owns a very lucrative repository of its customers (aka Tweeters) buying, thinking, and behavioral cues and patterns . Companies, government agencies, even potential dating partners are interested in learning about “me” and social applications like Twitter provide a very convenient platform to execute against the resume and influence others.
One of the keys to my 1-week social software sabbatical was creating an incentive to break my habit since I didn’t know all the opportunity costs of my participation. So I, the competitive being that I am, contrived a wager with Andrew McAfee that is available for public viewing here:
Since I was ruled successful in completing the terms of my part of the agreement, it’s Andy’s turn to complete his end of the bargain.