Monday, March 19, 2007

Creating Passionate Users: Is Twitter TOO good?

Creating Passionate Users: Is Twitter TOO good?

2) The feeling of connectedness

The biggest benefit most people seem to be deriving from Twitter is the ability to feel more connected to others. Carson Systems' Lisa put it this way in a comment to Tara Hunt's defense of Twitter:
"Twittering fills in those gaps...recording our friends’ feelings, geographic location and actions as if we were spookily almost there. That makes us feel *really* connected..."

Is this really a good thing?

Probably, yes. For most people, perhaps. But I think it's worth a critical look as opposed to an automatic connected-is-awlays-implicitly-good response. UCSF neurobiologist Thomas Lewis claims that if we're not careful, we can trick a part of our brain into thinking that we're having a real social interaction--something crucial and ancient for human survival--when we actually aren't. This leads to a stressful (but subconscious) cognitive dissonance, where we're getting some of what the brain thinks it needs, but not enough to fill that whatever-ineffable-thing-is-scientists-still-haven't-completely-nailed-but-might-be-smell. He didn't make this claim about Twitter... I attended his talk at The Conference on World Affairs, and he was addressing e-mail, chat, and even television (brain recognizes it's looking at "people", and feels it must be having a social connection (GOOD), but yet it knows something's missing (BAD).

Dr. Lewis cited a ton of studies which I didn't write down, so you can take this with a grain of salt. Plus, I'm extending his issues from e-mail and chat to Twitter. But part of the reasons he talks about are that our brain has evolved an innate ability to interpret body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. so the brain expects these channels of information and becomes distressed when the social interaction appears to be there, but these innate, legacy-brain pieces are missing.

Again, this doesn't mean that it's not worth it and highly valuable for people TO stay connected to far-flung family and friends, I'm just saying that it's worth a look at whether that might be lulling some folks into a false sense of "I'm connected" at the expense of real-life connections.

Coffee with your next-door neighbor could do more for your brain than a thousand Twitter updates.

While this same argument has been going around forever, and is the same claim made about television, that doesn't make it untrue. (There's that study about the isolated Canadian village whose collective IQ went down once cable finally came to the village... Lewis cites it in his talks, although I can't find it referenced online).

Ironically, services like Twitter are simultaneously leaving some people with a feeling of not being connected, by feeding the fear of not being in the loop. By elevating the importance of being "constantly updated," it amplifies the feeling of missing something if you're not checking Twitter (or Twittering) with enough frequency.

3) Twitter is the best/worst cause of continuous partial attention

From an earlier post of mine:

Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that's quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.

And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we're stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it's a matter of being able to focus.

We're already seeing a backlash response to info overload, and it seems like a good chunk of Web 2.0 VC investments are going to companies that promise to help us get/stay organized. There's a reason 43 Folders is a Top 100 blog, and it's got to be more than just Merlin Mann's good looks ; )

Lots of people are talking about this, and perhaps nobody more eloquently than Linda Stone:

"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention -- CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.
We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking."

Interesting critique of the newist social networking website. I love the graph! Indeed, each new technology seems to be more and more distracting. How will our brains cope?

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