Twitter me this… is your signal getting lost in your noise?
As the great Twitter debate continues to rage on (and on), I get the feeling we’re missing a key point of what true connections and conversations are: the memories of them. I have a love hate relationship with Twitter. Most of the time I hate it, but sometimes I love it. I just can’t get past the noise.
I’m the type of person that likes to remember things and form deep interactions and thoughts about a topic, and I find that Twitter makes me feel like I need prozac. My brain is not hardwired to multi-task that much. After a session of reading what everyone “is doing” I honestly don’t feel smarter for it. I don’t feel more connected. I usually feel like I need a nap or a complex Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the conversations.
Maybe it’s the usability – no ability to drag and drop the conversations I want to keep track of into a new window or widget, with replies nicely threaded using that wonderful language called Ajax. No historical continuity. No ability to search for a conversation ala Gmail. Just a constant stream of the collective consciousness in 140-character bites. But I think it’s more than that in the 30-thousand foot view.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a “massive waste of time”, but I am saying that, on the whole, for me, the benefits of the ’signal’ are far outweighed by the constant ‘noise’.
I came across this story in the November issue of The Atlantic (courtesy of Marketing Profs which has a similar article on this topic, from which I copied and pasted the quotes vs. typing them from the physical magazine since the full article is behind a sub-wall) – “The Autumn of the Multitaskers” – that has neuroscientists warning us that being constantly connected and multitasking means we’re getting dumber. I don’t entirely disagree. And it’s not a good thing in my view. I love my blackberry and my email, but I don’t love SMS updates from the various social networking platforms – in fact, I recently turned off my mobile alerts because, as much as I care for my friends, I don’t need to know instantly that you’re stuck in traffic or that you love the snow. I can wait until I log into Facebook or Twitter to find out.
Multi-tasking messes with our brains in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires‚ the constant switching and pivoting‚ energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning.
Are we truly expanding our knowledge and reaping the benefits of other’s experience or are we jumping from application to URL to email and back again without taking the time to process what we just learned? One of the reasons I don’t just throw my immediate thoughts out onto this blog is because I want to provide value when I post (whether I do so or not is up to you!), and it takes time for me to process my thoughts, reach back into my database (my brain) to find connections of experiences, learnings, or even where I read something brilliant that I feel relates to the topic at hand. When I slow down I remember more, and since my memory is a key part of truly being able to create something meaningful and expand my knowledge, I force myself to disconnect and take the time I need.
Certain studies find that multi-tasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term they cause (our brain) to atrophy.
Sure, in the world of Google you don’t really need to be able to remember every key piece of information; but I prefer being in a client meeting or discussion and being able to recall the information vs. saying “I’ll look into it and get back to you” or “I’ll do some research and circle back”. I find that actually stifles the conversation vs. moving it forward in real-time.
That’s why I love blogs and audio transcripts (vs. just show notes) – I can bookmark and re-read at my leisure and actually absorb the knowledge that someone took the time to impart.
As marketers we also need to be cognizant that using apps such as Twitter to communicate constantly may in the end force a lot of our community to “no follow” or “unsubscribe” if our signal doesn’t break through the noise. In fact I just unsubscribed from the CBC News feed on Twitter because most of the news has no bearing on me and it was cluttering up my feed. No geo-targeting messaging in Twitter, just an ability to send it out there to the world.
Actually, I think I need to get in touch with Twitter and give them some recommendations for better usability and relevance (although since they don’t have a revenue generation model I wonder how receptive they’ll be… whole other story)!
That being said, I’m not abandoning my social networking applications, just unplugging when I need to. Think of it as yoga for the brain. So if you follow me and I don’t update regularly or reply to a tweet right away, I’m not ignoring you, just taking the time needed to think about what you said.
[photo credit: krandolph via Flickr]