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February 2011
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April 2011

Me, Twitter?

Bart & Gabe are determined to see how far they can push the use of twitter at this year's MLA conference.  They want to use my Doe Lecture to seed some of the discussion before and during the meeting, so I just sent Bart some questions that he can use for the "Twitter Tutorial" that they're cooking up later this month.

As I understand it, they'll use the questions as the basis for generating some twitter discussion so that people can get used to re-tweeting and using hashtags and embedding stuff and whatever else it is that people do with twitter.  As someone who is pretty twitter-averse I find my participation in this to be tremendously amusing.

I have an account.  I'm following 65 people and am followed by 61.  But I almost never put anything up, other than a note when I've put up a new blog post (not that there's been much of that lately).   Since June 2008, when I signed up, I have precisely 130 tweets.

I keep an eye on it, but mostly because I find Rosanne Cash to be wonderfully hilarious.   But now, even the president of my university is trying to tweet something every day or so.

Gabe, who I actually don't follow (I probably should) and I have had a number of long talks, particularly as he's been planning for the conference, on how twitter can be used productively.  I remain agnostic about it's potential value to me, but interested.

Last year, I followed the twitter feed for the Doe Lecture from my hotel room. It didn't give me much of a sense of what Ana was actually saying, but it did give me a good feel for the emotional temperature of the room and how well-received the talk was.  (I did watch the video of it later on, which then helped to make sense of some of the tweets).

I know that what Bart & Gabe are after is real conversation -- the feel of taking half a dozen people and putting them in a bar after a good lecture and listening to them talking animatedly about it.  Can you create something like that among a much larger group of people who aren't all in the same place?

I don't know. I don't track twitter discussions enough to have examples of where I think it has really worked well.  But it's worth the experiment.  I might even pitch in.

Ambient Overload

Valerie asks if any of us have tried to do the kind of daily audit that Henry Cloud recommends. Somewhat sheepishly I confess that I've been doing that for over 20 years.

"Where does the time go?"  people say, wistfully.  In my case, I could tell you.  Yes, it's a little OCD I suppose.  I think of that senator from Florida who took a lot of ribbing a few years ago for tracking all of his daily activities in little notebooks.  I'm not quite as manic as he was -- but I kind of understand the impulse.

The particular context of the discussion we were having was figuring out how to arrange the time in your life in order to have the life that you want. What Cloud calls the audit (what I call my "day logs") is just a tool for helping you see where your time goes so you can make better choices.  It's all about choices.

I just finished reading Turkle's "Alone Together."   That I am not a social person protects me a bit from the excesses of constant connection that Turkle worries about.  I don't have a smart phone (yet). When we were at Disney a couple of weeks ago, I didn't post my status to Facebook because I didn't feel that people needed to know where I was.  (My mom and the people I work with knew -- that's enough). 

Clay Shirky will be one of the major speakers at the MLA meeting this year.  (Shirky, Geoff Bilder, and me. Hmmm.)  I'm looking forward to Shirky's talk and hope I can incorporate some of what he says into my own.   (He kicks things off on Sunday, I'm the Monday morning speaker).  I  expect that I'll disagree with much of what he says -- I usually do. He has a much sunnier view of social technologies than I do and I think he is flat out wrong about what their impact on politics and culture is.  That's okay -- he's thought-provoking and his reputation is as a really good speaker.

But I'm thinking about him now as I'm thinking about managing time and dealing with connectivity in the context of a post that Nick Carr put up earlier this month on different kinds of information overload. He quotes Shirky saying, "It's not information overload. It's filter failure." This is the pleasantly optimistic view of a lot of the techno-geeks. The more information, the better -- we just have to build better tools to sort it all out, and that, of course, is just going to happen because that's what we're so good at doing.  (This is a point of view that has been thoroughly debunked by David Levy, who doesn't get nearly as much attention as he deserves in these discussions.)

Carr approaches it by saying that it's more complicated than Shirky thinks (most things are). "Information overload actually takes two forms... situational overload and ambient overload."

"Situational" is what we tend to think of -- it's the needle in the haystack problem. This is what librarians worry about. With all the stuff out there, how do we get you to the piece that you need?

But Carr says, this isn't really the problem. We are building better tools to deal with this and when we say that we're suffering from information overload, this is not the kind of overload that we're referring to. "Ambient overload," he says, is that we're surrounded with so much information that is of immediate interest to us that we feel overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping up. This is what prevents us from focusing. This is what continually distracts us.

Better filters aren't going to solve this problem. While they winnow out the stuff we're not interested in, they deliver vastly greater amounts of stuff that we ARE interested in. So we're still overwhelmed.

We don't need better tools. We need a kind of daily discipline that enables us to focus on the things that are of most value to us. This is what Cloud is trying to get at with his daily audits, and the other techniques he discusses.  Every moment that we spend is a moment of choices. What kind of a life do you want to lead?  Make better choices.