A friend asked me about my response to this blog post – I Love You But I Don’t Care About Your Status Updates. In it, Mark Sayers talks about the influx of “junk information” about the lives of other people that has been inflicted upon us by sites like twitter and facebook.
Have a read of it: I think the best summary is to quote the last paragraph.
We instead of broadcasting need to recallibrate our sense of self. We need to rediscover the lost art of humility, to understand our place in the world. Instead of dreaming up new status updates to get you through the day, mediate upon the truly freeing thought that the world does not revolve around us.
The examples that Sayers cites of status updates are the really ordinary stuff of life – overcooking the 2-minute noodles and such. At this level, he is correct: these social networking sites have the potential to add a great deal of noise to our already over stimulated minds. The bad side of using social networking sites is the same as the bad of adding anything else to our lives: another slice of time is gone, never to be seen again.
As someone who works in social media (and is hoping to continue working in social media for a while), I obviously think that there is some value to these ways of staying in touch. It’s hard to communicate this to people who haven’t already signed up for one of the services, but there’s a benefit to what these sites provide. Some have called it “ambient awareness”. An ability to be connected to people even when you don’t see them or get to catch up with them.
I think the benefit of social media sites goes beyond this, however. By following (and being followed) on twitter for example, it’s possible to receive feedback and insight from people you don’t know well on questions you might have.
I’ve seen people on twitter ask questions of the crowd, and receive useful answers from people they would never have asked directly. It’s been an opportunity to see people be incredibly generous with their time and skills. I’ve met people (not on the computer, but spoken to people over coffee) who without social networks I would never have encountered. And so these sites are providing something unique.
The strength of twitter comes when people progress beyond the point of answering the “what are you doing” question, and start interacting with others. If there’s some interest, I’ll happily share some more about how to use twitter in this way: for now, I think I’ve rambled enough.
I would go so far as to say, if you haven’t tried twitter yet, have a go. Sign up, follow some people, and see what comes of it. You can always delete your account later. A word of advice: give it a couple of weeks before you abandon it – you might find your life unexpectedly richer as a result.