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What might Twitter and/or Facebook have cost us if they were invented earlier (or should some things stay deliberately un-social?)

So I was reading an ebook last week, and came across a quote that I liked. My first thought wasn't "I should write this down", it was "I want to tweet this." My ebook reading software wasn't equipped for it, and it wasn't trivial to do so I didn't, but I expect most ebook reading software will be updated to do this in the next couple of releases and probably encourage me to as well.

Why should reading be left behind? Twitter is already saving live TV. As I look back on the last week watching the Cricket World Cup, a huge part of it for me was watching my Twitter and Facebook feeds for reactions and being part of them. My parents were the only ones that actually called me during the match, but I felt connected to so many more people through FB and the Big T.

Wether you're shopping, eating out, playing games, even searching... apparently "everything gets better with social." We all have a very human, internal urge to express ourselves and our opinions, and connect with others (friends or otherwise) over them. The tools now exist to allow us to do so more easily than ever before - anyone can take/post a video/photo or more likely write a sentence or a phrase as a tweet or a status update from anywhere. Societal norms also now make it permissible to put things out that aren't particularly important ..or interesting so we all feel less inhibited doing it. Yes, I know I'm more guilty than most. :)

I had 2 friends recently tweet in the middle of a movie. I thought this was simultaneously awesome and annoying. It helped me decide that I wasn't going to watch the movie later that evening, but then I'm the guy who shushes people when they try to whisper to me during a movie - even did it all the time to my mom while watching TV when I was younger. It didn't matter as much in this case since the film was crap, but indulging in this activity did take away from their focussing on the movie - never mind the distraction to others.

We know that we suck at multi-tasking. There's no debate about this anymore. When you do two things you do each slightly worse than you would if you were doing just one. The act of tweeting requires some cognitive/mental energy - even if its finding your phone and editing the text to under 140 characters.

In many cases (like tweeting during a bad movie or putting the TV on while doing rote work), the overall result makes this ok, but is there a downside to this? I know for a fact that I work slower and have fewer newer ideas when I work with the TV on. I still do this from time-to-time out of habit - something I try to stop if what I'm working on is particularly important.

I recently sat in a class where the professor encouraged students to tweet - in fact I remember being on a couple of panels now where the audience was tweeting what the panelists said seconds after we said it. Worked great for everyone we thought (the students and the panel got the publicity, the rest of the world got the information) but did we or the students/audience lose something there in the quality of discussion that could have taken place in that room of the thinking that could have sparked in the audience's mind?

I compare this to a note from a professor in business school that encouraged us to actually not take notes in class because it meant we weren't actually paying complete attention to the lecture. His point was since the notes were available later, we'd get more out of the class this way if our mind was focussed on nothing else.

Let's think about this. If something happened to you, and your first thought after that was to broadcast it, are you losing something?

Would Isaac Newton have discovered the Law of Gravity, if he'd instead felt compelled to tweet " just fell on my head. Why doesn't someone cut these trees?" instead.

How much are we limiting our ability to process and think deeply, or even appreciate things more fully by publishing so often? Are we missing out on the nuances or emotionality of great movies? Or great books? Are we limiting the chances for those Eureka moments to come to us because instead of thinking about something and its implications, we're more focussed on thinking about how to weave that into our always-on Twitter stream? (Note: I say Twitter, but refer to all the forms of social interruption from texting, email to FB updates.)

Probably! But how and when will be know for sure? And what will be the cost by then? I'm long on humans so I think we'll figure it out after a while, but still...


Jean said…
Nice post! I've also caught myself composing tweets in my head after interesting events/occurrences. A bit worrisome how much it has taken over our lives.
Maddy said…
So so so true!
I was about to share the blog on Facebook :P But just out of respect for how serious this seemingly trivial issue is, I won't. Just this once

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