Social media: Drinking from the firehose, being the ocean

Over a year ago I read three questions from @RickButts on Twitter. To experience them the way I did, scrolling back through a few pages of tweets that came up while I was catching up on blog posts in my Google Reader feeds, you have to see them in reverse order, last one first:
  • Do we REALLY need all the new resources that provide useful information - when it comes as interruption to our goals?
  • By this I mean higher thinking vs over-focusing on trivial to useless information?
  • Do you think reading Twitter stream every day makes you smarter or dumber?
The same day, I read a blog post from Zen Habits on the six gifts we can give our loved ones of presence, love, compassion, voice, healthy lifestyle, and belief in them (don’t just read the list of words here—go read the post. Just don’t forget to come back).

The combination of these two inputs made me think about the amount and type of input I receive—and what my output looks like.

Am I present in these spaces, as well as for my family? If not, I shouldn’t waste my time and yours. But it’s really, really tough to be present—in the sense of being mindful and aware—in the online medium that invites you every nano-second to click away to another bright, shiny new toy.

You only learn social media by doing: reading and commenting on blog posts, setting up a Facebook page and finding friends, starting a blog (which I did with no clear idea of its voice or purpose—definitely something to do differently the next time), creating a Twitter account/finding people to follow/attracting followers.

This is professional development for me, keeping up on the latest communication tools. Doing all this as an individual let me learn before applying the lessons to my institution so the mistakes are in my name, not theirs.

Drinking from a firehose is time-consuming. There’s just no way to accomplish this in a standard 40-hour work week; I spend plenty of late nights and weekends. As I noted a year ago, I tend to take on an overload when I plunge into something anyway.

I’ve brought that same intensity to my social media explorations. I didn’t just focus on the main channel, whatever that might be—Facebook? Blog? Twitter? I checked out all the tributaries with the same gusto. Or, you might say, I flitted like a hummingbird from flower to flower, sipping sipping sipping (although the attraction to shiny new objects makes me more magpie than hummingbird).

The learning experience has been great. I’ve used the lessons for work—we won an award for my use of the Twitter account @WSUSpokane as an identity-building tool and I was named a Senior Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. I’ve also built some online presence for the volunteer organizations I love like Bike to Work Spokane. I became an invited blogger—love the sound of that—on Cycling Spokane. I now speak regularly at local and regional conferences on Twitter and other uses of social media. I even got interviewed on Gov 2.0 radio.

In the year since I read those tweets and that post, the reasons to be thoughtful about inputs and outputs have only increased. 
  • I’ve subscribed to and unsubscribed from quite a few blogs, seeking the right mix of creative inspiration, fresh insights, and a manageable Google Reader queue. 
  • I’ve scrubbed the list of people I follow on Twitter several times and finally instituted a comprehensive use of lists to help me remember why I wanted to follow a particular account in the first place. (I don't use utilities like Tweetdeck to organize--I prefer to view Twitter as a river flowing by and sip from the stream as I have time.)
  • I keep making another run at using LinkedIn more effectively to find resources and connect with people—I know it has value I haven’t found because I haven’t put in the time. 
  • One of these days maybe I’ll really start utilizing LaunchPadINW, the local social network.
What I’m trying to do in all these spaces is be more thoughtful about whether I’m truly adding value when I tweet or post versus just distributing random mist. A sense that I’m adding value will keep the firehose manageable for me.

Mindfulness is the secret. The tweets that just pop out like a flood—say, when I’m live-tweeting a conference—aren’t mindful ones. If I’m making a conscious decision about whether or not to subscribe, follow or tweet, it will mean I’m aware and present in the moment. That will slow me down.

This question of value will continue to grow in importance for all of us as the volume just continues to increase. Otherwise how will our little drops of water jump out above the torrent and get noticed?

Bearing in mind, that is, that our sense of being separate droplets is an illusion. We’re all the ocean.

1 comment :

  1. Beautiful post. I like the fire hose and ocean metaphor as well as visiting Twitter and drinking from the stream as we have time. I agree with you, I try to be mindful of my posts on Twitter, Facebook, my online journal (I'm mindfully dropping the blog word) and while there is a consistent them between them I try to have each channel contribute something different and hopefully valuable. When I do that, other services like FriendFeed have value for me and others as an aggregate of social media tributaries.

    But, like anyone, I can get mindless and lose my focus. I forget that these are tools for connection, conversation, and creating value. I can get seduced by the "doing-ness" and "business" of the activity and lose sight of the bigger picture of creating something or sharing something of value.

    Thanks for the post, and the opportunity to respond. Namaste. - Sean


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