Informationally Overloaded

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recognise the title of this post, as it used to be the name of this blog. Then I realised how naff it was and dropped it when the ‘one man’ stuff was borne.

The phrase itself remains particularly apt, probably more so than when I first used it and, with reference to the exponential growth of Twitter, it is coming back into prominence. Social media applications, and the use thereof, shows no sign of slowing. This is a good thing because I firmly believe that social media applications (think Facebook, Twitter and the like) can be useful to many and the basic model of all of these things is based on the premise that “the more people that use them, the more valuable they become”. Which, of course, is (sort of) in direct conflict with those of us fighting information overload.

Of course, we only have ourselves to blame, as the bulk* of the online information we digest is driven by either opt-in or by deliberately choosing to monitor or follow a particular thread of information. This point is crucial. If you feel you are being overloaded by the amount of information you are choosing to receive to parse, be it by RSS feed, email, or directly from a website, then you can choose to reduce that load.

Twitter remains a bit of a mystery mind you, every morning I gain another follower or two, sometimes based on a product name (hello Dyson Airblades) and sometimes on a completely random basis. Or at least I assume they are random because I don’t recognise the person following me, nor do I recognise their website (yes, I do check profiles in case it’s just a username I’m not familiar with) and, as of yet, there is still no easy way to find this out. I’m presuming that this is the same for everyone, and it is just the usual clamouring for ‘Friends’ that so many people seem to think a good thing to do.

Each new social media application brings with it yet another raft of gurus trying to exploit and harness the “wisdom of the crowd” for themselves in a hope of forcing a “Tipping Point” even if their idea isn’t “Made to Stick”. What they don’t get is that this is not just another marketing bandwagon to jump on, not this time. The phenomenon of social media and the way it allows people to connect can be very powerful, but the important piece thing to understand isn’t the fact that people all over the globe are connecting, but because it’s PEOPLE that are making the connections.

The opt-in model is still the most powerful part of all of this, ensuring that those people who are passionate about a product or service can seek each other out and share their thoughts and ideas. Over to Matt Haughey who suggests that companies should:

make awesome stuff that gets people excited about your products, hire people that represent the company well, and when your stuff is so awesome that friends share it with other friends

Twitter continues to be the buzzword of the moment, the numbers rise and more connections are made. I glad to say that I am benefitting from being on Twitter, something I wasn’t sure of even a few months ago. Particularly as some of my peers are now on there, posting ideas and links to articles of interest to my profession. The iPhone is a boon for such things, particularly as Twitterific and InstaPaper to keep a track of “to read” articles and blog posts (Twitterific has built-in Instapaper bookmarking capabilities).

So whilst I’m not blogging here, or on either of my other two blogs, you can find me on Twitter, or read the links I post to my Instapaper account, browse the random things I find and post to my Tumblr account, or keep an eye on the websites I bookmark using del.icio.us. You can see my photos on Flickr, and see what music I’m listening to on Last.fm.

It’s a bit scary seeing all of my online data listed out like that. What’s even worse is that I do have an RSS feed that monitors them all… talk about information overload!

* I’m aware that many social applications (or whatever we are calling them today) generate a lot of email notifications, but again, you can usually either turn them off or, you know, opt out of that application.

6 comments

  1. I just took a cup of tea outside and sat on the lawn, in the spring sunshine, listening to the birds singing.

    You know, just saying.

  2. Way back in the dark, distant reaches of the early-to-mid 1990s, this was my e-mail signature:

    “We own the technology to connect everyone to everyone, but those of us who have tried living that way are finding that we are disconnecting to get anything done.” (Kevin Kelly)

  3. How refreshing to dip into a comments box with words of wisdom as opposed to gratuitous slanders.
    Your eloquent musing Gordon made me feel so terribly old-fashioned and ancient (indeed mid-40s never seemed quite so old until this morning!)…I would never sign up to Facebook, having read once that you cannot regret the decision and remove yourself from it (this may be nothing more than mainstream media hysteria, an unsubstantiated slur, but it was more than enough to deter me permanently). I don’t know what Tumblr or delicious are, I have given even Flickr a bodyswerve (although I enjoy admiring other people’s photographs on it). As for Twitter, again I admit that I have never navigated in its general direction so again what I am saying might be undistilled prejudice, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to peruse a series of disjointed thoughts, or inspect the minutiae of my mundane existence in real time. In order to record rare moments of inspiration, I keep a notepad, of the paper variety, on my person. Even the name Twitter possesses connotations of meaningless noise, vacuous background chatter of no lasting (or even transitory) merit.
    Then there is the privacy paradox. In spite of plastering the front page my blog with (albeit very outdated) images of myself and many more which can be accessed via the Profile Page (in my experience even the couple of clicks this entails requires too much effort for most, which affords me a kind of anonymity protection), I am extremely reluctant to reveal any details about my life beyond the keyboard/screen, a tendency, which becomes stronger with the passing of time. I am not voluntarily going to surrender more information about myself than I choose to divulge. I realise that Google keeps records of every search, that a certain traceable footprint is unavoidable, but beyond that, I like to comfort myself with the illusion that I continue to enjoy a modicum of control over what is accessible to any random passer-by. After all, the blog is a highly edited depiction of my daily reality. For example, the gagging order that prevents me writing about work, where I spend most of my waking hours. Coupled with my concept of what my blog is about (an unapologetically literary/academic project) and you won’t find much beyond the carefully crafted persona. At the outset, my vision of what I wanted to achieve was different and I bared my soul in a manner I could never do now.
    I suspect there is a generational factor at play. My son and his age cohorts have no qualms about posting vast amounts of raw data about themselves. They use tools such as Facebook for the networking purposes you so accurately describe (he is very happy to keep in touch with the lovely Peggy in this way). They cannot see the harm or the threat in this openness, this casual intimacy, whereas I recoil at the news of employers carrying out searches on potential employees and the embarrassing lapses of youth dogging your steps forever as a result, or the Government in all its unbenign intrusiveness prying with insatiable appetite into even the most trivial aspects of my leisure browsings. However, again, with certain notable exceptions, such as your good self, socialising/expanding my circle of friends is not my primary motivation in maintaining a blog. I prefer the solitude of contemplation for the most part, or the occasional sparring match in the comments box (when in the mood, which is not frequently).
    I will confess to very occasional capitulations to curiosity or boredom which test my inventiveness as I trawl for old flames, not in some pathetic attempt to rekindle lost loves, more to see what became of them (clearly an impulse I share with many, or the likes of Friends Reunited would never have taken off), or to reassure myself in my darker, more Schadenfreude-tinged moments that my former detractors have not thrived, to bask in the knowledge that I have outperformed them. One in particular haunts me, I. McK., who spent his entire secondary school career unrequitedly in love with me, just as I spent mine unrequitedly in love with C. McH. I have heard rumours that on graduating from Oxford he became a laser weapons specialist, but neither his present nor his past have left enough of an imprint on the Internet for me to gain even the most fleeting impression of how his life has evolved since growing up in the stifling atmosphere of a provincial town in Scotland from which the only possible escape was afforded by educational attainment.
    Another reason to avoid all these social networking tools is their targeting by advertisers. You recently linked to an excellent post on the subject by the Queen of the Internet. I fully endorse the sentiments expressed therein. My morning ritual (beyond checking the blogs I read regularly – yes, I am so antediluvian that I do not subscribe to any feeds, merely visiting the chosen sites via my bookmarked favourites list) involves eliminating spam comments and trackbacks and being confronted with the depressing realisation that the number of such unsolicited would-be defacings of my blog is steadily and relentlessly catching up with the number of visitors as tallied by Google Analytics. Sigh.

  4. Lots of points I could debate endlessly in the comment above, but I’ll restrict myself to just two.

    “… I cannot imagine anyone wanting to peruse a series of disjointed thoughts, or inspect the minutiae of my mundane existence in real time.”

    People are fascinating. Depends how you frame it, of course, but personally I tend to find that the more opportunity you have to explore someone else’s life, the less mundane it seems.

    “Another reason to avoid all these social networking tools is their targeting by advertisers.”

    I dislike most advertising with a passion, particularly its frequent attempts to manipulate people into purchasing something they might not otherwise have bought by playing on their sense of insecurity.

    However, it strikes me that it’s a basic fact of life in a commercial/capitalist economy like ours. To avoid doing something potentially interesting purely because it might be tainted by advertising – whether watching a thoughtful drama on ITV, buying a newspaper or using a particular social networking site – might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  5. Yes Twitter is random. I’ve had 18 requests to join mine, and I only signed up a few weeks back to protect the name (and clicked the protect updates button to keep it that way) when Mr BW’s PR adisors suggested he sign up all variants of his company name to protect them. Only 1 of those 18 requests is from someone I know (and I have no idea how they found it).

    I was supervising a fellow professional earlier and she was telling me of her first case of a client citing Twitter as a major reason for his unhappiness with his life at present. We thrased it around a bit and came up with the phrase: “Twitter is for Twits.” A lot of therapists and advertisers are going to make a lot of money out of it, clearly.

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