Friday, February 27, 2009

Is Digital Fatigue Stealing Your Mojo?

Currently I feel a pinch of digital fatigue/social network fatigue/Twitter fatigue, so I'm going to forgo writing a carefully composed blog post and just dump a whole bunch 'o' links into my blog. After all, this is 'Always On' Culture, so I might as well be honest about it. Oh what's that? "Where's the artistic picture of an exhausted face to accompany your blog post?" I hear you say. Well that's also part of the reason I started to search for these articles and references to various kinds of 2-point-no exhaustion: not everything that you post on the Internet has be a complete multimedia package.

Digital Fatigue: David O'Gwynn
Social Network Fatigue: Slashdot, Word Spy, Own Your Identity
Twitter Fatigue: Kel Kelly, Digital Rant

However, I don't want to just throw my links out at you like pre-chewed bones, so I'll leave this post with a little ray of light. Instead of just thinking, "Blurgh! I'm so worn out with all of this right now!" I'm thinking about how to actually fix this problem. But my solution will not be based on "time-based" foci (eg. "only Tweet on Tuesdays", "no Facebook on Friday"), because that sounds like a diet without exercise to me. Instead, I'd like to think specifically about my online R.O.I. This may sound selfish, as the nature of social networking is to both give and to receive. However, if I was getting burned out and working for minimum wages, I think the obvious step would be to simply cut the cord and move on, right? So watch out, digital world. I'm about to make some judgments. There's not room out there for all of you in my life, so I'm about to do some spring cleaning. I'll let you know how it goes when I return from my burnout?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Knee of the Curve

Despite the fact that we now have the potential to tweet about ourselves ad-infinitum, we seem to have reached a point when the "wow" factor has dissipated, and many are now either just getting lost in the exponentially increasing masses of online users, or they're busy trying to claw their way to the top of the popularity charts by pulling every stunt in the 'book' in order to increase their online presence.

In this respect, online culture is now difficult to distinguish from offline culture:  they're progressively merging (as we knew they would), and now we're swapping online and offline discussions in a more organic fashion, as opposed to running two parallel forms of existences.  Several weeks ago I was reminded of the old "CB radio culture" by a colleague of mine, and I realized that truckers and cars equipped with CB radios were actually an early form of IMing, and "tweeting" - although be it in a niche culture.  Twitter has now gone mainstream, Facebook is mainstream... all of it is now mainstream. 

My students 'add' their perception of me on Facebook and Twitter to their perception of me in the 'corporeal' world.  It has all merged.  However, the difference between these phenomena and the CB culture is that they have much higher market penetration, and now we're literally all traveling down the same 'highway'.  The concepts that Ray Kurzweil has outlined in his books, and in particular, "The Singularity" are coming to fruition.  We have reached the knee of the curve:  we have observed exponential growth and now we're moving toward the next "jump" or movement in technology and its existence within our lives and our consciousness.

So what's next?  Personally, I'm getting a little tired of observing the obvious:  the 'technology', the applications, and a synthesis of what everybody else is already talking about en masse.  There's something new afoot.  Maybe it's time to compare some old words from William Blake to some new ideas?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's in a Message?

It's a Saturday morning, and I've been lying here on my sofa updating Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Classroom 2.0, and doing a bunch of things that make me feel connected with my peers and wider communities. In the meantime, a guard's walkie-talkie has been blaring from near the gate to our compound, and I was wondering whether I should complain about it. But isn't the guard just doing exactly what I'm doing - keeping a line of communication open to his version of a social network? Just like Twitter, I'm sure that our compound guards mix a combination of work and play into the stream of communication that's circulating around our buildings.

There's something primal and essential about the need to send and receive messages, and it goes beyond mere functionality. The messages that we send and receive are collectibles; affirmers of worth and desirability, and sometimes we elevate them to esteemed positions in our mental trophy cabinet: "I got a message from X today!"/"Y friended me on Facebook!"/"Z is following me on Twitter!" (we take the social value of person X/Y/Z and add it to our own intangible social value). There are even those who believe that one's 'network worth' can be calculated as an algorithm. Our own messages and compositions may be revisited and rexamined for their 'essence' when they seem to have resonated with others (replies and comments to blog posts; direct responses on Twitter; cheery 'reply alls' to that witty quip you included in a work email).

The flow of our messages is like a flow of energy or currency. When communication slows down or ceases, a relationship is either likely to 'power down' or to join a parcel of obsolete connections that you've had in the past. It may be revived again, but it will likely require additional energy or extrinsic motivation in order to potentiate a reconnection. Messages are the lifeblood of relationships, and they're part of our deep-seated insecurity as human beings - and our need to be nurtured within a community. The communications industry may need to restructure itself at the moment in order to manage itself in the face of disruptive technologies, but it will never die.

Why do you send that text message that costs you money, when you could have waited to send a free message via email? Why do people feel the need to broadcast themselves live via Twitter, UStream, live blogging, or whatever format they're embracing? Why do we consume time on the phone, on email, Facebook, watching the television, browsing websites, talking, listening? Our communication isn't just about the functionality of life - it's about the art of life! The personality of our communication and the media that we choose to channel our thoughts is a deeper expression of an energy and a vitality. Messages are 'the ties that blind' - within the visible there are always layers of undeconstructed invisible psycholinguistics and personality - they are always open to interpretation, although they are rarely 'fully opened' when they're interpreted.

At school we passed messages on hastily folded slips of paper under our desks, and behind our teachers' backs. These days we're designing backchannels for classrooms so that we can actually siphon this desire into something positive. Messages can be exclusive, and messages can be inclusive. Messages can open doors, or they can close entire countries. Messages can be sent into space, marked as unread, deleted, imprisoned in spam folders, or on occasion they can become wildly popular memes that mutate and come back next month dressed in snazzier graphics and a brand new font.

A message can end as soon as it's written by being crumpled up and thrown in a trash can, or it can live on through millennia. A message can encapsulate a seriously bad idea, or it can be the catalyst for a revolution.

So if we know all of this then why aren't we building more social networking into our classrooms and into our communication with colleagues?

Message image by cindiann.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Microbugging - Time to Filter!

Today I experienced an adverse reaction to overly-prolific social networking - the kind where it reaches a point of being unhealthy, and you just need to step back and take a break from someone's comments for a while. Sometimes social networking starts off as a perfectly healthy relationship between you and a member of your international peer group, but what if the person you're connected to turns down a path that you're too busy to follow?

I prefer to surround myself with positive, balanced individuals. I'm not interested in receiving a 'stream of consciousness' relay of someone else's every thought, doubt, or question. It's time for us to filter - both in terms of output, and in terms of input.

Today I 'cut off' some of my Twitter connections because their relays were interfering with my personal thought processes, and my ability to function as a positive, focused individual. Within several hours I received messages asking why I'd severed these links, and I attempted to state (where possible) that nothing is permanent, and that I needed to make room for other peoples' comments.

One of the problems with the modern ability to publish is that if you're going to choose to publish a poetic journey through your each and every thought, then you may want to look at which channel/forum/genre you choose to do this with. I'd like to introduce a new word into the discussion of microblogging: "microbugging" - a proclivity to share every thought with one's social network, as opposed to actively editing one's thoughts in order to relay and collect useful communication.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's not attention deficit - it's evolution!

My colleagues accept the fact that I'm nearly always attached to some sort of digital prosthetic device - whether it's a laptop, a smartphone, or whatever I'm currently experimenting with. I take these tools with me to meetings to take notes, to check/verify information on the fly, and even to communicate with others in the meetings via backchannels.

We are changing as participants, and it's only natural that our previously-segmented digital participation (which used to occupy discrete, concentrated moments) is now merging with our physical participation. So why is there so much resistance from educators, who should be celebrating this as an revolution in thought and participation?

This morning two colleagues discussed their boredom and disengagement in meetings and presentations with me. The first revealed that he sometimes fiddles away with calculus to keep his mind active during meetings, and the second shared that she needs to keep her fingers busy in order to stimulate her mind. Both of these people are high-functioning, high-achieving professionals, but to the 'untrained eye' their 'fidgety proclivities' might look like the kinds of problems that are frequently narrowly defined as 'low attention spans' in children. In fact, one of my colleagues shared that she entered a meeting last week and was specifically instructed to close her laptop - presumably so she could focus on the meeting.

I have never been so stimulated and engaged in a 'passive' presentation as when I observed Julie Lindsay at Learning 2.008, and it was primarily because she not only trusted her participants, but because she activated a moderated back channel - and gave her audience something to do while listening. The challenge of 21st century learning - and meeting - is not how to banish tools that are becoming '2nd nature' to users, but how to capitalize on them, and to focus use so that we're working with technology instead of against it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Social Notworking - Digital Refugees

The recent troubles over at Twitter have created a mass of confusion in what previously looked like a self-organizing social networking system.  As in the real world, it takes time to settle into a new neighborhood and to discover how you fit into a community.  However, Twitter's lack of ability to scale to its ever-expanding user base has resulted in an explosion of digital refugees who are now wandering through cyberspace in search of new homes.  

Recent networks d' jour have included Plurk, which offers a new graphic spin on microblogging;, which is gaining popularity due to its open source origins, and Ping has also entered the arena as a solution to centralize users' updates from a single location.  On the flipside, FriendFeed is there to collect everything that you've been doing on multiple blogs, and to tie it all up in a neat little... mess.  Of course, aggregating feeds is nothing new, and aside from standard RSS readers, other sites like Suprglu and Multiply  have been doing this for quite a while, but adoption rates seem to be sluggish.

Therefore, we have tools to take a single message and to amplify it and reproduce it so that it colonize a series of locations across the web, and we also have tools to distill our scattered thoughts into a single point of convergence.  We have the ability to broadcast a virtual presence to many sites, however, we are still lacking tools to maintain our connections and conversations within these communities.  

We can discover past contacts within emergent social networking communities, but then we can just as easily lose them as they migrate due to the push-pull factors that exist within physical cities.  We've taken a physically global community that is already transient, and we've created a hyper-global layer on top of it, where people exist in and shift between virtual spaces. 

As we move towards increased choice (and let's face it, we've been ramping up to this for centuries - this is not a new phenomenon), how are we going to identify and select the best options as individuals?  There is always the potential for engineers to write new scripts so that we can simplify complex networking choices, but is it more logical to just simplify and take calculated risks to begin with?