Tag Archives: communication

sometimes I feel like a bitch

For the most part, I’m a fuzzy lovable energetic creature (or at least I like to think so). But new technologies combined with information overload sometimes bring out the inner bitch in me. And then I feel guilty.

I am drowning in information overload. I cannot read everything that I want to, engage in conversations with everyone I’d like to, let alone deal with high-bandwidith content like video. Over the last decade, I’ve developed a set of coping mechanisms for dealing with online conversations. Ways of keeping myself sane amidst the onslaught. The problem is that each new genre of communication and consumption brings new challenges and forces me to adjust. And just when I think that I’ve got a grip on what’s going on, the genre gains mainstream adoption and I’m forced to get all rigid on people. And I hate that.

Let me be a little more concrete. And self-involved. I get hundreds of emails per day that I have to directly respond to. (Hundreds more get filtered into the “will read one day” folders that get very little attention.) I do a huge amount of my responding offline (on airplanes, public transit, cafes, etc.). Thus, messages with links take much longer to get my attention than messages without links. But there’s something nice about turning an INBOX into something manageable before people have the chance to respond. The problem with Web2.0 technologies is that each one wants to replace the INBOX (or at least be an additional channel). For example, there are private messages and comments on social network sites, direct messages and @replies on Twitter. There are blog comments. And RSS feeds. And then there are all of the online communities and bulletin boards and chat spaces that have evolved from those developed in olden days. For me, it’s too much. Too much I tell you. And we haven’t even gotten to voicemail, text messages. Let alone all that’s coming.

The onslaught of places to check makes me want to crumple. And, for better or worse, it’s simply 100% not manageable if I want to keep up my research and stay sane. So I’ve developed my own quirky habits to cope and rather than be flexible for others, I’ve become demanding. I check voicemail sporadically (so please don’t leave a message – send a text). I refuse to even check the private messages on social network sites (so if you’ve sent something there, I’ve never seen it). Because of how @replies are overloaded with retweets and references, I’m simply incapable of keeping up with the stream of directed @replies with requests to respond. And I almost never check online communities or bulletin boards and have bowed out from all collaborative projects that require that kind of engagement.

It’s terrible you see. It’s not that I *like* email (cuz goddess knows it’s been a long time since “you’ve got mail” made me do anything other than cringe). But I know how to manage it. Too many years of Getting Things Done training has taught me to manage it as a glorious ToDo list that can get resolved. But I don’t know how to meaningfully manage streams of content. And I don’t have the structures in place to deal with content in the cloud that requires connectivity. And I don’t like having to deal with Yet Another Walled Garden’s attempt to replicate email. For my own sanity, I need one pile of ToDo. So at the end of the day, the only channel that actually works for me is email. And if you need me to respond to something, don’t message me elsewhere; send me an email.

This is exactly the kind of issue that Bernie Hogan deals with in his dissertation. The complexities of multiple channels and people’s individual preferences. And there are huge issues here – should someone be flexible to others’ preferences or demand that others work around them? And here’s where I feel like a bitch. I’m asking people to work around me. Because I can’t cope with the alternative. And that makes me feel guilty and selfish. And I don’t know what to do about this. Le sigh. So please forgive me.

This article has been translated. En francais. Thanks Ulysse!

Twitter: “pointless babble” or peripheral awareness + social grooming?

Studies like this one by Pear Analytics drive me batty. They concluded that 40.55% of the tweets they coded are pointless babble; 37.55% are conversational; 8.7% have “pass along value”; 5.85% are self-promotional; 3.75% are spam; and ::gasp:: only 3.6% are news.

I challenge each and every one of you to record every utterance that comes out of your mouth (and that of everyone you interact with) for an entire day. And then record every facial expression and gesture. You will most likely find what communications scholars found long ago – people are social creatures and a whole lot of what they express is phatic communication. (Phatic expressions do social work rather than conveying information… think “Hi” or “Thank you”.)

Now, turn all of your utterances over to an analytics firm so that they can code everything that you’ve said. I think that you’ll be lucky if only 40% of what you say constitutes “pointless babble” to a third party ear.

Twitter – like many emergent genres of social media – is structured around networks of people interacting with people they know or find interesting. Those who are truly performing to broad audiences (e.g., “celebs”, corporations, news entities, and high-profile blogger types) are consciously crafting consumable content that doesn’t require actually having an intimate engagement with the person to appreciate. Yet, the vast majority of Twitter users are there to maintain social relations, keep up with friends and acquaintances, follow high-profile users, and otherwise connect. It’s all about shared intimacy that is of no value to a third-party ear who doesn’t know the person babbling. Of course, as Alice Marwick has argued, some celebs are also very invested in giving off a performance of intimacy and access; this is part of the appeal. This is why you can read what they ate for breakfast.

Far too many tech junkies and marketers are obsessed with Twitter becoming the next news outlet source. As a result, the press are doing what they did with blogging: hyping Twitter us as this amazing source of current events and dismissing it as pointless babble. Haven’t we been there, done that? Scott Rosenberg even wrote the book on it!

I vote that we stop dismissing Twitter just because the majority of people who are joining its ranks are there to be social. We like the fact that humans are social. It’s good for society. And what they’re doing online is fundamentally a mix of social grooming and maintaining peripheral social awareness. They want to know what the people around them are thinking and doing and feeling, even when co-presence isn’t viable. They want to share their state of mind and status so that others who care about them feel connected. It’s a back-and-forth that makes sense if only we didn’t look down at it from outter space. Of course it looks alien. Walk into any typical social encounter between people you don’t know and it’s bound to look a wee bit alien, especially if those people are demographically different than you.

Conversation is also more than the explicit back and forth between individuals asking questions and directly referencing one another. It’s about the more subtle back and forth that allow us to keep our connections going. It’s about the phatic communication and the gestures, the little updates and the awareness of what’s happening in space. We take the implicit nature of this for granted in physical environments yet, online, we have to perform each and every aspect of our interactions. What comes out may look valueless, but, often, it’s embedded in this broader ecology of social connectivity. What’s so wrong about that?

Now, I began this rant by noting that these kinds of studies drive me batty. Truthfully, I also have a sick and twisted appreciation for them. They let frustration build up inside me so that I can spout off on my blog and on Twitter, providing commentary that some might find useful and others might code as pointless babble.

(Tx Lior for giving me something to get worked up about this morning.)