Shamed into action by the excellent quality of elearning blogs in my Google Reader, I want to reflect on some conversations at the recent Learning and Skills Group.
Round a table in a Social Learning discussion went the question 'who here uses Twitter?'. Fewer hands than I expected. I said I was an ex-Twitterer, having taken a deliberate decision to stop using it.
Around the same time as Clive Shepherd said he'd start using it as an experiment and see if it helped his learning and his professional life, I did the same. After some mishaps with Twitter-related software I settled on a side column in my browser. I tweeted daily, never more than one a day, and received interesting and friendly responses on occasion. Sometimes work-related, sometimes related to what I laughingly call my music 'career'. So what went wrong? The first uneasy feeling was a threat to my loyalty to Google Reader. My first 30-45m in a working day will often be reading commentary by people I respect. They would often say in their blogs 'Look at this' and take me off somewhere else. In no time, an hour has passed. I was already experiencing some tension about this, but Twitter blew the top off. It multiplied the 'Look at this' calls tenfold. All these TinyURLs leading to lengthy digressions. And some people I'd chosen to follow seemed to post one every ten minutes. One day I closed the sidebar in order to see something full-screen, and forgot to re-open it. Did I miss it? No. Going back after a day or two, a catastrophic flood of 'Look at this'.
I'm not criticising the Twitterers – I chose to follow them – and the link was often interesting or rewarding. But did I need it?
Even after work I found Twitter (along with Reader and Facebook) colluded all too readily with the well-known determination of many 'artists' (using the word loosely enough to include your correspondent) to avoid producing any kind of art at all while there's something – anything – else to do.
One day it came to a head when a voice spoke to me from a flaming pie and said 'Output is more important than input!', adding slyly 'at your time of life'. I decided to sacrifice one distraction and Twitter was it.
To avoid temptation I deleted the sidebar and the software, but, dithering as ever, not my Twitter account. I didn't miss it.
Until the conference when I heard how others used it – for example to instantly get answers to 'How do I?' questions. It felt like they were using it rather than being used by it, as I felt. I was intrigued. But I haven't taken the plunge back in. This much I've learned from my experience:
- I want to and need to protect my concentration. I believe the quality of our attention is the quality of our life, and it's vital not to allow it to be pulled all over the place. And certainly not volunteer for more.
- I question 'Look at this' as a way of life – it reminds me of a fly skittering around on the surface of a pond. I question whether the people who tweet every 10 minutes 'Look at this' have themselves looked at the site or article in question for enough time to really have cause to recommend it. (It also reminds me of the other meaning of 'skitters' – it may be a Scottish term only, but it's the equivalent of 'the runs').
- I know from my use of Reader that there's enough in a post by Will Thalheimer or Tony Karrer or Clive Shepherd or Tom Kuhlmann (to name but a few) deserving of an hour's thought and questioning, and yet I'll dip and dive, hunt and peck until my work inbox beckons. I wonder if I would learn more deeply restricting myself to one blog post or article per day.
Into my Reader the other day came this article about the virtues of boredom which crystallised these thoughts in another way:
The tedium of growing up in the 50s and 60s is what fired the Beatles and nearly everyone else worth hearing in British pop. For some people boredom is a powerful engine of motivation. Well now, thanks to the efforts of the entertainment industry, boredom has been banished. (David Hepworth)
Even today I found that taking my afternoon tea away from the computer, without a book or radio, just sitting, looking out the window, gave me a new idea to offer to a customer. In five minutes.
So I'd like to hear these ideas about how to make Twitter your servant rather than your master, but I'll be approaching it with great, great caution.