Posts Tagged ‘expert’


In Too lazy to assign a category on December 17, 2006 at 3:00 pm

The Asymptotic Twitter Curve

We've all been at the brain bandwidth breaking point for the last five years. Email is out of control. IM'ing sucks up half the day. And how can we not read our RSS feeds, post to our blogs, and check our stats? If my Cingular cell phone sends me a MySpace alert and I'm not there to get it, do I exist? But email, IMs, social networking, and blogs are nothing compared to the thing that may finally cause time as we know it to cease. I'm talking, of course, about Twitter.

For those of you who don't know about Twitter, it has one purpose in life–to be (in its own words)–A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? And people answer it. And answer it. And answer it. Over and over and over again, every moment of every hour, people type in a word, fragment, or sentence about what they're doing right then. (Let's overlook the fact that there can be only one true answer to the question: "I'm typing to tell twitter what I'm doing right now… which is typing to tell twitter what I'm doing right now." Or something else that makes my head hurt.)

Twitter, it seems, is the solution to the one problem we all have: it's just too damn hard to keep updating our blog every few minutes to tell the world what we're doing at that very moment. Twitter lets you make tons of nano-posts (postlets?) to a kind of nano-blog (bloglet?) And indeed, it's every bit as stimulating as it sounds. Here's an ACTUAL SAMPLE from earlier today:

(names removed to protect the utterly bored):

"Missed the bus again."

"Attempting to figure out why the cat is hiding."

"I'm signing off."

"On bus going in to the office."

"Scanning pictures of 12-year old girls in mini skirts…"

"Going to bed now."

"Thinking about eating."

"About to start a conference call."

"I'm watching my dog chase the reflection from his tags and wish I had a laser pointer!"

"Feeling so bored at work I'm going to die. Wonder if it is my attitude or the work."

"Washing hair. Fetching groceries."

And there you have it. But don't take my word for it… go to the Twitter Public Timeline and find out what people are doing… right now. Right this very moment.

I'm making fun of Twitter, but this isn't really a funny topic. Moore's law for the brain doesn't quite work. We're evolving much, much, much too slowly… Brain 2.0 isn't coming anytime soon. And we're all feeling the enormous weight of not being able to keep up. We can't keep up with work. We can't keep up with our social life. We can't keep up with the industry, our hobbies, our families. We can't keep up with current events. We'll never read a fraction of those books on our list. And we are hurting.

Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest… being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that's quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.

And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we're stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it's a matter of being able to focus.

Lots of people are talking about this, and perhaps nobody more eloquently than Linda Stone. Linda talks about the problem of Continuous Partial Attention. She says:

"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking."

Read more on her wiki!

But this whole problem is also tied up with the notion of Alone Time, something Jason Fried believes is absolutely essential to both creativity and productivity. I strongly suggest reading his post on How to Shut Up and Get to Work (don't forget to look at the comments).

Joel Spolsky also appreciates the value of Alone Time, and makes sure that those working for him have a chance–and a space–in which to think without distractions.

And finally, a lot of other people are musing about the effects of Twitter, including Kevin Tofel who wonders the same thing I do–Is it Too Much Information? (The answer, Kevin, is YES. I know enough about the brain and learning to recognize that sucking the last bit of mystery and curiosity out of our lives is not a good thing.) Also Frank Paynter, who talks about the distinction between multi-tasking and Linda's Continuous Partial Attention, and where Twitter might fit in to this.

A few of my earlier posts on this (pre-Twitter, when I still had hope) were:
Multitasking makes us stupid? (a follow on to the earlier Your brain on multitasking) and The Myth of "keeping up" (which is where I created the book picture I re-used in yesterday's big book list).

Also, this post helps explain some of the science behind why we really ARE addicted to checking IM, blogs, email, and now Twitter. The most important thing, I think, is to stop being in denial about the profound impact this is having on us and those around us. Until we stop seeing interruptions as something that happens TO us, and understand the role we play in causing them, we're in big trouble.

Fortunately, there's help… a kind of 12-step program for geeks who want to stay connected but also get something done (and without losing our minds completely). While you're out surfing, you might as well check out the tips and techniques on 43 Folders, Lifehacker, and Steve Pavlina.

So, OK, yeah, I stretched a LOT on my Twitter curve (I'm determined to make an asymptotic curve once a year whether I need to or not, and I hadn't met my quota for '06). Obviously the time between interruptions is not asymptotically approaching zero.

Or is it? ; )

[cue end-of-world sci fi music, with maybe a voice-over of Terrence McKenna discussing Time Wave Zero]

[UPDATE: Against my will, I found myself reading the Twitter timeline again after I posted this (I told you it was addicting) and had just about the biggest laugh of the week when I found people Twittering about… this post on Twittering. ; ) I love you guys (Sarah and Arabella you made my night!) And I can think of dozens of reasons why Twitter is a wonderful thing (like for separated families, etc.) But talk about an event horizon… Twitter is the new Crackberry.]

Source: Creating Passionate Users – The Asymptotic Twitter Curve

Read and post comments | Send to a friend