Twitter part 2 – still don’t get it…

Time magazine’s June 15, 2009 issue arrived in today’s (snail) mail. The cover feature article: Twitter “… how Twitter is changing the way we live – and showing us the future of innovation.” I had no idea this was coming from Time when I made my earlier post- this was quite a surprise! I read the article, and I still don’t get it… In fact, I think that Twitter may be an impediment to communicating effectively after all is said and done – give us ten years to see what happens.

Let me expand on this a bit – I get it – I get the “draw” to this chatting tool…

You can tell your friends something – you can say anything that fits in 140 characters – to anyone who is interested in hearing from you – even to people you have never met or received a communication of any sort from. You “broadcast” – you don’t deal with people one to one, but one to many. You don’t wait for them to answer the phone, say hello, chit-chat a little and then get on with your announcement – you “tweet” and Twitter waits for the other person to read your “tweet” at their convenience without any inconvenience on your part. It’s not for “mission-critical” communications, but you can say anything you want from the mundane to the Earthshaking. And you don’t have to linger to hear the other person’s response – they can “tweet” back to you, and if you are registered to receive their “tweets”, you read their response at your convenience – but only if you want to hear from that other person, and only when you have the time.

Twitter – Great! No confrontation, no waiting, no wasted time – it just takes a moment! Simpler than e-mail. Like SMS on the desktop – you only “tweet” a line at a time… You are always short of time, so that’s still great! And Twitter gives you a control panel and dashboard that SMS doesn’t offer in any way. I get the draw to Twitter.

But I think Twitter will do us some harm – Twitter will change the way we live by making casual communication less nuanced and less intimate, and I for one won’t like it. Let me “peel the onion a layer” and illustrate why with an actual experience of a client of mine whose company failed, and there was nothing I could do to rescue them. My client contact asked me to facilitate a meeting on what steps would salvage his failing product line. He wanted a 15 minute presentation to his CEO, CTO, and several direct reports followed by a working lunch to discuss the strategy. I have done this before – seven senior managers – no problem… I asked everyone to power their phones off, but I was sure that most if not all just put their phones in silent mode – that’s common. During the 15 minute presentation, each person was continuously reaching into their pocket for their phone to read its display – it was a continuous chorus of quiet buzzing coming from around the table and a lot of flying thumbs. I was unable to maintain eye contact with any of these managers as they responded to the distraction to read their tweets and as some sent out their own tweets in reply.

Lunch conversation was just as awkward. “what do we do?” “let’s diversify the product.” “we need a plan” “no we don’t, not enough time” “Brian has some good ideas” buzz. buzz, buzz, tweet, tweet, tweet – it was continuous. As we were talking, it dawned on me that this management team was in “tweet mode” with each other – one sentence expressed each thought – they didn’t wait for another’s response to build a synergy of ideas into a plan. When lunch was over, everyone walked out, most looking at their phones and thumbing away on their keyboards. I was left alone with my presentation equipment and my laptop – and the cookies…

What I saw was “Twitter Culture” – live and up close:

  • short attention spans,
  • continuously interrupted thinking,
  • poor conceptualization, compromise and planning skills,
  • poor synergy and a tendency for false consensus.

This is how Twitter may change our world, and I don’t think that I like this Twitter culture…

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