The proliferation of different ways to connect these days is unbelievable. I swear that some days, the requests to become friends or linked or follow tweets outnumber the regular e-mails in my old-fashioned inbox. That stated, though, I’m not sure that the real issue is going away. Are we really communicating more effectively?
I was an early adopter in LinkedIn, and while many people have passed my count of 400+ connections, I’m happy to say that I actually have spoken face to face with the vast majority of my connections, and am constantly culling the straggling strangers that I agreed to link to in weak moments years ago. Few with numbers as high appear to be able to say that, but if LinkedIn is supposed to be a system that supports trusted connections through your network, just how trusted can that connection be if you are referring someone that has fifteen thousand connections and can’t speak to you in your native tongue?
I recall several years ago when I was part of a panel discussing these applications (remember Orkut? That was another one being discussed by the panel), someone pointed to my list of connections and suggested that the quality of the list was inversely proportional to the size. In general I would agree (even more so today than back then), but it is also important to recognize that the quality of the list is also directly proportional to the effort applied in maintaining it.
Blogs have exploded these days, and it can be a challenge to keep the list of feeds I follow to a reasonable number. There are always new ones to add, and ones that seemed interesting to start sometimes lose their glow over time. When I find I visit the feed primarily to clear the count of unread messages, it is time to lose it from my list.
The evolution of Twitter appears to be much like the early days of blogs. For me, the jury remains undecided. There has been a massive explosion in participants, there almost feels like a peer pressure to participate (remember Dr. Seuss’ Sneeches? People on Twitter definitely have Stars upon thars). Much like the early days of blogs, there is currently an insane amount of noise: I’m sure that your many followers don’t really need to know how many bran muffins you had for breakfast, and not everyone needs to see a thank-you reply meant for one of your followers. I’ll generally follow people that don’t fill my stream with inane messages, as I am ruthlessly committed to not spend too much time on it.
Ditto with time invested and Facebook. I’ve decided that I’ll use it to keep in touch with my siblings, but not much else.
I am sure other tools will follow (I got two more invites to connect on Plaxo just while writing this), just as many have come and gone, but let’s get back to the original question: are we really communicating more effectively?
I’ve already come to the realization that all of these tools dramatically increase the noise to signal ratio, and thus need to be carefully managed. Just as those that have hundreds of e-mails daily, leave many of them unread and never seem to be able to find the right e-mail when they need it, there is danger of letting all of this information overwhelm us. We need to decide how we are going to use each of these media, what we want to achieve with each stream of information, and whether each is worth the time invested in it.
Our true popularity should never be measured by the number of connections or friends or followers we have, but by how often we can help someone solve a problem. Most importantly, we can’t lose sight that none of these is a replacement for face to face discussions, and never will be. Use these tools to stay top of mind, to express key viewpoints, to connect peers together, but be sure to get out there and really communicate once in a while. – JB