Rethinking Signal & Digital Spaces: an experiment

Throughout my time on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, a few things have become apparent. These tools (which is simply what they are) take up an immense amount of time and require real effort to make them valuable. So what is value and how does one obtain their version of it from these digital conglomerates? It all has a LOT to do with signal and noise – and there is a LOT of noise out there.

In hopes of better fine-tuning my understanding of the situation (thus, extracting more value), I recently spent a weekend without Facebook, without Twitter, and without Foursquare. Off the grid. Out of the cloud. The silence was deafening. I fully expected to have nothing to do unless I actively pursued activities I would normally be notified of through social media, but that was not the case. The limited options actually made my weekend more relaxed; it turns out, a good, broad signal is exhausting.

Upon my return to the digital city on Monday, I was greeted with a barrage of direct messages, wall posts, and emails inquiring about my absence – which made me ponder the effectiveness of this type of communication in general (both with regard to how we connect with other people though digitally mediated communication and whether our mentality has shifted enough as a culture that we equate a mediated, time-shifted connection with a connection in the same physical space and time). BUT that’s an entirely different blog for another time.

Here’s what I learned and what I did about it:

Twitter Follow
Twitter: The way I had things set up at the time, Twitter was the only tool I was using effectively enough to get real information that affected my life on a daily basis (though it, too, was in need of some restructuring). Twitter had become a valuable compilation of relevant, time-sensitive information curated specifically to my life, location, and interests. I went through and weeded out 1) users/organizations that did not reciprocate communication directed toward them, 2) users who consistently broadcast commercially driven ideas (Twitter is not a place to broadcast – buy a billboard and get out of my Twitter stream if you can’t get your head around that), 3) users who had wandered into areas I did not care about, and 4) the reciprocal follows I had granted as a test-drive, mostly to users who follow me that I thought could be interesting follows, but fell flat.  See an informed/interesting take on signal adjustment by Dave Parry on his blog.

Foursquare Douchebag Badge
Foursquare: I did not continue Foursquare for four weeks after quitting that weekend. Foursquare as a source of factual information is useless to me and I have accepted this. It IS, however, valuable in a creative sense. If my friends are meeting up at a bar, they will tweet it (and possibly @reply me or text me about it). I do not plan to stalk people I know, nor do I give a damn about how often they hit the local coffee shop or how much of their life savings is going to Urban Outfitters or whether or not they’re alcoholics. Being the mayor of “Tito’s Pants” or “old couch on the curb” is undeniably amusing, though. The value in Foursquare for me is in the freedom to create new “locations” that challenge the traditional idea of “location” (especially in the corporate sense that Foursquare facilitates). If the intellectual challenge isn’t enticing enough, the fact that it is a community-driven application where creation/participation/validation is crowdsourced is enough to make me shamelessly nerd-out in public spaces. Foursquare also has great potential for augmented fictional, participatory narrative layered on top of (and between) physical spaces. For more on this, check out – and be a part of – what Dean Terry (@therefore) is exploring with Club Silence (@clubsilence).

Facebook: Facebook is a timekill. It is massively wasteful of digital space. It’s consistent restructuring of its ways of business is frustrating, to put it lightly, and requires an immense amount of time (not at all equivalent to its value to me) to manage the security of the data that you deposit within it. Don’t get me wrong – I will continue to use it because it’s a full-frontal, readymade identity management application complete with unapologetic, instant social gratification and immediate satisfaction of our voyeuristic tendencies. I will continue to watch as it helps to push the bounds and walls of digital community until a) the community retreats into the privacy of other spaces (I do not see this happening) or b) our understanding of privacy is turned on its head and freedom of information becomes a way of living (again, another blog for another time).

Stop and wrap your head around it. All tools are not “useful” in the same sense. I have stopped trying to make them useful for what they are not, and begun to use them in my own way (the way they were intended to be or not) to reach my own ends. They’re tools, afterall. Use them.


10 thoughts on “Rethinking Signal & Digital Spaces: an experiment

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  2. While I personally love your creative spaces in Foursquare, I can see your point. Having one place to keep up with makes the information much more concise? Well, I know I’ll keep up with one area more than I will all the areas.

    In bed at night before going to sleep, I can’t get through all the blogs I’m following, the tweets from the people I care about, the RSS feeds from the people that don’t have blogs and then still have time for a relaxing game of cards!

    As for Facebook. You know how your mom always told you that “You are who you hang out with”, and “when you are with friends, you will always be just as guilty in everyone’s eyes”, or something to that effect. Well, Facebook is the same way. With the schools and businesses googling our name when we apply for positions within their institutions then they go in and see who your friends are and the comments posted, they form opinions about you! Scary. Scary enough that a friend of mine deleted his because of the ‘friends’ that he had accepted over the years that weren’t really such good friends now.

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  3. I personally find these tools to not be particularly time consuming. Twitter I wouldn’t consider time consuming at all. I have a very small feed, I think there is only one person I follow who I don’t know in real life. Combine this with the fact that twitter happens real time, I don’t see the point in reading back through my tweets. The tweets I missed are gone and even if I do go back and find out several people were at barcadia, they aren’t there anymore so why did I go back and read all that. If there was something of real importance, even if they did tweet about it, I know I will find out about it somehow. (ex. Nick just tweeted that he thinks he’ll make falafel tonight. yes that starts my gastronomic juices flowing and makes me want to meet up with my friend Matt whom I told I would take to a Mediterranean restaurant in town which he hasn’t tried. Is that something really worth looking in my backlog of tweets to find, no) Facebook does eat a little more of my time, but I still feel the same ideas apply. I have a small (though much bigger than my twitter) list of friends and I don’t feel it necessary to read the past. I do scroll through my front page from time to time to see what everyone is doing, but why go though a back log. If there is something that directly relates to you there will be a little message for you, or a little invitation for an event or some indicator. If there is something of particular interest to me, such as pictures and times from the most recent goldsprints, I’ll just go to their page and look. I did put some effort into cleaning out all the crap I was receiving, but I spent less time doing than I spend doing bike maintenance, so was that really a waste. Only an idiot would expect something to work perfectly all the time. So I guess the end point of all my rambling is two main points. Keep active with your information. Don’t expect to be feed everything you want. If your eye catches something in the feed thats interesting, great(such as me noticing a tweet about this blog post), but don’t read through everything in order to find that one thing you were actually looking for. The second point is what you mentioned earlier, there is often a displacement of time, so keep that in mind. Theres no point in wading through all of yesterdays posts when you could instead be concerned with today.

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  5. Thanks for this Lace. I can totally see where you were coming from. The topic of social media has been somewhat exhausting for me lately, seems as though it what I live and breathe. I am contemeplating creative with my connections. I have gotten rather bored with my Twitter account, but there are still some aspects of it I truly enjoy.

    We shall see.

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  6. There are a lot of great social aggregation tools out there that shave a significant amount of time when updating / interacting / sharing across multiple networks. You should check out a this post I wrote over a year ago on this subject…

    Overall, there is a major lack of EFFECTIVE tools that simplify the entire process. I think it should have been a more prevalent topic at this years SxSWi personally. I’ll point you in the right direction if you don’t already know… Yahoo Pipes + Twitter Feeds + + Tweetdeck or Hootsuite + SocialOomph. You can combine all of those to do most of your promotion earlier in the week so you can focus on actually interacting with people instead of trying to update accounts across multiple networks… or even worse, actually having to work!

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  7. That’s an interesting (and pretty common-sense) take on time management… thanks, Steve. I’ll look into that more. i had an interesting discussion on social aggregation tools last night; everyone had some pretty insightful things to say about it. I’m still thinking they’re pretty important (at least in the next 5-6 years, then hopefully mobile web will be functional and MADE for mobility, thus designed with aggregation).

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  8. Yeah – “you are who you know” is becoming a common way of getting information about people quickly. I do it. Everyone does it. In fact, I’ve gotten slack from people who have looked at those I follow on Twitter and seen Sarah Palin. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t STAND Palin, but her posts are hilarious and a reaffirmation of my political values. Lol. It all comes back to identity management.

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  9. I have never used Foursquare and never will. At first I was intrigued by the badge system and was interested in where people were frequenting, but it got old fast. It looked too much like a game of “Ooh look where I am! I’m better than you!” and I can’t go for that. It made me wonder if anybody cooked at home anymore and why people shopped so dang much.

    I don’t mind so much when somebody adds a bit of flavor to their check ins, but the straight boring check ins that just tell me where you are have become something I ignore because, honestly, I don’t care. And neither does anyone else.

    Foursquare is too much a way to broadcast your social status and is not a valuable source of information to the average Twitter/Facebook user. I am much more interested in its potential to augment reality or play a role in ARGs.

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