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: 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: 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.