Monday, November 15, 2010

Twitter, Facebook and Questions with Unintended Consequences

Last night I worked very late, so late that I fell asleep at my desk. I found myself walking into a huge building by the sea, a convention center.  Admission was free, inside there were many rooms.  The doors were labeled with subjects of interest: Politics, Business, Poetry, Religion, Internet Services, Sustainability, Global Warming, Venture Capital, Innovation, etc. I entered one that appealed to me.  In it I found thousands of people standing elbow to elbow, people of all sizes and colors, speaking many languages, but English for the most part, many with interestingly English-as-second-language sentence structures and words. Their attires reflected the world, and activities and lifestyles ranging from poets to explorers to programmers to marketing consultants to business managers and entrepreneurs just starting new internet ventures. Those you could single out from the unassuming clothes and visible optimism and excitement in their faces.
They all stood around, some in clusters, each seemingly shouting to all and occasionally attentive especially to someone at the center of a cluster. They all spoke short statements beginning with “Did you know” followed by few words. Frequently they’d move on across the crowd, as in a Brownian motion, until they orbited a new cluster where they seemingly recognized the shouter at the center.  One cluster was notable for its size, over 200,000 people coming and going. The man at the center had his nose to his laptop’s screen typing frantically at high speed.  Every few minutes he’d shout “Did you know: I just published blah blah blah”.  The participants of the cluster would eagerly elbow their way toward him and each would pull away a page he had just written and read it attentively.  Some would then turn around and, raising the page in the air, would shout “Did you know: Marty Zwilling just published blah blah blah” and people from other clusters would eagerly reach for the page held up high.  The cacophony of Did-you-hears was almost like white noise, but with practice I learned to listen.  There were some twits shouting “Did you hear: I am Bozo, I woke up this morning, you all have a nice day”, others holding a book of quotations of famous people they did not know, shouted “Did you know: carpe diem – make good of the day” (thank you for the translation) “Did you know: DailyWisdom: "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction" or “Did you know: I took my dogs for a walk, they are so sweet” or other personal world-stopping insights. Despite the apparent annoyance of the people surrounding them the twits of the Inanities Club persisted with their pronouncements “Did you know: I am at Starbucks at Park and Main” - no one went to meet them, so they shouted it again – another replied “Did you know: I am Mayor of that Starbucks and I unlocked the public toilet at 1st and Union”.  Most people, clearly aggravated, ignored them. 
It took me a while to learn to filter out the twits, the mayors and the small minds repeating big thoughts.  Eventually I learned to be on the lookout for Marty’s shouts and of others like Dakshinamurti, Steve Blank, Smart Planet, TED and Smart Bear, Venture Hype and more.  Even filtering out the useless shouts, it was tiring, but the value of the worthy shouts made it almost addictive. It was like having the Smarts Club doing research for me on what to read and what to learn, publishing their findings seemingly just for me. Despite the addiction, I exited the room then the building on my way home.
I woke up staring at my Twitter page and wondered about it all.  If only a filter could be built to separate the twits from the Smart Club, imagine!  What if this whole Twitter thing had started with “what are you reading” or “what did you learn” instead of “what’s on your mind” or "what's happening" – Some questions do have tragic unintended consequences. Well, let’s hope someone is working on that “twits filter”.  I got up and went to bed.

Marco Messina


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