This could the most important thing you watch this week.
Social networks stand accused of being enemies of productivity. According to one popular (if questionable) infographic circulating online, the use of Facebook, Twitter and other such sites at work costs the American economy $650 billion each year. Our attention spans are atrophying, our test scores declining, all because of these â€œweapons of mass distraction.â€
Yet such worries have arisen before. In England in the late 1600s, very similar concerns were expressed about another new media-sharing environment, the allure of which seemed to be undermining young peopleâ€™s ability to concentrate on their studies or their work: the coffeehouse. It was the social-networking site of its day.
Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world. Englandâ€™s first coffeehouse opened in Oxford in the early 1650s, and hundreds of similar establishments sprang up in London and other cities in the following years. People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, but to read and discuss the latest pamphlets and news-sheets and to catch up on rumor and gossip.
Coffeehouses were also used as post offices. Patrons would visit their favorite coffeehouses several times a day to check for new mail, catch up on the news and talk to other coffee drinkers, both friends and strangers. Some coffeehouses specialized in discussion of particular topics, like science, politics, literature or shipping. As customers moved from one to the other, information circulated with them.
The diary of Samuel Pepys, a government official, is punctuated by variations of the phrase â€œthence to the coffeehouse.â€ His entries give a sense of the wide-ranging conversations he found there. The ones for November 1663 alone include references to â€œa long and most passionate discourse between two doctors,â€ discussions of Roman history, how to store beer, a new type of nautical weapon and an approaching legal trial.
One reason these conversations were so lively was that social distinctions were not recognized within the coffeehouse walls. Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, â€œgentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece.â€
Not everyone approved. As well as complaining that Christians had abandoned their traditional beer in favor of a foreign drink, critics worried that coffeehouses were keeping people from productive work. Among the first to sound the alarm, in 1677, was Anthony Wood, an Oxford academic. â€œWhy doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the University?â€ he asked. â€œAnswer: Because of Coffea Houses, where they spend all their time.â€
I am not a big fan of online profiles but I have liked About.me since it was launched. If putting together a simple website that is more professional than your Facebook profile is on your to-do list, then you need to use About.me to do it. My profile took 10 minutes to slap together and that included fiddling around with a photo. Itâ€™s free, connects well with your other social media sites and allows you to have some control in how you appear online.
I met Mark during his visit to Saskatoon last summer but have been a fan of his work online for sometime. Here is his story and a trailer for a movie about his work.
Showing how you can change the world via Twitter and YouTube. You can find more about what Mark is doing at Invisible People.tv
Sam Crocker, Vishalâ€™s closest friend, who has straight Aâ€™s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internetâ€™s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.
â€œI know I can read a book, but then Iâ€™m up and checking Facebook,â€ he says, adding: â€œFacebook is amazing because it feels like youâ€™re doing something and youâ€™re not doing anything. Itâ€™s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.â€
He concludes: â€œMy attention span is getting worse.â€
The entire article is a must read I am amazed at how passive families and parents are about their kids school work. I was a noted slacker when I was a teenager about homework but my mother rode me to get it done. While one student points out that there was distractions out there, there has always been distractions.
But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.
â€œI realized there were choices,â€ Vishal recalls. â€œHomework wasnâ€™t the only option.â€
This isnâ€™t new. I was grounded from early in grade seven (other than church and hockey) until sometime in grade 8 without a break. Even over the summer months. It wasnâ€™t one big grounding but a series of smaller ones that kept being added on. Eventually my mother took away television, then my radio in my room, my toys and I still found new ways not to do homework but eventually you realize that this world demands something of you and you have to focus.
Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.
Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.
â€œIf youâ€™re not on top of technology, youâ€™re not going to be on top of the world,â€ said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.
Well first of all, why does a kid need a smartphone. One student sent 27,000 text messages last month. That can be controlled by downgrading her phone, limiting her outgoing messages to a more manageable number, and then demanding that she has to have cell phone minutes and and available text messages if she wants to go out. Since when is â€œunlimited textingâ€ and unlimited web access a human right? The Nokia 1100 is the worldâ€™s most popular phone and really does someone going to school needs more than that? 250,000,000 users have gotten by with it but in North America, Rogers, Bell, and AT&T have got us convinced that a $600 smartphone is our only option.
â€œIâ€™m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. Iâ€™m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,â€ he says. â€œSometimes Iâ€™ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I canâ€™t.â€
That is why kids need parents. They canâ€™t always draw boundaries themselves. Sadly it seems like all of us are having a harder and harder time drawing those boundaries.
As I just mentioned, I follow a lot of sports reporters on Twitter. As a group they talk back and forth a lot to each other but also a lot to fans themselves via @ replies and also Direct Messages. I have a bunch of Direct Messages with comments that are just a bit to edgy to post publically but also take some shots back at players and coaches (which I also suspect follow said media types and probably not want to hear said things). Nothing scandalous and often are just plain laugh out loud funny. If they are doing it with me, they are doing it with others which in addition to being fun, has increased my loyalty to them as writers and broadcast journalists.
Of course I follow a lot of other media types and none of them (other than some of the New York Times columnists) are as interactive as sports guys and I wonder why. The local Saskatoon media are good but I suspect that is because we are all in Saskatoon. I would suspect other local media is the same way but other national types are other TwitterFeed robots or are there to publish, not listen and definitely not interacting.
Now the weird thing is that while I am a media junkie, outside of few favorite writers and reporters, I donâ€™t find myself looking forward to what they have written or reported on like I do with sports reporters. It isnâ€™t that I donâ€™t follow a lot of news because I do, it just that I donâ€™t follow individual national reporters like I do with sports reporters and a lot of that has to do with how Twitter has changed that relationship.
If I am a publisher or a struggling media company (oh letâ€™s just pull one out of thin airâ€¦ Canwest Global for instance) and there is a way for more people to watch our news programs and care more deeply about what we are publishing, I would be all over that. Instead there is a RSS feed powered bot that publishes the Global National News account. A very pedestrian 1,800+ followers which is a paltry amount considering it is one of the big three national newscasts in Canada.
If I was Global, I would get Kevin Newman Twittering several times a day about stories they are working on and then I would get a couple of interns to read what people are sending him, check out leads, and react to feedback. Also it gives them a reason to interact with other reporters, media companies, and sources by linking and talking back and forth. Donâ€™t follow the Anderson Cooper model of just talking about your show (we know he has the best hair but there is more to broadcast journalism than nice hair) but interact with the rest of the web. I am sure the normal answer as to why this isnâ€™t done is that it takes a lot of time doing their makeup and hair for television but câ€™mon, have you seen the amount of followers that some of the national sports reporters have. While not exactly Ashton Kutcher type followings but their followings can actually read.
In a day and age where media companies are trying to make us care about them again, not taking social media seriously doesnâ€™t seem to be a strategy that is going to pay off. This isnâ€™t just about Twitter but other social media sites as well. The Oregonian is uploading itâ€™s photos to Flickr. For those that keep saying that the internet is going to kill newspapers but stuff like this is the future: mixing a paper’s output with related web communities that benefits both parties in the end. It gives me a reason to care and reconnects me to what is happening at that media source. I have linked to this video on Vimeo before.
My question is where are the stories like this before the papers close down. Where are the stories that allow us to connect back to the story tellers themselves. The tools are all there, itâ€™s up to the media companies to use them.