Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter: help or hinder, our fleeting memories

I can't help but take the contrarian POV.

Twittering during SXSWi is the norm. In fact, for 2 years now, people have claimed the backchannel is where the action really is-- and I’m not making a snarky reference to the Lacy-Zuckerberg fiasco of ’08. Search #SXSW and you’ll find a pretty robust meta-conference-- quotes, comments, critiques, questions on all sessions.

But, in response to Peter Kim’s summary of SXSWi ’09, consensus is that the Twittering was "out of control."

Howlvenice comments:
“I found that the tweeting was voracious. i intentionally did not twitter and took notes instead at each of the important panels. i chose to absorb the information rather than react to it in real time. now some of the tweeters are asking for my notes.”
Is absorbing really at odds with reacting; listening vs. Tweeting? Why do people assume we can't seamlessly Tweet and take-in?

I’m the first to acknowledge multi-tasking is a competition of limited cognitive resources, but there are 3 things we know from the basic study of memory that lead me to believe that Twitter could actually help us better encode our experiences.

We’re more likely to remember things when:
  1. we expend more cognitive effort (think: writing vs. reading)
  2. information is self-relevant (think: adding your own 2 cents)
  3. we doodle! (think: translating into something visual)
I used to lecture about memory tips in Intro Psych and went through numerous studies showing that depth of processing leads to better memory. Is Twittering not a means of deeper processing?

I’m not assuming that all Tweets were on-topic, or that Twitterers' motivations were committing content to memory. However, the process of documenting while listening and the personalized digital breadcrumbs left behind are, arguably, advantageous.

My issue was efficiency-- the signal in the noise more than the noise per se. To be most effective, I think the solution to 'out of control tweeting' is a system that tags not just the particular panel within the conference, but whether the tweet, for example, is a question (#q), rebroadcast (#rb), or relevant thought (#t). Because I was on-site, I was only interested in original thinking and builds, not redundent content. It would be great to see an empirical breakdown of the types of tweets that exist so we could create a useful taxonomy for future conferences.

In hopes of making presenters feel more comfortable with a Twittering audience, Olivia Mitchell (on Laura Pistachio's blog), does a nice job aggregating additional benefits to the audience, as well as tips for the presenters to cope!

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