Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Destroying Your Silo: The Wrong Way to Use Twitter

So yesterday, in between prepping for Sunday, various and sundry kid-related errands, and checking in on my influenza-suffering wife, I went wide open throttle on Twitter.

I know how to use Twitter.  Or at least, I know how you're supposed to use Twitter.  It's a great medium for getting [insert your message here] splashed out there, if you follow the right people and get yourself followed by others.   There's lots of great advice about how to maximize your impact in the twitterverse, or whatever they're calling it these days.

I flagrantly disregarded all of that.  Instead of focusing in on a field, or carefully nurturing a sequence of well thought out relationships that I can use to market my [upcoming book/blog/self/soul], I just clicked wildly for an hour.

If the button said "Follow," I clicked it, across as wide a spectrum of political and religious opinion as I could manage.  I clicked and clicked, skimming account after account, sometimes so fast I didn't even have time to see who I was following.  I clicked until my wrist ached.

That went on until I hit the bump-stop, Twitter's spam-blocking rev-limiter, which prevents any user from following more than 1,000 people a day.  

Mouse smoking, I stepped back to look at the damage.  My feed was utterly different.  Random.  Strange.

No longer was it a blend of people I sort of knew either personally or professionally.

It was a great blurry mess, blorting out three-to-five new tweets a second, randomized and unpredictable.  A familiar face would pop up now and again, but it was mostly strangers.   Some were progressive, some conservative.  Some were profane, others dogmatic.  Some personal, others clearly fronts for businesses.  Many were in languages I don't even know.

Totally useless, one might say.  And one would be right.

And yet far more interesting.  Twitter had become, well, claustrophobic.  That silo of like-minded souls echoed with familiarity, humming the same tunes over and over again.  It was not reflective of reality, but instead was a projection of my own biases and predilections.  It was all about me, and in that space, I was far less likely to encounter something different.  Something unexpected.

That felt good, particularly given my recent reading of statistician Nate Silver's Signal and the Noise.  One of the core arguments in that book is that our tendency to silo ourselves, to only admit into evidence data that reinforces our out assumptions, that messes us up.  It makes us less likely to engage meaningfully with reality, and more likely to approach Creation unable to see it for what it is.

Having blown giant holes in that silo, it felt less isolating.  A place where one is more likely to encounter the stranger, and the other.  That is an important place.

This is a nontrivial improvement.

And heck, I still have another 900 follows to go before the Twitter-tenders cut me off.