The 140 character attention span

Are social media changing the way we think and write?  Oh yes they are.  Is it a good or bad thing?  According to commentators concerned with their impact we are losing our capacity to reflect and to think deeply.  Growing volumes and velocity of information are forcing us to adapt from reading to scanning,  from thinking through complex issues to assembling bits of information on the fly  and from diving deeply into ideas to skittering along their surface.  I am sure at their darker moments critics imagine our children evolving in to a society with ADD, poor memories and a fascination with pop culture (or to carry this way too far, saucer sized eyes, distorted thumbs and large bottoms)

There is probably truth in this…all of it. I certainly see tell tales signs in me…some of it.   At the same time this critique completely ignores one of the most powerful and compelling aspects of social media.  They are social.  Users of these tools are contributing to and drawing from an open and shared social network and social memory. While we may individually provide superficial and bite sized bits of knowledge the sum of all our contributions more than compensates for any one person’s lack of deep analysis.  To take a metaphor from my tech friends we have gone from stand alone computers to massive parallel processing systems where large complex problems are broken down into smaller ones and solved.  Crowdsourcing might be another word for it.

So is the impact of social media a good or a bad thing.  Its just reality, and we are adapting to it.  But if there is anything about the new social media that is obvious and fundamental its that we are not alone, we share collectively in a deepening ocean of knowledge and we are all becoming sailors, some a little more seasick than others.

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