Saturday, April 16, 2011

Twitter, Please!

Today is 4sqDay 2011. This may not mean much to those of us not playing, but it does say something to the population of people who are more avid users of social media applications. Something I'm beginning to notice is the rise in online activity, and how it is disrupting the way we connect in-person.

Have you noticed? You are talking with someone, and they pull out their BB or iphone or android and are responding to texts or even playing a game! This is rude, and it's alarming to think perhaps a generation is growing with the idea that this is normal.

I call this a disruption because it changes the way we communicated in the past, although, I do hold reservations for the use of social interaction and digital engagement as being a very good thing, even(especially) at public functions. I come at this from an event coordinator's perspective, who wants to engage with the audience as much as possible. Increasingly, the audience is not only the people who are in the room but also the ones who are away. This is because I am beginning to see events less of a one-day-thing, but as a program that carries into people's way of living day-to-day. This is where Twitter becomes a valuable tool.

It used to be considered common courtesy to attend a seminar and just listen and take notes. With tools like Twitter, I can now share my insights in real-time with friends who I know were unable to attend but still want to know what it's like. So I will tweet a quote or two. If a roomful of people are doing this with one event, then a person at home can easily piece together what is being discussed and feel a part of the event. This does not belittle the "common courtesy" of an event because people are doing what is anticipated of them: they are listening and engaging.

I read a blog post recently about a pastor who noticed people on Facebook and Twitter during a conference. I see where he is coming from: why spend so much money if you are just going to be on Facebook the whole time? This is legitimate, as it's rude to the presenter, rude to those around you, and rude to the person who ultimately could have benefited from the talk where you are sitting but couldn't because seats were sold out. However...

That being said, I believe that to adapt with increasing social media presence at events, the benefit of the doubt should be that people are actively engaging in the discussion by relaying information to people who would otherwise not connect with. This will mean that presenters will have to change their mindset that because someone is on their phone doesn't mean they are being inattentive, but rather they should take it as a compliment that what is being said is worth mentioning at that very moment - a sense of urgency to get that word out. I myself was fortunate to catch a seminar of an interesting speaker because someone had posted a link on Facebook by which I can stream real-time what he was saying.

There are people who would rather sit in a seminar and listen/take notes. There are those who would rather sit in a seminar, take notes and let others know. Neither of these, I would say, is wrong. I'm definitely a fan of digital engagement - if sending a tweet only reaches one person and makes them a better person for it, I say that's worth it.

Do I think pulling out my phone and tweeting while I'm having an actual conversation with someone is alright? Absolutely not. We are social beings, but social does not replace respectful.

Where do you think we should draw the line of pulling out our phones and keeping them in our pockets?


  1. I agree and disagree with you. I agree that it's really useful for us to be using social media sites for getting information to people, in this example, ones who could not attend a conference, in real time. Here comes my but...

    I truly believe that it is genuinely impossible to be fully engaged in a sermon (I'll use this example as this was the event that the person in the blog was referring to) when you're concerned with putting your thoughts and what the pastor is saying out to facebookland and twitterworld.

    This may seem like a contradiction then: saying that I want people to be updating on the events real-time, but not, because it distracts them, even if only a little. How would I reconcile this problem?

    If it's a matter of delivering the facts, straight-up facts and not mere opinion, then why not designate someone tweeting on behalf of the organization delivering the (in this example) conference as the one to give the real-time updates. That allows people who are interested in getting the real-time information to follow along, and it allows those attending the conference to fully enjoy it without getting distracted by giving constant updates... Does your opinion on what's being presented on a conference need to be tweeted real-time? If you were attending the conference you would wait until it was over to discuss your opinions about it, not go find your friend in the middle of it to discuss what's going on.

    To sum up what I've said, I think delivering facts real-time at a function such as that is important, but delivering your opinions on what is being said real-time isn't necessarily as important. If there are designated people tweeting on behalf of the conference, then everyone else can sit back and enjoy, and tweet/facebook their opinions after. Just my opinion. I also have a bias based on the content, heh.

  2. Ahh, that's true! Designating people to specifically tweet/post is a great idea. What I see is untapped potential in the uses of these media (Twitter/Facebook).

    It seems that groups only create these accounts as a way of getting messages 'out there', treating it more like one-way conversation as a way for people to stay updated, when really there is room for actual digital engagement.

    In the perspective of people who are not physically present at an event I want to know how we can get from "I'm not there, oh well" to "I'm not there, but I feel like I am!"