Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, thinks so. In the Sunday magazine section, he writes a rare bylined article entitled: “The Twitter Trap.”
His main premise: “Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud. The upside is that this frees a lot of gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and ‘Real Housewives.’ But my inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.”
Why So Negative?
He knows he will get “blowback” but I admire him for going on record with what a lot of people are thinking. First, where I stand. Social media is gobbling up a lot of people’s time. Remember, it’s still so new. We’re all learning how to use it so that it works for us as individuals – such as connecting on Facebook with far-away friends and relatives or looking for a job on LinkedIn. So, in my mind the jury is still out on its long-term effects on our brains.
Where I take exception to Keller is that he devotes his column almost exclusively to the negative aspects – “Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans…why remember what you can look up in seconds?” he asks.
Social Media Spurs Innovation
I predict that 2011 is the year that companies will jump into social media with both feet. Those on the sidelines will find they need to catch up to the early adopters. Enlightened companies such as IBM have an army of employees writing blogs under the IBM imprimatur “IBMers’ blogs: A menu of expertise and insight from a passionate crowd” – with the links to dozens of employee bloggers. Note the words “expertise and insight.” By unleashing their employees the company has an army of brand advocates reporting on IBM’s newest innovations.
The web has revolutionized customer service. At Comcast’s Twitter account @comcastcares customers can get their complaints taken care of by a team of Comcast employees, such as Bill Gerth, “also known as @comcastbill. We are here to Make it Right for our customers.” He’s posted some 74,000 tweets.
The internet has enabled many companies to form communities of employees from around the globe – focused on innovation, problem solving and client service. In the past, if an engineer in the U.S. needed an expert to help solve a sticky problem, it’s doubtful he would know the very person he wanted works in the Hong Kong office. The web has changed that. We can even have face-to-face communications via Skype, making the connection personal.
I won’t even go into how Twitter is forming communities that are forcing radical changes on governments around the world. You’ve read all about that.
So, Bill Keller, while I appreciate your frustration with a lot of the dreck that passes as discourse on social networks, the good far outweighs the bad. We don’t need to memorize books like they did in the olden days. After we take a minute to find what we need in a web search, we can take the time we would have devoted to memorization to reflect on new ideas that will make things easier, cheaper, faster and maybe even earn some money.