In a fragmented world, go deep

I think I have a problem. I cannot go even a few hours without compulsively checking Twitter. I admit to doing what Tiffany Shlain talks about in her movie, Connected, where I sneak off to the bathroom to check email. It’s not even that meaningful, or joyous. I’m not on any particular deadline. There is no purpose being served, other than to have the illusion of being connected.

For an introvert like me, actually, it’s draining. It is the opposite of grounded connection. Online, I am never alone with my thoughts for a decent stretch of time. Even when I have an empty calendar, I can have activity going on because I allow Twitter to be in the background. At first, it was like music — nicely humming away but not distracting — but now I’m realizing it’s like a dinner party with each person getting louder and louder as the wine flows.

Adam Brault captured this sentiment recently. He writes:

Twitter is outsourced schizophrenia. I have a couple hundred voices I have consensually  agreed to allow residence inside my brain.The funny thing is that in my work, I am constantly trying to avoid the interruptive scourge of meetings in my days, even though meetings are a very important part of my job. I even try (very hard!) to avoid checking email constantly. It’s pretty simple: if I have my email turned off and I set aside a day with no meetings and no commitments other than to the work that’s on my mind, I am going to do very good work, using my best creativity, and will produce in good volumes.

But he admits to using Twitter too much.

I’ve realized how Twitter has made me break up my thoughts into tiny, incomplete, pieces—lots of hanging ideas, lots of incomplete relationships, punctuated by all manner of hanging threads and half-forked paths.

It’s a fragmented world. And it’s only becoming more so. It used to be that when people wrote, they wrote more deeply. In the early days of the web (pre-twitter), I remember hand picking the few voices I would listen to and then putting them into my RSS feeder and checking for their essays. Essays, not tweets, were the way we shared what we were thinking. But as “content” has become more important to maintain a standing online, more and more people are entering into the fray. More and more people who may not even have a point of view to advocate but just want to participate in the conversation.

As content becomes more fragmented, you could try and compete with that by doing more and more, by curating other people’s content, by then running your content through Twylah, by having that “twitter magazine” come out which puts all your tweets and links in one place so that people can catch it if they missed each particular one.

Or you could do the opposite. You could go deep. You could be that voice that everyone listens to because when it speaks, it is so deep and rich that it’s worth slowing down to listen to. Sort of a Morgan Freeman voice, in the times of Justin Bieber bop. Maybe it will allow the light of an idea to be seen more clearly.

That’s just what Paul Salopek is doing. You might know of Salopek because he is a two-time Pulitzer winner who has covered conflict from the Balkans and Somalia to Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2006, he, his interpreter, and his driver were detained for over a month in Sudan after officials charged him with being a spy — which got reported quite a bit.

And I just learned that next month, Salopek will begin a seven-year reporting assignment that will take him 22,000 miles (holy moly!) on foot, from Africa across Asia and the United States, ultimately ending up in Patagonia at the southern tip of South America. The route Salopek is following is the one anthropologists believe was the first path humans took out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. He’s calling it the Out of Eden, a narrative trek that will examine the current state of the cultures Salopek visits, while also writing about their history and connection to the greater world. (His trek story, here.).

He is choosing to go deep when so much of his peers are not. And that’s a risk, of course. But I wonder if it’s that kind of risk that is the genesis of all great things.

Maybe, rather than try and do more, we should try and do less things but more deeply.

Maybe, rather than try and be louder, we should try and be quieter.

Maybe, rather than do 1:many, we should build the relationships that matter to us more deeply.


What do you think about this idea – to go deeper when everything else seems to be fragmented?

28 Replies

    1. Thanks, Dave — I might be writing less, doing less in the coming year. Which carries a lot of risk — like what if I’m not ever seen from again? But I’m not convinced that I can win the “more” approach, espeically when I see how much the noise level is rising.

  1. Deep & slow. Let’s do it. Instead of running from one half finished book to another I decided to try the Three Book Diet for a year. Just to see if I can manage to dive into three instead of superficially scanning so many. It is hard, but the three I choose are becoming good friends. Maybe deeper related to the stuff the author didn’t write about. Go for it Nilofer, looking forward to what it brings to your onlyness.

  2. A post in December 2010 ( –

    “I have said for years that I’ve given up on finding a balance in life, I’m going for depth instead. But it’s not really the case. It’s just that I am looking for something larger.


    Instead, consider the contour of a well-ordered humanism laid out by Claude Levi-Strauss:

    A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before love of self.

    So, for me, balance can’t be self-centered, it must be world-centered.”

    1. I think about it less “self-centered” vs “world centered” which is to suggest that when you take care of yourself you are not caring for the world. These are not opposing forces. As we take care of ourselves, we build out to communities and then globalness. They are the same, like nested boxes, one a subset of the other or a magnification of the others.

  3. Such an interesting and timely question, Nilofer. Twitter, I think, reinforces in us the deep fear that we will miss something. (This may be especially true for us introverts, exhausted by being pulled in but afraid of being left out!)

    Last week I shared a goal with a friend and thought partner: “I need to flip my business model. Right now 80% of my revenue comes from deep, ongoing relationships and only 20% from more profitable short-term engagements. In three years that needs to be the other way around so I can establish myself as a thought leader, touch more businesses, and increase my margins.”

    “Makes sense. But, um… don’t you *love* deep, ongoing relationships?”

  4. Absolutely love this, Nilofer. This is a fantastic post. I had never heard of Salopek – will have to follow his journey.

    I was on a conference call last night, discussing this very thing – the very energies we have embraced that have created sort of this “social animal” landscape we are a part of are the very energies that can easily take away from quality relationships & conversation.

    I don’t want our generation to look up in 10 years and be bitter that we don’t have quality relationships or connections – we will decide that fate by the decisions we are making now. I think we have to somehow learn to take the fragments that exist and consciously allow them to lend to the whole, instead of vice versa.

  5. This is a great article but I had a different idea of what you would be discussing regarding the idea of going deep. For me our descent into technology means we have lost our connection to nature, and this can be a real antidote. Also, you should investigate phenomenology and also the philosophy and thinking of David Bohm and Henri Bortoft. They unsderstood the difference between “reality” and our lived experience which is where we experience unbroken wholeness.

    1. The connection to nature is an incredibly important to add, and I appreciate you doing it here.

  6. Nilofer,
    This is the perfect read for a Monday morning!! The temptation is there to “jump right in” to the week and totally lose a sense of what’s important. After reading endless numbers of lists, tip, tricks – on how to have a more productive week, I find the answer lies in 1- a short check in in the AM for all connection points (work email, Twitter, FB, Gmail, etc) 2- Turn it all off for 2-3 hours and focus on the things that are most important to do and that require going deep. I too am an introvert, and find its really important to have the time to go deep. I was so empowered by Susan Cain’s book on introversion, “Quiet” and came to appreciate our hunger for going deep – and to find ways to honor that part of ourselves. Here’s to more trail hikes to stimulate deep, rich thinking. Did one yesterday – and that – combined with this post, is making for a gr8 week already. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: In a fragmented world, go deep @e1evation
  8. Great questions and they go deep 🙂

    In a world gone digital the price is massive distractions and over consumption. We read stories of people addicted to their cell phone afraid to miss a message. We all battle with the false sense of “digital connections” while at the same time knowing there are diamonds in the rough.

    Life moves fast enough that adding fuel only makes it go faster and we end up missing the important while thinking everything is urgent. For me the deeper connections come when you find “deep meaning” in others words and expressions. Then when you engage and find even more meaning and joy you realize you’ve found a gem worthy of your time and attention. Everyone is special but a few really provide the meaning we individually seek.

    Someone once said “wisdom comes from the counsel of many while real insight comes from the few.” I like wisdom but I love insight and when I find it everything falls to the side since insight is what creates the wisdom.

    How is that for deep on a Tuesday in December?

    PS: Thanks Nilofer…insightful as usual 🙂

  9. Pingback: Seven Trends in Community and Social Business for 2013
  10. Pingback: Top Links to Warm Up a Monday Brain #7
  11. I like deep, too. I think of it as building my personal brand.

    As far as the compulsion to check various social feeds that some people report, I have experienced this, too.

    It seems to me it’s driven by narcissism – from the same source as the sudden explosion of GPS’s in cars. I always was baffled by the commuters on their daily drive to work with the GPS suction cupped to their windscreen blazing away in the dark, showing them that yes indeedy, you’re on your way home. It occurred to me that one possible source for this seemingly repetitively redundant datapoint was a simple manifestation of narcissism.

    That gleaming LCD screen was a neverending source of constant validation: “here I am; here I am! – see that blinking dot? That’s ME!!!”

    Perhaps the fear of ‘missing something’ in the Twitter River is springing from a similar source? Dunno. Just a thought…

    [Checking the ‘Notify me of followup comments via email’ checkbox – because I certainly wouldn’t want to miss a response to this…. ;-).

    1. Oh, I think you have SERIOUSLY nailed the issue. #Iamhere is the fundamental need but all these tools allow for echo to matter as much as the original sound.

    2. I think you are right about the constant validation, although I am not so sure it is from narcissism, but more of a validation that we are located in the world and others know where we are and we know were they are, literally and figuratively.

      Like the bird in the forrest that keeps tweeting (the real thing) “I am here, where are you?”

  12. Pingback: Are We in an An Age of Collected Learning? | Rotana Ty
  13. Pingback: Are We in an Age of Collective Learning? | engenhonetwork
  14. Pingback: Revisiting The #SocialEra | Notes from An Alien
  15. Pingback: Sur naviguer les flux du savoir - Rotana Ty
  16. Pingback: In an Age of Collective Learning - Rotana Ty
  17. Pingback: À l'ère de l'apprentissage collectif - Rotana Ty
  18. Pingback: Dans un ère de l'apprentissage collectif - Rotana Ty
Leave a reply

Leave a Reply