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?