Saturday, April 21, 2012

Self-Amusement Parks and the Attention Economy

If I Turn Off This Microphone

I've been feeling very protective recently about my own little corner of The Attention Economy. Especially on social networks. The main reason I choose not to follow someone initially or unfollow down the road is a low level of compatible interests. When someone follows me I scan through a couple of pages of their most recent tweets. If the vast majority aren't interesting to me then I don't follow back. It's nothing personal. It's not a value judgement of their worth to the social network at large. It's simply a calculation between my available time and the relative personal value I see in their posts.

That said, my unfollow gun has developed a hair trigger when I see multiple narcissistic no-value tweets clustered together in my stream. Then it's BAM, BAM, BAM!

Kurt Vonnegut's first rule of short story writing is even more applicable to social network posting: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted." Of course, we all have different perspectives about the kind of communication that's worthwhile. But it seems to me there are categories of posts that are inherently garbage to the majority of readers:
  • Location check-ins
  • Marketing tweets from a third-party online service
  • Klout, Empire Avenue or other social media scores
  • The song you're listening to, food you're eating, or TV show you're watching
  • Sports scores
  • Ambiguous Emo posts
  • Long strings of tweets without waiting for a response
  • Retweets of other people tweeting your praises
It's easy to treat a social network like a free ride in a Self-Amusement Park, repeatedly riding the roller coaster yelling, "Woohoo! Look at me. Look at me!" But being on a social network is more like hanging out in a pub where everyone wears headphones and communicates through microphones. When you speak, no one can avoid listing to the first couple of words. So eventually, if you hog the microphone or babble on about things your fellow networkers don't care about, people are going to mute your channel out of self-defense.


Chestnut Rau said...

A long time ago you said we all should read our own streams and ask ourselves "would I follow me?"

Ever since then I have made it a practice to read my own stream every now and then to reflect on how my words represent my world. If I see things I don't care for I try to modify my behavior.

Unknown said...

I like your list and I would add one more...

-persistant passive-aggressive tweets targeted at specific yet unnamed persons

that's a huge pet peeve of mine and earns an unfollow and loss of respect from me

Bevan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yordie Sands said...

There's a feature I notice the other day on Twitter, "Turn off Tweets." I have no idea how it works, but that might at least preserve your people network. Jus sayin.

Botgirl Questi said...

Chestnut: Honor had a great post today on blogging, with a quote that's right in line with the practice you described: "my first rule; If something pisses you off try not to emulate it."

Carrie: Yeah, that's one that annoys me too. The only thing worse than posting vague Emo tweets is cross-posting them from Plurk. ;)

Yordie: It's possible to mute people using apps like Tweetbot. But the only reason I can think of for muting someone instead of not following them would be to avoid a retaliatory unfollow. Which seems disingenuous to me.

That's one of the reasons I don't like Empire Avenue and other similar sites. It's easy to start seeing social networking as a game and people like commodities. You start doing stuff that may increase your score but decrease the intrinsic value of the network for both yourself and your fellow social networkers.

Anonymous said...

I like the "music I'm listening to / food I'm eating / book I'm reading" ones, myself (even "TV show I'm watching", sort of vicariously).

I tend to think that everyone should post/tweet whatever the heck they want, and people who aren't looking for that particular thing can just not follow those people...

Botgirl Questi said...

Dale: I agree that there's no harm done by any particular person's posting choices. As you wrote, if anyone's bugged by someone on their stream it just takes a couple of clicks to unfollow. It's also true that tweets that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to me may be music to the ears of others.

That said, I still think it makes sense to bring up the idea of being conscious about what we post and to consider the time and attention of others. For instance, I don't try to space my tweets out for fear that someone may unfollow me. I do it in consideration of people who choose to follow me.