Friday, June 17, 2011

The Twitter Trap: Are we outsourcing our brains to the cloud?

The Twitter Trap by Bill Keller (@NYTKeller), Executive Editor of The New York Times captures many of the thoughts I have been having lately about the impact social media and technology is having on our society. Where does it end? What will be the future? How will it change us as humans? As a society? Like Mr. Keller, I have had similar feelings as I watch the impact on my 7 and 10 year old children.

Recently I have been preparing a presentation for the AHLA Annual Meeting at the end of June on the practical ways health lawyers can and should use social media. As a result I have tried to step back from the social media explosion to examine some of these issues, including the parallels between Mark Zuckerberg and Johannes Gutenberg referenced in Mr. Keller's piece.

I love this quote from Mr. Keller's article that helps visualize the innovation/disruption/impact cycle:
"My father, who was trained in engineering at M.I.T. in the slide-rule era, often lamented the way the pocket calculator, for all its convenience, diminished my generation’s math skills. Many of us have discovered that navigating by G.P.S. has undermined our mastery of city streets and perhaps even impaired our innate sense of direction. Typing pretty much killed penmanship. Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans. And what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?"
I also like his explanation of Twitter as a tool, "So let me be clear that Twitter is a brilliant device — a megaphone for promotion, a seine for information, a helpful organizing tool for everything from dog-lover meet-ups to revolutions."

His question around whether these new social media instruments are genuinely social is a good one. It is hard to see the answer to this when you are sitting in the midst of the social media cloud. One question that he doesn't address is how the collection of all this "collective social media data" about you and me will be used in the future. Is Facebook just one big social experiment. It now knows more about my family and friends than I can probably remember.

Take time away from your Twitter and Facebook posts, go read the article, and then sit back and take some quiet time to reflect on his message. I will leave you with this quote from Mr. Keller's article:
"The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter."
Thanks to Jason Keeling (@JasonKeeling) for pointing out this insightful piece that was published back in print on May 22, 2011.

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