Warning: deep musings about the future of hyperconnected reality ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
This morning I decided to weed the garden that is the list of Twitter users I follow.
Somehow over the past year, the number of tweeters I follow had burgeoned to more than 400, and even if only half of them were active posters, there is no way I can keep tabs on so many posts by so many people. With the help of FriendOrFollow, I easily identified those Twitter users I follow but who don’t reciprocate. (Thanks for the idea, @orangejack.) Thus, I established the first criteria for elimination: If I follow you but you don’t follow me and I don’t think you offer enough for me to keep following you, then I shall unfollow. And so it was.
But in the end, I only dropped a dozen or so of the 40 or 50 folks non-reciprocating tweeters.
Why didn’t I remove more from the list? Because I worry that if I drop some of the more tuned-in tweeters, I’ll be missing out on some vital info somewhere down the line. And I just can’t bear the thought of missing out on something vital, witty or clever. I mean, I already missed out on all the election-themed “yo momma’s so fat” tweets. What if I missed out on the next big Twitter meme?
Of course, this is irrational. I can barely keep up with my Twitter stream as it is, and I miss hundreds, possibly thousands, of tweets daily. So I’m already out of the Twitter loop more often than I’m in it. There’s no way of knowing whether my life would be better if I were able to see every tweet that comes my way, but I have my doubts.
This makes me wonder how people who follow thousands of others on Twitter actually manage. More important, why do they follow so many? Is it merely an amplification of my own desire to stay connected? Are they even more needy than I?
Then there’s the RSS feeds. I’m struggling with information overload there, with thousands of unread blog and news posts lingering in my Google Reader. But I know I’m in good company. @timbednar of Turtle Interactive recently vowed to sort through his RSS feeds, but failed.
I’m in the same boat, Tim. Even worse, I added another must-have feed this morning.
Karine Joly is also battling infoglut. A few weeks ago, she introduced the Catch-Up Date With Karine feature. But even a blogger as prolific and connected as Karine is struggling to catch up with her own catch-up feature.
What is to become of us informavores?
The informavore’s dilemma
The following summary of his post doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what Pesce has to say, so please, take the 20 minutes or so it takes to absorb his original post. If you’re interested in where all of this internetworked information-sharing is heading, it will be worth your while.
As I see it, Pesce’s post boils down to three things:
- This: We’re moving beyond community to mobs. Pesce points out that the law of Dunbar’s number, “defines the crucial threshold between a community and a mob,” maintains that the number of social connections we humans can manage is only about 150. What does this mean, then, when I am trying to manage relationships with some 400 Twitter users? Or what about Pesce and “the sheer insanity of 1200 so-called-‘friends’ whose tweets now scroll by so quickly that I can’t focus on any one saying any thing because this motion blur is such that by the time I think to answer in reply, the tweet in question has scrolled off the end of the world”? “This,” he says, “is ludicrous, and can not continue. But this is vital and can not be forgotten. And this is the paradox of the first decade of the 21st century: what we want — what we think we need — is making us crazy.” The possible solution to this quandry? Some sort of “social contextualizer” tool that will help us make sense of all our myriad hyperconnected, hypernetworked relationships.
- That: our hyperconnected mobs are overrunning our institutions’ abilities to manage. “It is not that these institutions are dying, but rather, they now face worthy competitors. Democracy, as an example, works well in communities, but can fail epically when it scales to mobs. Crowdsourced knowledge requires a mob, but that knowledge, once it has been collected, can be shared within a community, to hyperempower that community. This tug-of-war between communities and crowds is setting all of our institutions, old and new, vibrating like taught [sic] strings.” As a solution, Pesce suggests anarcho-syndicalism, a utopian concept of “no hierarchy, no bosses, no secrets, no politics.” It’s a wonderful idea. There’s much about anarchy that appeals to me. But the problem with anarchists is, well, they’re anarchists. Not the best planners and organizers in the world. Which leads us to…
- The other: We’re lazy. We’re happy to join a Facebook group to protest something, be we don’t want to take the lead. As Pesce puts it: “I’ve come to realize a sad and disgusting little fact about all of us: We need and we need and we need. We need others to gather the news we read. We need others to provide the broadband we so greedily lap up. We need other to govern us. And god forbid we should be asked to shoulder some of the burden. We’ll fire off a thousand excuses about how we’re so time poor even the cat hasn’t been fed in a week.”
What all of this — the info-glut, the hyperconnectedness, the crowdsourcing, the ease of banding and disbanding — really, really boils down to is:
“[W]e behave like crowds when we really ought to be organizing like a community.”
This is not what we want, is it? This is not what we signed up for. Is it? Is it?
Meanwhile, the Twitter posts stream by, the RSS goes unread, and the Facebook status message goes un-updated. It’s a good thing I don’t have a cat.
* @mpesce is one of those unreciprocating Twitterers I can’t bear to part ways with. But I’m glad that’s the case. He’s got some good stuff.