November 18, 2009

When Ideas Flow Faster than Tweets...

Danah Boyd spoke at Web 2.0 Expo today and her talk -- and the audience’s reaction -- was what my little boy’s teachers refer to as a “Teachable Moment.”

Danah Boyd is a brilliant and complex theoretician in a world where speakers often limit themselves to expressing simple, easily digestible, ideas like “join the conversation,” “be authentic,” and “first listen.” But while simple, all three of those ideas are very good advice. Particularly “first listen.”

If Boyd made any mistakes, it was trying to deliver too much content in not enough time. As a result, she spoke quickly. And her ideas were nuanced and intricate. Not the first time that’s ever happened but with this audience there was an interesting difference. Many of us were planning to "live tweet" about her presentation as she gave it but we found that couldn’t tweet as fast as she spoke.

There is a whole new class of reporters -- live tweeters -- who resemble the court reporters of yore. At times, today, there were literally hundreds of tweets per minute flowing from the conference. I was one of them. I type very quickly.

But Boyd speaks very quickly, and not in slice-able sound bites. So we tweeters were left in the dust.

So what does a tweeter do when a tweeter is frustrated? A tweeter tweets. The first frustrated tweet --which was relatively mild and humorous – admonished Boyd to “take a breath.” And that tweet appeared in the Twitter stream on the giant screen behind her. The audience laughed, and Boyd didn’t know why. And once that tweet fired the first salvo, more snarky tweets started flowing and the audience started paying more attention to the Twitter stream on the screen behind her than to the stream of Boyd’s ideas (which were, ironically about flow and the stream).

So the tweeters were tweeting comments instead of listening to her, and the rest of the audience was smiling and laughing at the comments instead of listening to her.

And yet every one of we tweeters no doubt believes the Social Media mantra: “before you engage in social media, first listen, then engage.”

If there is an interesting conference going on in San Francisco or Chicago, I like to watch the stream because I can’t be there. And when I am at a conference I enjoy tweeting to share the interesting content and add my own thoughts. But the primary value to be had from any conference keynote is in listening to the speaker.

If a speaker speaks to quickly for us to transcribe her thoughts, perhaps we don’t have to do it. Tweeting doesn’t have to be a competitive sport. Perhaps we can let our tweeting fingers rest for a few minutes. Perhaps we all can take a breath and first listen… then engage.


paul baker said...

Hi Catherine. I've enjoyed reading your thoughtful posts. I'll follow your blog now, as well as your Tweets.
Paul @pabaker55

Paul L'Acosta said...

Catherine, that's so true. I was just watching Chris Brogan on the Web 2.0 Expo and couldn't stop watching the screen behind him. I wonder how much engagement people at the conference actually established while listening to the speakers. But I guess it has its pro for those like me that couldn't go: I found you while watching the screen! Will come back for sure. --Paul