For some time now, I’ve been asking myself if I’d missed the point about Twitter. Give it some time, I told myself. Sometimes these new technologies just need to shake themselves out. Originally, Motorola shelved the mouse as an input device, only to have someone dust it off years later and make it the tool of choice for personal computers. So I gave Twitter a chance. I tried it myself, and even started to “follow” some people online. Alas, with the release of a new study, I now know that I should have stuck with my initial reaction. Twitter is really dumb.
According to a short-term study by Pear Analytics, found on the Marketing Vox’s website, only 8.7% of Tweets have value to most people, which they defined as containing “news of interest” to followers. In fact, after studying more than 2000 Tweets, and following their message, links or content, more than 40% of the messages were ranked as “pointless babble.” Large chunks of the rest of the Tweetosphere were filled with self-promotion, shameless traffic generation and superfluous “navel-gazing.”
What did we expect, War and Peace?
My high school English teacher would have said he’d seen Twitter in use for his entire career, capturing and reading out loud our endless stream of secretly-passed-notes. Our back-of-the-class whispering he used to call “diarrhea of the mouth,” an ugly if not accurate description of the incessant hissing that we mindless teenagers felt we needed to emit in real time. Twitter simply updated that constant mind-dump and made it possible for billions of people to learn instantly one very important fact:
Most of the time, people really have nothing interesting to say.
Is there a lesson here for business people barely hanging on to their livelihoods these days? Yes, indeed, and it’s one that we could have learned fifty years ago. Peter Drucker, the guru who virtually invented modern management made the critical insight that should have buried Twitter the day it hit the web:
Effective executives must be in control of their time.
That’s why Twitter is detrimental to productivity. It has little to show for itself in terms of “return on investment” with customers, compared to email communications, or even the oldest-school technologies, like the telephone. Everything about Twitter is anti-time: Sending a tweet may only take seconds to send, but the urge to then follow who is reading your outburst, re-sending it to their network, responding to it, and so on, is a tremendous waste of time that could otherwise be spent directly with customers. Monitoring Tweetdeck or other sites that report what other people are posting about you in real time is only slightly more exciting that watching grass grow; and mostly less productive.
Unless, of course, you’re just trying to burnish your ego.
Sending Tweets also destroys your precious moments of well-invested time, too. Time Wasting Tweets are frequently sent when you’re supposed to be paying attention to something important, such as sitting in a training class (like whispering in seventh grade English class). You’re supposed to be investing your time into something valuable. Instead, you are goofing off.
And don’t say you were multi-tasking, because that’s just mumbo-jumbo. You are either listening and thinking, or twittering. You can’t be doing both. That’s why Tweeters often ask the same question that was just asked by someone else in class a few minutes ago – wasting MORE of the time for rest of the class and instructor.
Wow – what a great technology.
The real problem with Twitter isn’t that it’s a dumb technology. Nor that it’s redundant, since Instant Messages, text messages and updating your Facebook status works just as well, perhaps better because it’s targeted to people who might, possibly, slightly care. No, the Twitter danger lies in the fact that it’s “online” and as such, instantly gets the “seal of approval” from those of us who equate “online” with “better” or even just “good.”
Lots of stuff is online. Does that make it all good? That depends upon how many times you’ve replied with your bank account number to your good-friends the Nigerians who wish to share their millions. There’s a whole “shadow” internet out there of complete, utter dumbness. It offers far more discount Viagra than we could ever consume, an unlimited number of ways to grow rich right from our kitchen tables, and shed pounds with the super-fruit of the month. Even pseudo-silly sites, like YouTube, where millions stare mindlessly for hours at the banal antics of cats, clowns and claymation makes you wonder who has so much time to just sit, watch, comment, watch, refute, and repeat?
Doesn’t anyone actually work?
But it’s online! So we be doing it! Our kids are doing it – doesn’t that mean we have to do it just to “keep up” with them? Companies are doing it – there was a story about someone the other day who Tweeted something and they sold some stuff for some money – so doesn’t that mean I gotta do it too? Thus the cycle of nonsense was started, is recycled and now perpetuates itself 140 characters at a time. With an occasional cropped-hyperlink thrown in to reference a bit of real news or information.
I’ve always suspected that Twitter was a plot by a super smart social scientist who wanted to study whether he could get millions of people to do something online that had virtually no redeeming value. Apparently, it’s not that hard; and the vast amount of data will certainly yield decades of studies on various psychoses of boredom, self-centeredness, quest for celebrity and general emptyheadedness.
Maybe that’s a little harsh. Maybe not. But one things for certain: Anything with a 92% “valueless” estimation by its own participants is probably something that those of us with limited time – and bank accounts – might want to reconsider.
Wait! What’s that I see? Something shiny…. ooooh…. .wow…..
Perhaps Pavlov was right?