50 years ago if you read the newspaper on a daily basis you were probably considered smart and knowledgeable. This is no longer the case – bad information, disinformation and misinformation are rife.
In the information age there is an abundance of information providers trying their utmost to get you to sign up their free daily newsletter or pick up free hardcopies at public transport terminals. The internet has reduced the cost of entry into the media to almost zero, leading every man and his dog to post content. This is deeply positive if we can gain access to a high quality analyst on the other side of the world who we wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. But we also have 14 year old in the underpants posting contradictory content with no logic or reasoning, which is accessed just as easily.
Has quantity displaced quality?
Technological innovations through social media platforms allow immediate interaction. A large proportion of consumers now demand instant gratification as a result. In these conditions the pinnacle of news achievements has increasingly become the ability to publish first and to cover as much content as quickly as possible, keeping internet hit rates elevated throughout the day. It is no surprise then that quality has been compromised for the sake of quantity.
Where is the value add?
If you really think about it, when you watch the news these days you often learn very little. You’ll get the headlines of the terror attack in Europe, the Tsunami in Asia and the conflict in the Middle East. Don’t get me wrong –this information is not useless. It is useful to stay abreast of global events. But do you know much more once you turn off the TV? Do you know why those events happened, what social economic/geographical shifts are driving them or how it impacts you? Sometimes yes – but often you leave thinking that you’re empowered through information but actually intellectually hollow inside.
Bear in mind that news providers usually pander to our emotions, sell based on fear and project a very negative picture so that we’re glued to the story. The world is certainly a troubled place at the moment but there are lot more good people out there than you might think if you just watch the news.
It’s great that the internet has provided people with a platform to voice their opinions but it’s clearly a dangerous place for the less informed who might perceive the news to actually be truthful when it’s not. All humans, educated or not, are very susceptible and gullible. Taking this idea to the extreme there are real examples of Public Relations companies pushing fake agendas through social media to influence important social outcomes (The US elections and SA Gupta scandal with Bell Pottinger are two good examples.
Twitter is archetypal information commoditisation, when used badly
With only 140 characters, Twitter is the personification of this very worrying global trend – instant gratification, tonnes of content coverage, serious lack of detail and sometimes questionable truth. Users can be spammed from any number of random people from all over the world. Users rarely vet the content and unlikely to post a meaningful correction if they are wrong.
The key difference is that Twitter provides users with a choice. Users CAN choose to fill their minds with high quality content from specialists who truly understand what they are saying OR they can follow people who shout their heads off each time there is anything “newsworthy” taking place. This second category of information provider will report on any event that they believe might generate traffic without any prior knowledge of the incident and without any attempt to actually add value.
If people take the discerning path twitter users can filter through the noise generated by high volume news networks and narrow down on high-quality low quantity content, filling their minds with incredible material from experts in whichever industry they chose.
Personally, I find twitter the most wonderful tool. It is incredible that we can gain access to the best minds in politics, economics, finance, technology at the click of a mouse for no cost other than your time. I often recommend twitter but I’m met with resistance. Many people have reached social media satiation with Facebook and Instagram and they’re hesitant to open up another time-consuming platform. I often find myself having to conduct an all-out motivation speech, selling twitter. Here are the top 6 tips I’ve learnt from those conversations and my reflections from using twitter:
- Start slowly
Approach twitter slowly. Decide your immediate areas of interest first. Follow a very few select people that you respect in those subject areas. Watch how those respected people interact and who they follow. Build the number of people that you follow slowly from there. Remember that each individual will add content to your news feed. Going through your news feed takes time – and time is money.
- Quality > quantity – Follow less people
If you follow 1000 people you’ll get a huge amount of information but you risk being like a deer in the headlights and you’ll have trouble engaging with any of the information. Low quality tweets in high quantity drown out the better quality because it’s difficult to find the information in your clogged up news-feed. Don’t just follow a news provider because you’ve heard the name before or because someone else is following them. Assess whether the content is original, differentiated from what you already have in your timeline and if it really adds value to your life.
- Don’t be afraid to judge who you are following
Analyse, criticize and vet everything that people say. Remember, by following you are giving someone a precious commodity in your life – time. You are allowing an individual to imprint their ideas on to your mind. Act judiciously. This is not a popularity contest.
- Avoid the echo chamber
It’s easy to just follow people who agree with your world view but this merely perpetuates a confirmation bias where we think we’re correct every time. The best experts in their field understand what the opposition thinks – we must do the same to produce a well-rounded view. Try to find people who hold logical opinions but come to different conclusions to yours. Believe me, different conclusions always exist. An atheist can follow a well reasoning theist, a Catholic follow a Muslim, a Keynesian follow an Austrian economist and socialist a capitalist. There is so much to learn from others and so many high quality ideas out there. Don’t be afraid or angered by the opposition, learn from them. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to one narrow world view.
- Say less – listen more
If we buy into the “quality over quantity” motto then live by it. Don’t tweet much to start with. Comment when you have quality value to add – not merely agreeing or disagreeing with someone/something. Why are you saying it and does it add value? When you wade into the debate make sure you’ve considered all your angles and the potential responses. There are a lot of people on social media who are ready to shoot you down. Be ready for the backlash.
- Find your voice
Once you’ve found your feet – let’s contradict point 4 🙂
Twitter is great way to formulate ideas, to learn to articulate yourself clearly and to document ideas. To write an idea in 140 characters is no mean feat. It’s certainly not the be all and end all but it’s a useful skill to concisely articulate your thoughts.
In closing, quality > quantity, don’t be a news pawn and ask yourself “how does this add value to my life?”
Addition: read Nassim Taleb’s “fooled by Randomness” for more insight on the valuable information vs. noise trade-off. Here’s my review of the book.
Responses always welcome!