Twitter Tales

Though an early skeptic about Twitter, I gradually joined the revolution. First I connected with a few social-tech-savvy friends, then added some colleagues and acquaintances. Eventually, a random tweet would grab my attention and I’d decide to follow its author. Soon I was reading the microblogs of dozens of strangers.

Twitter has a way of polarizing. It’s either a distracting waste of time or a modern method of exchanging information. It all depends on how you use it. One friend of mine never tweets and follows only news sources, journalists and recognized thought leaders. Twitter is how he aggregates his daily news into one constant feed.

Being selective about whom you follow seems obviously important; too many tweets or too much banality is considered by most manicured Twitter users legitimate grounds to unfollow. But Jonah Lehrer, the contributing editor at Wired, makes a case for following strangers: “being exposed to a constant stream of unexpected tweets – even when the tweets seem wrong, or nonsensical, or just plain silly – can actually expand our creative potential.” The odd assortment of random thoughts and occasionally inaccurate data can serve to break the banal patterns that form in our own minds, and help us associate differently as a result of the random input.

Here’s another reason: Scanning the Twitter stream yesterday morning, I noticed a tweet from someone I follow – not a total stranger, but still, not someone I know that well – an academic who has attended a couple of Sandpits in the past.

It just so happened that KI is running dual Sandpits this week, and though he wasn’t heading to my meeting, he was heading to the other Sandpit.

I showed the tweet to a colleague, who then emailed this participant to discover that he was on the Virgin West Coast line with access to the onboard WiFi connection. A call to our mates running the Sandpit he was headed toward, and a Skype connection was established.

On the agenda at that event: a networking exercise much like Speed Dating that allows for an efficient one-on-one inventory of the expertise and interest of the participants. Our traveling participant was able to join the activity via Skype to a lap-top that was inserted into the rows of chairs, going face-to-face with each participants as they shifted seats.

For two hours he was plugged in to the meeting; the connection was only thrown off twice because of tunnel interference. He was on an iPhone, which meant audio without the picture, but it still worked. He was successfully incorporated into a key climate building and information sharing component of the workshop, and met with warm applause when he finally arrived at the venue, just before dessert.

So for those of you who remain skeptical about the value of Twitter, consider how it feeds the creative process. It’s a little random input, or a part of a technology solution that saves the day.

Know further: Twitter use for adults and for kids (this one with lots of useful links). How to use it productively and there’s even a wiki on how to use Twitter.