Taking Control of the Firehose (Or Coping with Twitter Overload)



When I started out on twitter I remember someone likening the experience of information flow to “drinking from a fire hose.” Back then (not quite a year ago), I found it funny. Some 200 tweets later, I take that statement a bit more seriously and wonder if  I would ever willingly choose to literally “drink from a fire hose.”  I suspect not.

So what is my experience of twitter really?  I wonder.

  • I actually like it, use it, value it as a professional and as an individual with a variety of interests.
  • I enjoy the regular stimulus of continually new material: new links to articles, blog posts, photos and videos.  So much novelty, not just every day; every hour of every day. Didn’t think I’d respond to this but the phenomenon clearly has an impact.
  • To my surprise, I have found tremendous evidence of community. Most of the people I follow have some connection to education; many are well known voices in the North American dialogue on K-12 public education. Others have come to my attention through related channels. So politically, professionally and personally I generally feel that I am among colleagues and allies. And understand that I was able to select my way into this network.
  • Numbers don’t mean as much to me as when I took the initial dive. At the outset, I felt a little silly with my following of 1, then 3, then 8. I marveled at some of the folks I followed for both their number of followers (in the thousands) and the number of people and entities they were following (often in the hundreds). Now I can live with “To each his own.”
  • Yet, I ask myself: how does an individual actually follow over 100 sources on twitter? How do you filter all that information and find the stuff that is really relevant to what you want to know right then?  I know there are all kinds of apps and add-ons to help one do this, but still, how much attention can you give to each thing? How much do you gain and how much do you miss?  And at that end of the day, how will you know?
  • The diversity of content, perspective and conversation even within the very tiny slice of the twittersphere which I actually inhabit has felt at once nourishing and broadening.  Because most tweets actually take me somewhere else, I come into contact with authors and topics that I would not have considered or investigated on my own. If I choose, I can delve into the comment section of an article and discover more views (often dissenting ones) which further enhance my picture of the situation and what seems to be at stake. Of all the benefits of my twitter experience so far, ready access to the diversity of content is by far the greatest.

Where I struggle is in coping with a periodic sense of overwhelm. There is so much of interest. So many topics which I would want to unpack and address – and the beat goes on. The twitter stream flows unabated. First responders provoke a discussion which goes on for a short burst of time, only to be quickly subsumed into the next big hashtag thing.  Part of me has learned to let this go, to just scroll on by.  The other part of me stops to write a post that asks: Just what’s going on here?

As much as I appreciate my twitter feed and the familiar faces I have come to associate with great thinking, useful content and quite a bit of genuine feeling, I am learning to set my own parameters for use. They go something like this:

  • Lurk first before you tweet. (Context familiarity matters.)
  • If it moves you and has meaning, take the time to dig a little deeper. And save the link in Evernote.
  • It’s an ongoing party. No one will miss you if you drop out for a few days of fresh air.
  • Even twitter has cycles. If you missed something cool once, you’ll probably get a few more chances to miss it again.

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