I’ve never really understood Twitter. I regard this as a weakness. All the coolest people seem to love it, and I can see how it’s a neat concept. I just wonder what I’d put: “Doing sudoku on tube”, “buggering up a lasagne”, “In meeting”, “reading in bed”. I’d bore myself.
Well I’m delighted to see that I’m not 100% alone in my luditeitude (I hearby create a new word!). This brilliant ‘Creating passionate users’ post by Kathy Sierra goes well beyond that initial suspicion that there’s something a bit freaky in it, putting a (very cool) name to a phenomenon I’d been quietly aware of for some time.
In the quite brilliant Perfect Pitch, Jon Steel talks about how constantly receiving and checking of messages can (temporarily) lower your IQ by 10 points.
We now know what it’s called: “intermittent variable reward”. Or, in other words: behaviour which is rewarded/reinforced intermittently, rather than consistently – is the most difficult to extinguish. Or to really reduce it to simple terms, the addiction to email and Blackberries is similar to slot machines. As Patricia Wallace put it in Time magazine: “You are not sure you are going to get a reward every time or how often you will, so you keep pulling that handle.”
Not content with revealing the real reason for email addiction, Sierra goes on to explain the emotional dissonance that arises out of “virtual” interactions – although this is not necessarily a twitter phenomonen – it applies equally well to TV. The brain feels like it’s experiencing social interaction but is missing an element – body language etc, leaving the subject feeling disappointed and dejected.
Finally, Sierra brings in the concept of “continual partial attention”. Thinking-wise, what we as humans enjoy most is deep thought and processing. But what we do now is the opposite, we constantly pay partial attention to a huge range of inputs. We care more about not missing anything than about actually focussing on and achieving anything.