Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Technosociality and The Three Questions

Live Tweeting at the Online News Association Conference in late October brought to mind a story from a talk by Buddhist Monk Ajhan Brahm. He was retelling Tolstoy’s fable, The Three Questions, about a king seeking to avoid failure. The king consulted a wise hermit, searching for answers to questions about when, what, and who is important. After a long ordeal, he learned that the most important time is now, the most important task is to do good, and the most important person is “he with whom you are.”

But it just doesn’t seem that simple when it comes to conferences and live tweeting. Who and what gets your full attention when you’re in the Grand Ballroom with a panel presenter, audio-visual screen content, an audience, your Twitter feed, a new iPad, the conference hashtag, concurrent panel hashtags, WiFi going in and out, and more?

Listing the pros and cons of this experience might help.


You might have a richer conference experience if you follow live tweets. The salient points that are tweeted might help you focus on what’s important.

Live tweeting gives you a record of points you tweeted—just like taking notes!

If panelists are following Twitter they might address audience tweets during the presentation.

If you recognize tweeps from regular Twitter chats (like #wjchat), you can later talk to them in person—maybe even have dinner together.

You can introduce yourself to people whose posts you recall seeing on the convention hash tag feeds when you see them in the elevator, or in the coffee line during breaks.

Find people to socialize with when they send out announcements about meetups.

You might decide to follow people based on their wise or funny tweets.

Learn who you might want to avoid based on their mean or snarky remarks.

Find out who’s tweeting from a bar during sessions (this can be good or bad, depending on your perspective).

Move to a more interesting session based on the tweets coming out of its hashtag. Cupcakes and beer with designers and coders, or Google maps? Again, your call.


Heads are down, so it's not easy to make eye contact when you're pulling up a chair at a breakfast session table.

Speakers might give a less engaging talk without eye contact from the audience.

Can you really multitask as well as you think you can? What are you missing while you’re typing away? (I must admit I replayed a radio story about a week after I heard it in a session, and didn’t recall one of the sound bites from the first time around. And this was a story about a body farm!)

You might be too exhausted from reading Twitter all day to read a book before turning out the lights.

I invite you to add to the list. And, do you think the hermit would give the king the same advice in our age of Twitter?

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