How fun is the Web really?

Digital Strategy12 Comments

To me, it’s plenty fun but at lunch with my friend Steve Culgan (@sculgan), we discussed what effects new technologies like Twitter, smartphones and the iPad have on people’s attention and our ability to just enjoy ourselves.

As Steve put it, the sheer volume of information and content that we are exposed to has the potential to make us more neurotic. Instead of being able to focus on just one thing (say, TV), there are now multiple channels competing for our attention. Rarely do we ever simply watch TV. For example, right now I am watching Algeria vs Slovenia on TV while writing this post on a laptop and checking Twitter on an iPhone.

The Argument

The argument is that we are no longer able to live in the moment. Obsessive checking of Twitter and the feeling that you might be missing out on something only contribute to this growing neurosis. The problem is further exacerbated when you take into account the amount of noise when your followers grow.

Our ability to enjoy ourselves diminishes as we constantly worry that there could be something else we could doing.

My counter, however, is that while the tools have the potential to disrupt our lives (let alone our brain patterns), human beings are incredibly adaptable.

Just take a look at a typical high school kid. They are growing up in a world where these technologies and multitasking are the norm. They’ve figured out how to juggle all these competing media and still have a good time.

The Challenge

The challenge is for my generation and older who haven’t always had this in our lives and aren’t quite as adept at the whole multitasking thing.

We must know our limits and how much we can handle before it’s too much. As a parent, there is an opportunity to cost to being constantly plugged in. Family-time means giving them my full attention (or at least a close approximation of it) – not being constantly distracted checking-in or posting status updates. When it’s just me, I’m free to do as I please whether it be playing PS3, blogging, tweeting or generally wasting time online.

The point is, you must accept that there are some things you’re going to miss out on. The beauty of something like Twitter and social media is that the cream will rise to the top. Following the right people or subscribing to the right feeds gives me the confidence that if it’s important enough, I’m going to hear about it.

How do you go juggling multiple media devices? Does something have to give or can you do it all?


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Excellent read, Mal. I feel just the same. There are so many great articles out there, new platforms to explore, new apps, forums to contribute to, tweets to read .. I feel a great pressure to keep up.
Now it’s getting to the point where I know I’ll need specific ‘time outs’ just to refresh and give myself space for my own ideas. I am pondering whether to have an “online free” weekend but don’t know if I can do it!

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Nice post, it’s a really interesting topic.

Coming from a psychology background I love how this constant access to information, well not just information, but how access fire-hose of data changes how we think and behave.

I think we’re seeing the evolution of a new human behaviour “constant partial attention” which isn’t necessarily making us more or less intelligent (the debate is still out on that) but it’s changing the way we think and interact.

It could be said it’s encouraging weaknesses in higher-order cognition and critical thinking, it also has democratised information, encouraged experimentation (easier access to ‘disposable’ information allows us to try new out ideas quicker for ‘collisions and connections’ ) and heightened our ability to make quick decisions & process inputs. In short, it’s making us shallower & broader.

Personally, I’ve never felt the need to go completely off-the-grid, too much of what interests me has some online component or companion (football, television, music) but I agree, I think the trick is a good toolset; setting up good ring fences and gather a great set of tools like a good Twitter stream and a focused collection of news feeds and bookmarks, and to allow ourselves a balance of input and contemplation.

Those needn’t be mutually exclusive times, for me the Internet is a constant pervasive companion to my life, it assists and supports what I do but never really alters it.

There’s been som really good writing on this recently actually, from Nicolas Car on the con (
and Clay Shirky on the pro (

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Mike Seyfang

Funny, there was much discussion (and one fight) about exactly this in my extended family over the weekend. I’m of the opinion that the internet firehose presents a new environment to which we will adapt (and I enjoy the experience of living in the augmented moment).

Those in my family who are resisting such adaptation just happen to be from ye olde scientific community – where I would argue the greatest potential for conceptual advancement exists. My readings from Castells (communication power) and the latest journal of science communications got right up their nose.

I must admit that I do have trouble ‘reading in a straight line’. My aim for the weekend was to finish reading communication power and a bunch of journal articles. I made some progress (and a great digital video remixing 19yrs of content) while drinking wine and avoiding conversation.

Nice post.

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It’s sometimes hard to remember that it IS possible to turn stuff off, and indeed, when there is a time where solid concentration is required, then it is probably a good thing to be able to (likewise for the situation you mentioned – we shouldn’t ignore people in real life for those in our virtual life 🙂 )
The other thing to remember, particularly with “flow” tools like Twitter, is that if it’s important, it will come past us again later, as a retweet or via an independent mention from someone else in our stream – so we don’t have to be looking at it obsessively for Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)!
This is also not exclusive to the digital natives (who are considerably younger than me) – I have NEVER in my life watched television without having something to read at the same time … it used to be exclusively the dead-tree variety, now it includes the laptop or iPhone (and now the HTC Desire as well)

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with so many distractions it’s very easy to become the kind of person who only reacts, it takes quite a lot of discipline to stay focused and get the important things done!

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