The Data Sharing Laxative

Folks experienced in trying to lead change know that the general population comes in three flavors: pioneers (the folks that love trying new stuff); Missourians (the folks that need to see that something works before they are willing to try it, “Show me.”), and the resistors (these are the evangelists of negativism, and the water cooler is their chapel).

When it comes to most things (not all), but especially if it relates to technology, I am a pioneer.  And when social media first appeared, I was one of the first to give it a try.  I was also probably one of the first to give it up, as I quickly decided that it wasn’t for me and deleted all of my accounts.  Today, the only social media outlet on which I still maintain a presence is LinkedIn, and that is for professional reasons.

I found social media to be a laxative for information sharing.  As a result of social media information certainly passes through society much more quickly.

Let me amend that.  “Information” implies facts.  What passes through social media is a mix of unsubstantiated assertions, speculation, opinions, rants, and, I assume, an occasional, often well hidden, fact or two.  So, allow me to rephrase.

Social media is the laxative of data sharing.  Social media causes data to move through the culture’s digestive system much more quickly.  So fast, that it often doesn’t get fully digested.  Of course, that is probably OK–preferable, in fact–because most of the data shared on social media has all of the intellectual nutritional value of sugary soda and a blooming onion.  It’s a fortunate kind of accidental synergy.

There are four reasons why I choose not to engage in social media:

  • First, I simply prefer not to live my life in such a conspicuous manner.  In this blog I will publish what I hope are well seasoned thoughts on topics of critical mass, but I don’t feel compelled to offer knee-jerk comments on inane bits of social minutia.  I don’t consider snakiness to be a competitive sport.  Most of all, I personally don’t believe in public introspection.
  • Second, I found social media’s signal:noise ratio to be about 1:99.  The amount of inane minutia is staggering–bubble gum for the brain.  And it’s caveat emptor world when it comes to distinguishing between fact and opinion, information and speculation, with a lot of opinion and speculation coming disguised as fact.  Further, a lot of the opinion and speculation started coming increasingly in the form of rants.
  • Third, I worried about becoming cloistered in the opinions of only my friends, connections, and like-minded others, and I prefer a little larger, more diverse base.
  • Lastly, I really don’t care about the social mirror.  I don’t buy or try things because they are trending; things don’t interest me because they are trending.  I choose not to give much weight to which things, or which particular brand of some particular thing, that all of my friends and connections are buying. I become interested in something because it interests me.  And if I am going to try or buy something, I trust my own research over what may be trending.

I will confess that the years I worked at a newspaper have shaped my point of view on the importance of things like fact-checking, distinguishing between information and speculation, and segregating news and editorial.  But the bottom line, for me, is that social media’s effort:value ratio just didn’t get over my personal hurdle rate to be worthwhile.

More importantly, my experience leading organizational/cultural change has taught me that while data may now move at the speed of light, wisdom still moves at about 1 mile per hour, or less.

People talk about the time-value of information, thus the importance of velocity.  The velocity of data may be important in the marketing world or the world of fads, but when it comes to information, I have found that it’s value increases as it is allowed to cure, thus the importance of patience and perspective.

There is an old saying in the information technology biz:

Data + Analysis = Information

Information + Judgment = Decisions

The analysis that transforms data into information includes a curing process.  The judgment that transforms information into a decision requires wisdom.

Again, while data may move at the speed of light, wisdom moves at about 1 mile per hour,or less.  The movement of data is a technological process–a mechanistic process like assembling an automobile–and there is a seemingly endless number of things that can speed up the movement of data. However, the creation of wisdom is a natural process–an agrarian process like growing tomatoes–and attempts to artificially accelerate or impede that process will only screw it up.  Yes, there are things you can and should do to improve the quality of the yield (e.g., weed, feed, and water), but you can’t plant tomatoes in September and expect a harvest in October.  Same way with wisdom.

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