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The 3 Big Questions of this Social, Digital Age

ConnectionsI’ve decided to connect with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. I also read a lot of stuff, mostly online but also in print. And I try to write and share great content along the way. The problem is, each of these is never-ending. In other words, there will always be something else to read, someone else with whom to connect, and more to write. Especially now.

I’ve managed to boil my own approach to this new content-driven, socially-connected age down to three big questions. These three questions determine what I do the whole time I’m “working,” which rarely fits into an eight hour work schedule in the traditional sense.

Question #1: What Content Do I Need to Consume Today?

The answer to this question is a tough one. If I’m not careful, I can sit in front of the screen reading things all day long. The stream of information available never stops. Even the stream of good, useful content is overwhelming and too much for any one man army to keep up with. So there are some tools and approaches that help, and often our job is to decide which approach is most valuable today…

  • Read the hundreds of RSS feeds I read every day using Google Reader. The pro is that I don’t miss anything from my sources, but the downside is I only read what I’ve been reading and only discover something new via recommendations by those whom I’m already reading.
  • Check Twitter, but especially my Twitter lists. Twitter, itself, is over-run with spammers, but I’ve carefully selected people for lists in a variety of niches. I’m exposed to much more content this way, but can’t even begin to read it all, and I sometimes miss my regular sources.
  • Other curation tools, like Friendfeed and Cliqset are great too, but are not as widely adopted.
  • I like to browse my dashboards in Tumblr and Posterous, but not everyone uses those.
  • For browsing (or “surfing” if you prefer that term), I like Google’s search results because I can browse the web, pictures, videos, news, blogs, updates, etc. depending on what kind of information I need. If it’s media, I can browse media. If it’s real-time news (as in, happening NOW), I can browse news and updates.
  • There is email. I get quite a few email newsletters, but I never read them. Why? Because that’s not my purpose for email. I use email to communicate and get things done. I read content through all of those other channels, so I might be on your list, but I normally just delete it, especially on Monday. If you’re using email alone to get the word out, explore the last five points a bit more.

So content gets spread and consumed in ways that are constantly developing. Some of you who are reading this had no idea those tools existed, so I chose not to overwhelm you with the other couple of dozen that I also use.

Here’s the problem with question #1: consuming content doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It makes me aware of what’s out there, but being aware is useless without the next two questions…

Question #2: With Whom Should I Connect Today?

You can read all day long. You’ll be smarter, but it won’t do you or anyone else any good. You need to connect with people. Everybody longs to be known and loved, and what I love about the social web is that the content we’ve been reading and consuming provides points of connection with people. By “content” I might mean a great article on something, or I might just mean Bob’s tweet about the big fish he caught.

So from the content I’m consuming, I’m doing two things. One is research – I’m building a library of ideas. But the other thing I’m doing is connecting. How?

  • By sharing someone’s content with someone else. Someone appreciates the promotion, and someone else appreciates receiving useful information. And someone (me, in particular) is in the middle of those other two someone’s connecting with both of them.
  • By discussing the content I’m reading. That discussion takes place through blog comments, on Twitter, or via a note in my Google Reader shared items. Or it takes place as I sort of “re-blog” it with a twist of my own put on it.
  • By contacting people. This is where I get really thrilled. I read a tweet, click a profile link, find a phone number, and call the person who just tweeted about their cat dying so I express my condolences. This shocks people because most of us choose to stay behind the screen at a safe and somewhat anonymous distance. If that’s you, you’ve missed the point of “social.”

The social web opens the communication lines. We have access to new people. We are noticeable in ways never possible before. And we’re conversing with strangers who seem a little less strange with each point of contact.

Hyperlinks should lead us to photographs of faces, which should lead us to real people, which should provide a basis for knowing and being known.

The third big question is optional. It depends on your focus and your career path, but for a rapidly growing number of people, it’s becoming the crucial third question of this social, digital age…

Question #3: What Should I Write, Create, or Produce Today?

You don’t have to go down this road. You can be content to consume and connect and your world will be just fine. But we live in an age in which anyone and everyone can be a creator, writer, musician, journalist, reporter, connector, producer, prognosticator, teacher, or prophet. Yes, there are enormous risks with this, but there is no stopping it.

The tools that John and Jane Doe needed to have a voice are not only available and accessible now, they are improving every day. So having answered the other two questions – having consumed, having connected – I need to answer the question of what I’m going to create, write, or produce today.

  • I can write a blog.
  • I can post to Facebook.
  • I can tweet.
  • I can compose a symphony and share it with the world.
  • I can create art and post it up.
  • I can design a website and let it frame someone’s ideas.
  • I can challenge thinking.
  • I can react publicly to people in high places.
  • I can comment on all the news that’s happening.
  • I can criticize.
  • I can praise.
  • I can state loudly and clearly that I’m going to be silent.

Here’s the problem with these three questions… I can’t ever chase all of the possibilities that result from all three. I’ll become a consumer who never produces and never connects, or a producer who never listens.

The essence of our current social media conundrum is that I have to find a way to hold these three big questions in tension every day. I’m going to miss something. I’m going to miss someone. But I can connect with someone too. I can seize the opportunity to do something worthwhile that contributes in some way to how everyone else is answering these same three questions.

This is social media. Actually, this is just life. We’re just calling it “social media” because that’s the thing to call it right now. Soon, it will just be “media” and “social” will be assumed.

Here’s where I need your help… how do you answer these three questions? Answer in the comments. Answer on Twitter. Answer with your friend Tom at the local coffee shop – I don’t care – I’m just highly interested in how to balance it all, and since you’re probably better at it than me, help me out.

photo credit: nromagna

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  • Will

    Hi Brandon,

    For me the answers to these questions are that I

    1. don't NEED to consume any information today

    2. SHOULD only connect with those I enjoy connecting with

    3. SHOULD only write, create or produce something when I feel like it

    I know these answers don't really help to optimise social media prescence but they do help to keep the experience ( for me anyway) free of obligation, full of enjoyment and in balance.

    It's a pity ( in a way) to miss out on so much valuable information/ interaction every day – but, on the other hand, it's just really fantastic to be able to enjoy and appreciate what you have experienced.

    All the best from Hamburg


  • http://IndyChristian.TV IndyChristian

    Let me suggest it depends on a person's goals… and what collaborative team you're on.

    Me? My goal here is to help connect/communicate among 'driven Christians in the Racing Capital of the World', in hopes of speeding Great Commission teamwork here in the city.

    I've done the email and blog/reader thing for years now. Facebook is currently the finest software for reconnecting 'The Church'… and Twitter offers us all the best quick-communication capabilities. For instance, we've created a twitter list of 400 (which I try hard to monitor daily).

    And some of us publish daily at (.tv, etc.).

    And last but not least, some of us have Emergency communication mobile alerts sent to our phone… from @IndyPrayer .

  • Norman Naylor

    Wow Brandon- AMAZING work! I love your blend of thoughtful analysis and constant reminder that all of this “hype” about Social/New Media is really about PEOPLE. Thank you for sharing your gift with the rest of us!
    To answer your question about balance: I don’t know if we can ever get it dialed in just right. I hate cliches, but consuming content from the internet really IS like trying to drink from a firehose: You will obtain some good information, but you will absolutely miss most of it- which is why it is so important to use good tools (thank you for your recommendations!) to help you sift the wheat from the chaff. If you don’t sieze the opportunity to connect with others, you are really missing out on many of the opportunities the Lord is bringing your way (remember to mind your “talents”) AND you are cheating yourself in the process. If you don’t make time to contribute, even is a small way (like commenting on a blog), then you miss out on the opportunity to share with those who may wish to connect with you. It is just that some days are more connection-rich than others. At a MINIMUM, one should attend a local Tweet-Up. They are everywhere and will allow you to meet and interact with a whole group of new friends.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Brandon A. Cox

      Thanks Norman! I’ve wanted to attend some local social media events,
      especially since they dot the landscape of Orange County. The problem is I
      usually hear about them after they’re over! I need to be on my feet.