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The 3 Big Questions of this Social, Digital Age

3 DialsI’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 Feedly. 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.
  • Read books. Real ones. With spines and the smell of paper and glue. I’ll read research-oriented books with my Kindle app, but I still love actual books.

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. 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 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.

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