Companies that restrict or limit employees’ ability to use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter during work hours are understandably trying to reduce distraction that results in waste and inefficiency. As studies have shown, however, such policies turn out to be counterproductive, because workers who surf the Internet or use social media for reasonable amounts of time while at work are generally more productive and effective.
Now let me be honest: This is a finding which I’ve enthusiastically pounced on as a way of justifying my social media habits while at work. The fact is that there are still many days when I would be more productive if I spent less time on these sites and more time in focused, extended stretches of work. But this is something I’m conscious of and getting better at, so with that admission aside, I’d like to share below how Matt Perman puts this in his excellent and wonderfully practical What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). I especially like what he says about how having and using online networks can help workers in today’s “knowledge economy.”
“For self-motivated people, time spent on Facebook is actually productive. It is productive for building networks and spreading truth. Both of these build people up, and thus increase productive capacity.
“Research bears this out by showing that employees with extensive online networks (such as through Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth) are actually more productive than those without them.
“Facebook and other online networks and interaction help us refine, spread, and gain ideas. These are three core competencies in the era of knowledge work” (249-250).
In his excellent book on leadership The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012), President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Al Mohler urges leaders to embrace the digital world and social media to further their message and join the cultural conversation.
As an enthusiastic Twitter user (I once was firmly against getting an account, but boy, are things different now), I was pleased to see how Dr. Mohler uses it as a source of news, as I also do, and I thought he aptly captures the way the medium’s 140-character limit can force you to write more concisely than ever before – a skill that’s important in good writing, whether you use Twitter or not. See what he has to say:
“Twitter is fast becoming the leading edge of social communication. I let Twitter feed my Facebook page, and I work hard to inform my constituencies and Twitter followers day by day. Twitter is now my first source for news. Tweets announce headlines, and I follow the links to the news stories. It is a huge time-saver and alert system.
“A tweet may be limited to 140 characters, but users have brilliantly exploited that platform. The economy of characters is the charm, the most brilliant coercion of conciseness imaginable. If you are not on Twitter, and if you are not working and following it regularly, you are missing a massive leadership opportunity. Twitter, used wisely, can drive enormous traffic to your content, your organization, and your convictions. How can you justify leaving all that behind?” (180)
In his extended essay The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time (Sasquatch Books, 2010), LA Times book critic David Ulin cites a 2009 study showing that in 2008, Americans consumed information for about 12 hours per day, and about 100,000 words per day. This, he explains, is the equivalent of a three-hundred-page novel, which at first seems encouraging. Except that much of this is a fragmented consumption of the “back-and-forth between texting, e-mail, print, Twitter, blogs and other websites,” amounting to what he calls a “collective data dump” (80).
He then writes:
“This is where reading, real reading, comes in – because it demands space…Perhaps most important, there is the way reading requires us to pay attention, which cannot help but return us to the realm of inner life” (80).
Then it gets really good:
He quotes a co-author of the study mentioned above, on the impact of these kinds of reading on deeper thinking: “Our attention is being chopped into shorter intervals and that is probably not good for thinking deeper thoughts.”
And from a psychiatrist working with ADD: “We have a generation of people who…are so busy processing information from all directions they are losing the tendency to think and feel. And much of what they are exposed to is superficial. People are sacrificing depth and feeling and becoming cut off and disconnected from other people” (81).
These insights should caution us against our often superficial habits of mindless information consumption (I myself am guilty of this), and more importantly, they should move us into being more intentional about doing the kind of extended, concentrated deep reading that is fast becoming a thing of the past for many.