A new kind of attention

How do you use Twitter (if you do)? It strikes me that a new approach to attention is required that perhaps we are not automatically hard-wired to adapt to.

In the analogue world we would have an in-tray which would fill up with mail and which we would empty. An empty in-tray implied we were on top of things. It was a good thing.

Fast-forward to the electronic world and now we have email. Same thing applies – though now it is harder. The empty (or at least read) inbox is a "good thing" and you are on top of things if you achieve this.

Now we have Twitter. Popular clients like Thwirl have a "mark as read" feature which implies we should be viewing Twitter in the same way. But when you get up to 100, or 200 or even 300 people you are following it isn’t really realistic that you can read everything – assuming you have something else to do in your life.

So perhaps the analogy is more of a river – you dip in when you can, maybe surfing back a couple of hours to see what’s going on now, but you don’t stress if you are not "up to date". RSS has been like this for some time – if you follow a reasonable number of media sources you will regularly have over 1,000 unread items.

It seems to me that there is a real power in Twitter’s kind of background, lightweight information model, but I’m not sure we are necessarily particularly evolutionarily suited to it. Maybe we will have to learn some new skills, as I’m completely sure the future will be more, not less, like this.

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