Today I took a giant leap forward in my update-ability. (If date-ability refers to your in-person hotness, update-ability speaks to your hotness in the social media pressure cooker of Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku etc.) If I’m going to be entirely honest, my virtual hotness has been severely limited by my relatively infrequent Twitterings. Not only do I eat, change my musical selection and go to the bathroom without posting the minute-by-minute update, but I even sometimes have actually vaguely interesting thoughts that pass through my head without being captured in my conversation stream.
No more. If I’m going to hear about your gardening weather, the number of bookmarks you now have on delicious, and what your preferences panel looks like in the new Mac OS, then you’re going to hear about the cute way my kid just scratched her nose, how that Mexican is food is sitting, and where you won’t believe I just found my car keys.
The key to this earth-shaking transformation in my update-ability is a little doodad called MoodBlast. It lets me simultaneously update my status on Skype, iChat, Twitter, Tumblr, Pownce and Skype. (And thanks to the Twitter app on Facebook, it’ll update Facebook too.) “Now I’m inhaling.” “Now I’m exhaling.” “Now I’m trying to decide how deeply to inhale.” (Hey, this is Friday night in Vancouver. We think about these things.)
As much as I like MoodBlast’s hegemonic approach to status updating, I’m pausing briefly to think about whether increasing my update-ability is, in fact, a good thing. (Now I’m pausing briefly. Here I am, pausing. Moving on…) Are all these updates for my benefit, or the benefit of my “followers”? (Kudos to Twitter for calling it like it is.)
Most people use status updates as what I think of as “expressive communication”. Like many forms of online conversation, status updates make it easy to confuse the expressive value of communication with the effective value of communicaiton. I’m concerned about the expressive value of communication when I’m “getting something off my chest”, “speaking my truth”, or engaging in some form of creative expression. I’m concerned about the effective value of communication when I’m trying to get you to hear me, listen to me, or understand me.
In face-to-face conversation we’re able to sit comfortably and move fluidly between effective and expressive communication. I sit down with my boss, Pamela, and get something off my chest (“I’m really having a hard time working with Jim”) and I can immediately tune into the effective value of what I’ve said: its impact on the person I’m speaking with, and how it’s being received. If Pamela’s eyes glaze over and her smile freezes I know that I’ve got to tread carefully or I risk damaging our working relationship or my professional status. If Pamela leans forward and nods, I get the idea that she’s interested in helping me solve this problem.
When we’re engaging in any form of online conversation other than video chat (and even video chat has its limitations), we lose the nonverbal cues about the effective impact of what we’re saying. We experience our speech (our blogging, our video posts, our podcasts) wholly subjectively, as a form of expression. That can be incredibly liberating: the web is now full of the creative self-expression of people who might never feel brave enough to post a poem, a drawing or a song if they were really conscious of the audience to which they would then be exposed.
But liberating cuts both ways. By experiencing communication entirely as expression, we lose track of its impact. We lose much of its effective value; we lose the ability to shape, if not control, how we are received.
When we think about the person or people who read our blog post and tweets, we reconnect to the effective value of communication — without losing its expressive power. We can make a conscious decision about how much to indulge our expressive needs, and we can be intentional about what we want our effect — our impact on others — to be.
It’s not a tough thing to do. In fact, Twitter gives us a little help, by showing photos of our followers: really look at those faces, and picture them as they people you’re about to enlighten with, or inflict upon, your update. MoodBlast, with its deliciously minimal interface, does the reverse: it totally dissociates what I’m saying from what (someone? anyone?) is hearing.
In adopting the practice of visualizing your audience, there’s more at stake than whether your status updates make you look like a self-absorbed narcissist or a thoughtful sharer. Audience awareness is a muscle: when you think about audience, about the effective value of your speech, you strengthen your connection to the people you want to reach. You sharpen the focus of your language, your message, your very reason for speaking. You can still tap into the power of expressive value of communications, but now you are realizing its effective value, too.
If you’re a communications professional — in fact, if you’re anyone whose work involves communicating — your work demands that you continually strengthen your capacity for effective speech. Picture the audience — for your ten-second tweet, your ten-minute blog post, or your ten-months-in-the-making site relaunch — and you ensure that the satisfactions of expressive communication are matched by the impact of effective communication.