It's the Twitter Curve created by Kathy Sierra back in 2006 (referenced again here in 2007) and included in a fascinating blog post about the growth of communications channels leading to continuous partial attention, to the detriment of mankind. An excerpt:
Moore's law for the brain doesn't quite work. We're evolving much, much, much too slowly... Brain 2.0 isn't coming anytime soon. And we're all feeling the enormous weight of not being able to keep up. We can't keep up with work. We can't keep up with our social life. We can't keep up with the industry, our hobbies, our families. We can't keep up with current events. We'll never read a fraction of those books on our list. And we are hurting. Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents.
For the uninitiated, the letters used in making the above ransom-esque note are pulled from the most popular new media sites & tools (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, Gmail, eBay, Blogger, Flickr). The creator, to my knowledge, remains unknown.
But really, it could be any of us. Two years have passed since Kathy so keenly hit on the issue (and dozens of others have as well), and the problem only seems to have gotten worse.
Here's a peek into my world [which will hopefully shed light onto why my responses to some of you are so tardy...and my blog posts of late, fewer & farther apart]:
- Current browser tabs open: 9 (that's pretty typical for me, I would say)
- Yahoo! Inbox: 12,697 messages. I just checked and the oldest go back to 2003. This is from a time when I had all industry newsletters, retail promotions, and personal mail going to one account. I've since made this my personal-mail-only account, and generally keep up with those messages, but there are a lot of legacy ones still in there that I [stupidly] think I'll get through some day.
- Gmail Inbox: 26,722 messages. Silly, I know. But this is where I now get all of my industry newsletters & retail promotions. I really enjoy reading them, I simply just can't keep up. So the volume continues to grow and grow (hooray for all that free storage!)
- Hootsuite: 2 Twitter accounts (personal + professional) and 486 others that I follow (collectively)
- LinkedIn: about 100 messages in the inbox; nevermind the live update feeds & discussions.
- Facebook: 113 messages in the inbox; again, little time or energy for the live feed.
- Netvibes Homepage: 94 RSS feeds from an assortment of sources - mainstream publishers like WSJ and NYTimes, as well as local sources and friends that blog. These guys have been getting the least attention of late (sorry!)
There's also, of course, the work email account, text messages on the phone (my new T-Mobile/Google Android phone which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, even though it feeds into all this craziness), and assorted activity in other accounts like Flickr, IM clients, and my social media graveyard (MySpace, Friendster). How do I manage? Well, I'm an information junkie and obsessed with emerging media, so it's my nature to consume a lot to begin with. The above outline seems out of control, but really I'm continuously scanning the headlines and subject lines and addressing the things of utmost importance [to me]. I also make time to read books, cook, and travel, among other things (lest you think I'm sitting in a dark room, illuminated by the glow of a monitor 20 hours a day).
But even I am noticing the hardship caused by continuous partial attention. It's tiring. And the value:time ratio isn't maybe as strong as it used to be, when following a lot of publishers meant I was always "in the know." Now it just means that I see a lot of the same news, in muliple places (welcome to ReTweet Nation). It's time to cut back, and/or find a trusted digital curator.
Don't get me wrong; I still love the Web and all things emerging media...I just want my life back.
Here's a test: Spend one day surfing the Internet and spend another roaming your neighborhood. See how many good dinner table stories you have after each. There won't be a contest.