140 Characters: Just Enough To Make You Look Like An Ass

December 6, 2013

Earlier this week I celebrated my 33rd birthday. This is my first personal blog post ever. Below I describe, in part, why I’m starting to write long-form. This first one is a bit long.

tl;dr Social media has made our social reach unnatural. When we speak, we don’t know who is listening and it’s probable we’re coming across in an unintended way (like an ass) to others. Even sharing things which are positive and seemingly harmless can be the culprit. I’m trying to be more thoughtful in how I share via short-form media. Furthermore, long-form media helps minimize the chances of looking like an ass.

Headlines and status updates

Many of us are now sharing personal thoughts via short-form messaging or status updates. These status updates are akin to the headlines of a newspaper and often lack appropriate substance. Such short messages have become popular, in part, because there is too much content for us to digest and smaller bits makes us feel as though we are keeping up. I’m a big fan of Twitter and it’s 140 character limit because, among other things, it helps others get to the point and me move on with my day. However, I’ve been publishing content less and less and it’s not because I don’t have things to share.

Why I’m updating less and listening more

Initially, social networks seemed to be a great new way to interact and keep in touch with freinds; however, as more of my “freinds” started using social media, it became clear: 140 characters is just enough to make you look like an ass. I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen it happen to people who are genuinely good folk. As a result I began to error on the side of not sharing information about myself a couple of years ago.

I still consume a lot of great information and believe it’s a great way to use such services. However, I’m most interested in seeing information about web development, the gift card industry, business strategies and events occurring in within communities I’m a member. In other words, I don’t care much for updates of the personal day-to-day living nature. The one exception here is making people laugh. I love following people who are funny and lighthearted.

The disconnect and it’s unintended results

There is a disconnect between those who are listening and those one thinks are listening. It’s a bi-product of our hyper-connected world: we can’t really know everyone who listens to us online. According to Dunbar’s number, our meaningful social network has limits between 100 and 230 people. While I don’t know if Dunbar’s range is correct, I certainly know there is a limit. Furthermore, there are serious limits to the context and tone one can set in just 140 characters. As a result, things can come across in an unintended manner.

Heads up: While I mention 140 characters (Twitter), I’m also referring to other short-form status updates in which one broadcasts a message to their peers, even if it’s just a photo. The point is you are sharing personal information with those outside your natural/meaningful social network.

The evolution of my preferences

First off, complaining, venting or putting others down via a micro-message is a sure way to look like an ass. It’s obvious and barley worth a mention.

Moving on: initially I was interested in hearing positive things about other peoples lives via social networks. While I’m a huge fan of celebrating success, I no longer believe most positive things which happen during one’s personal life should be shared via social media. In short, there is a fine line between bragging and being positive.

For example, if a person acquires a new car, they might take a picture and share it with those who they are connected with online. However, something as simple as sharing a car can lead to the perception you are bragging and can make them look like an ass. For all you know a person within your audience may have just had a car repossessed as the result of unextended unemployment.

Again, we just don’t know what is going on in every person’s life who you are connected to online due to Dunbar’s limit and there are countless examples where sharing positive information can lead to looking like a jerk. On the other hand, long-form mediums allow one to establish context, has a higher barrier to entry and the people reading your message will likely be more thoughtful when digesting the content.

Back to my car example, perhaps the person drove the same car for 9 years and is just recently celebrating a well deserved reward for years of hard work. All of these details and more can be disclosed in a long-form message and help decrease the chances of looking like an ass.

I want to share more

I have a lot to share and the tiny updates just don’t cut it for things which are of a substantial meaning to me. I need a place where I can express thoughts without contraints. I want to set the stage, provide examples, get feedback and be helpful. As such, I’ll be posting content long-from on this website form time to time.

I still publish 140 characters of content

Let me be clear: I’m a big fan of celebrating the the great things in life and the social web. I’m not suggesting people should not share the great things about them. I’ve just changed my tune on sharing it via social networks towards towards one of being less frequent, less selfish, more professional, more purposeful and more thoughtful.

A lot of this reminds me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Because I still feel there is value in connecting with others. I plan to use my status updates to do the following:

  • Make someone laugh
  • Get the word out about causes that matter to me
  • Share inspiring ideas
  • Share products and services I value
  • Acknowledge those who help me

Here are some of the things you’re unlikely to see me sharing:

  • My newly obtained material goods
  • My vacation or time I’m having fun with freinds
  • How I’m loving my life at an event
  • Unfortunate events in my life
  • My rants*

*My rants will be reserved for this website where I can establish more context, share my thought process and minimize the chances of looking like an ass. ;)

More thoughts

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