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Twitter, Gnomedex and holding an attention span August 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, random thoughts.

Several of my good friends, including Tanya, Tris, Airdrie and Derek, and DaveO just to mention a few, are at Gnomedex in Seattle and by the looks of it (just check Derek’s Flickr Gnomedex 8.0 set), having an absolutely great time. They have been attending talks and Twittering about it. While I did miss going to Gnomedex (Airdrie had already suggested earlier this year to try and make the time for it), I feel like I’m there thanks to all these fine individuals.

Now, while I read their tweets, I ponder how the speakers may feel about all this Twittering. Let me explain. When I started teaching using Blackboard and WebCT (both online collaborative tools), I felt slightly uneasy about having my students with their laptops open and on the internet. Why? Because I felt that there was a possibility that they would not be paying attention to my talk. I sometimes feel this way when I give a talk where I have a somewhat techie audience.

Truth be told, I didn’t feel this way when I presented earlier this year at WordCamp Fraser Valley, but somehow there were a lot less laptops there than I imagine are available at Gnomedex. And given the iPhone, you really don’t need a computer to be Twittering.

How do the speakers feel about this? I mean, part of me would be happy, even flattered that people are twittering about them and their thoughts as this means that their insights are being shared to a potentially worldwide audience. But there’s this inherent nagging feeling I have that somehow I’d wonder if they’re paying attention.

Maybe this isn’t as deep or insightful a reflection, but I just wonder if presenters at Gnomedex do care about capturing everybody’s attention or are more interested in getting the message out (thus caring less about whether they are being listened to, and more about whether those listeners are relaying and disseminating what they’re listening to a larger audience. Just thoughts here on a Friday night.

PS. One of the myriad reasons why I really hate not having gone to Gnomedex is not only that I’m not hanging out with my friends but also the fact that I REALLY wanted to meet Chris and Ponzi Pirillo. Every one of my friends say that they are really awesome and a great geek couple and would love to have had a chance to get to know them more. Hope they come up North for BarCamp Vancouver 2008!


1. Stuart Maxwell - August 24, 2008

As a former actor, I totally understand your point about wanting an audience’s complete attention. However, I think there’s a huge value for me as an audience member in being able to use my laptop to get context for the speech that I wouldn’t otherwise have. When I can visit a website, download software, or look up a term instantly in response to something a session leader is saying, that adds value for me. As does following the twitter stream of the other audience members’ real-time thoughts.

I think it’s a richer experience for an audience, but I’ve never had to give a talk in front of that kind of crowd, so I don’t know how I’d feel on the other side.

2. isabella mori - August 24, 2008

i think this is a very interesting question. i remember when i was at northernvoice, half of the time i was struck by that odd feeling of – impoliteness. i think what happens for many people who are sitting there with their laptops – and i’ve done it myself – is that we go all over the place, check email, write a bit on a post, pop into facebook, and, oh, right, also pay SOME attention to the presenter.

which is why, perhaps, we need to move far more into facilitation than presentation.

the media is not only the message but the medium (laptop) is also the message taker.

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