Wide vs. Deep

A few months ago, I finished Nicolas Carr's The Shallows; a novel about how our brains have changed with the emergence of the internet and many new technologies. Essentially, Carr argues that our minds have shifted from being able to concentrate on one topic (go deep into a book / thought / argument) to being able to work across a series of topics but not concentrate on a specific one (wide range of surface-level knowledge). Through a series of examples, Carr makes this point over and over - we are wide thinkers now, not deep ones.

With 2012 now here and the world coming up with thousands of different resolutions, this wide vs. deep thought got me thinking about my own behavior. As a planner who loves digital, I find that I have a continual need to try every service, social network, application and experience that comes across from my Twitter stream, Zite feed, RSS feed or colleague who has found something worth sending a mass email about. In the ongoing rush to 'stay ahead of the game' and never be caught out in a meeting not hearing or using a specific type of technology, I'm always signing up, starting a profile and checking out the latest things. I really enjoy doing this but it takes up a lot of time and, in all honesty, 90% of these services don't really add much to my work life, let alone my own. This exploration takes a lot of time as well, most notably because the justification to try a new service usually comes at the expense of thinking more about a specific topic.

Recent example:

In one of my usual Sunday Starbucks work sessions trying to write a presentation, I take a 5-minute break to check Twitter. An hour and a half later, I have an Empire Avenue account and I'm reading everything Scoble has to say about it. How many times have I used Empire Avenue since? None (although I do get the weekly emails telling me that my 'share' price continues to look like RIM's).

When I look at my own digital life and the specific areas that I want to spend more time on, it is equally as fragmented. There is all the personal stuff (email, Facebook, Google, Calendar, etc) and all the content stuff (blog, Tumblr, book review site, film reviews, etc) and everything just seems - well - shallow. Hence the lack of AdJoke posting during 2011 - while work is busy, my 'digital time' has been fragmented more than ever in 2011 and my deeper level desires have been surprised.

So for 2012 I'm going to focus on a few deep areas vs. start 100 things that never really take off. The list is currently being prioritized but it should be pretty simple - Ads. Books. Films. Nothing to 'announce' as of yet but it's coming. A few new projects. A few things 'killed'. All in all, a priority to get out of the shallow-end in 2012.


Emma said...

I love the thought Ty. I started 2011 with the promise to myself to keep things of quality, not quantity in my life. This mostly referred to my Facebook friends and my Twitter follower numbers (I have a rule to myself that neither goes over 600).

But it takes planning. Every once in a while I have to sit down and spend time going through and pruning. But it's worth it. The quality I see on my Twitter list and newsfeed helps me stay focused and in tune to the relationships that matter to me.

As for signing up for a thousand new services - yes, it could be looked at as a time waster - but your curiosity, and satisfying it (e.g., reading what Scoble thought of EA), sounds to me like entertainment, in a way. You're satisfying a human urge (to learn, and know more, and make a decision for yourself).

That said, I still think 2012 should continue on this path of deep vs. wide (oh, the jokes). Like losing toxic friendships (a resolution for myself this year), it will be painful at first to cut the cord (or in your case, ignore the urge to sign up and find out everything) but satisfying in the long-term.

(Disclaimer: If nothing above made sense, blame the neocitran.)

Tyler Turnbull said...

Thanks for your comments, Emma. The 600 rule for social network management is really interesting. I think for something a bit more personal like Facebook it is a good goal. Even though I'm just over the 600 mark for 'following' on Twitter, I still enjoy the range of sources and find it hard to curate (but probably should).

You're right in that I do get enjoyment out of joining a lot of different services, but that enjoyment - I think - comes with a cost; heavy distractions. I think that I would actually get more enjoyment out of a project that builds over time which is what 2012 is going to be all about!

Thanks, as always for reading!

media buyers said...

It can never be only deep and only wide. The balance is better it ensures the long run survival for a business be sure you deep enough to do it greatly and wide enough to have multiple products.