Home > Facebook, mobile computing, social computing, Twitter > Social Computing and Productivity: Resisting Impulse

Social Computing and Productivity: Resisting Impulse

I ‘ve fallen into some bad habits lately: finish one task, check email, check Facebook, check Twitter. Start next task. Does this sound familiar to you? It seems innocent enough–do some work,check in, do more work. But I’ve gradually come to realize that it’s sucking up time. Especially since sometimes the size of Task gets small. If Task is an hour or two of work, this might work. But it gets problematic when Task becomes 10 minutes of work.

Checking Facebook or Twitter is an impulse. It’s there, it’s interesting it’s a quick break since I did indeed just finish Task. But if I look at my day as a whole, all those little check ins add up. No individual quick check in is a problem. It’s all of them together. The same can be said about teens sending text messages. One text message at a time adds up for many teens to 3000 a month. The problem is the sum of the parts. It’s easy for me to raise an eyebrow at the number of texts kids are sending, but my suspicion is that my little between-task check-ins would add up to something equally ridiculous, if I had a taxi meter running on them. I need less impulse and more rationality. In her new book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle details a number of disfunctional patterns emerging in a world pervaded by mobile and social computing. I think a lot of the problems boil down to acting on impulse. Because it’s fun. Because it’s there.

Starting today, I took Facebook and Twitter off of my browser bookmarks bar. I took Tweetdeck out of my MacOS dock. I will check in when I eat my sandwich at my desk at lunch, and at night after the kids are asleep.  So far I’ve been doing this for… three hours. And already I feel more productive, but also more alone. With my social media applications open, I feel like I’m working but also hanging out with a supportive and smart group of colleagues,students, and friends.  There’s definitely something lost by turning it off. But it’s time to try.


  1. pjhiggins
    March 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Well done. I just reviewed a stack of student surveys that asked them to point out what they think the issues are with their lack of inspiration in their writing. Aside from the obvious things that we as teachers can control (interesting topics, interesting ways to allow students to respond to said interesting topics), the main reason they point to as the decline of the quality of their writing is the number of distracting elements around them. Your post puts that in perspective for me as an adult.

    A few months ago, I did much like you and began to limit the amount of time I spend on various social media. I even go as far sometimes as setting a timer that I stick to so as not to go off task. It’s nuts, but I realized that I needed to build up some attention-span stamina. It’s getting better, but your post reminded me to get a bit more draconian, perhaps.

  2. Shelia Cotten
    March 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Amy, your post hit home! I am the same way. I’ve realized lately that it is becoming more of a time sink – a couple of minutes here, a few minutes there, … and it goes on and on. Let me know how you’re doing with this. I hope to try to do better too … of course the way I saw your post was via Facebook : ).

  3. James Landay
    March 5, 2011 at 8:20 am

    You hit the nail on the head!

  4. March 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Spot on. One thing that helped me realize how much this was happening was when I started using RescueTime. I’m not a pitchman for them, have no interest in their success or otherwise, but I do find it very interesting to be able to see exactly where I am spending my time (and I don’t just mean with social media).

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