There's this thing I'm calling 'platform dysphasia'.
I know, there's a real dysphasia – where damage to the left side of the brain, responsible for language and communication, impairs speech and writing – and maybe the name isn't right, but it's absolutely real.
For a while, it seemed like each new online platform was going to displace the previous one. IRC to ICQ to MSN, MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, email to something better. But more and more, I find myself having conversations that slip between platforms. Was it voice mail, Twitter DM, email? If only I could find the message.
So many conversations, and each one a subtly different way of presenting yourself. I guess it's a multi-tasking problem.
There's a lot of published literature out there about the “networked self“, for example the way travel writers and backpackers use blogging and Twitter to build and establish profile.
But we're all doing it. If you're part of a hashtag conversation on Twitter or a LinkedIn group – or leaving comments on blogs – the bits we leave behind in this trail of personality across the web are only meaningful in relation to the network of conversations on those platforms. And it's hard to keep track.
I like Meghan Casserley's take on this for Forbes with what she calls “the many faces of me.”
What this means is that while social media has afforded us many things—FarmVille, unflappable knowledge of everyone’s birthdays, countless memes—it’s also given the uncanny ability for a single person to become many different people. All at the same time.
As science writer Mark Changizi wrote in a 2010 post:
Whereas individuals were traditionally members of just one community, and risky ventures such as entrepreneurship, science and the arts could get only one roll of the dice, in the age of Social Web 2.0 people can split themselves into multiple selves inhabiting multiple communities.
I'm not into splitting myself across multiple Twitter accounts. But even though it's less overt, what we do on all these platforms is much the same thing.
It's always useful to think of the extreme case – so think of the difference between your Instagram pics and your LinkedIn profile. They might as well be different people, right?
Now think about your profiles on Flickr, Pinterest or Tumblr, your Twitter, Facebook, your blogs. I've found it really interesting with the growth of platforms like about.me or connect.me that aim to link up your personal network of social platforms. And bringing them together can be jarring.
As we split ourselves into these subtly different personas, there's a fuzziness to thinking about conversations happening on each one.
Think about the rich way you might know someone on Twitter or Facebook and the way that doesn't seem to really inform your face to face relationship or your correspondence on email.
There's something surprisingly fragile about all this. We talk, talk, talk, but where does it all go? Someone's mining all that data, and if not they will be, but for us it's a surprisingly ineffective outboard memory/mind.
Dorie Clark on HBR thinks it's time to cut back on our social platform, but quotes Robert Scoble saying there's:
no alternative to constant, ubiquitous engagement and held up a spare battery he carried for his smartphone, so he'd never run out of juice. No time to respond to tweets? Do it while you're walking down the hallway.
I asked on Twitter if anyone could “help me find research on the costs/benefits/confusion working & having conversations across mult platforms (twitter/fb/text/email/etc)?” I got nothing, but I'd love to read more (especially evidence based research) on the topic.