Are you one of those people who refuses to join Facebook on principle? Who has never listened to a podcast or used an RSS feed? Who thinks YouTube is nothing but a waste of time … even though you’ve only ever glanced at the site?
I keep meeting web workers who, citing personal preference, fatigue, or lack of time, fail to bother with certain new concepts, sites, or services. I’ve met web workers this year who thought Twitter was a waste of time, electronic newsletters were dead and blogging was for teenagers.
There’s probably a little of the nay-sayer in all of us — we all have personal preferences that lead us toward certain aspects of the web. But these choices can limit our ability to participate in the world in which we earn our livings.
I’m a case in point: in my work, I deal with copyright issues every day, and I believe strongly in the concept of copyright. So I’ve never been to a torrent site, and I’ve never downloaded ripped content (besides unwittingly viewing illegally copied images or text on offending websites). I doubt that I really understand the nature or extent of the ripped content that’s available online, or how easily and prolifically it’s shared, replicated and accessed illegally.
That’s not an isolated example. I have a contact in human resources who doesn’t use LinkedIn. I have a friend who works in community-brand building, but hasn’t got a Facebook account. I’ve worked with content producers who don’t know what social bookmarking is.
What Are You Missing?
I’m sure you can think of similarly gob-smacking examples of self-inflicted ignorance. Why do we do it to ourselves? And what’s it doing to us?
The answer to the first question isn’t difficult to find: information overload and time limitations have honed our abilities to swiftly sift and prioritize the information we access, and to focus on that which we believe will help us achieve our goals. In my case, since I’m only looking for access to legal content that doesn’t infringe copyright, I haven’t had a need to access illegal download sites.
While it’s fair to say that if we didn’t prioritize what we see, and focus on what we needed, we’d be doomed to a tedious eternity spent “surfing the ‘net” (remember that?!), the limitations of applying a needs-basis filter to the information and services we investigate are considerable.
By unconsciously relying on our own preferences, morals, or off-the-cuff perceptions to direct the way we interact online, we restrict our knowledge — and our ability to gain more. In the long term, we may also reduce our employment prospects, our ability to work with others, and our potential to move into the fields that interest us.
Everyone has inevitable gaps in their knowledge, and I’m not advocating swamping ourselves in a tsunami of media consumption.
But what if we slightly altered our philosophy toward the way we filter information — one that was conscious of our personal preferences, and actively worked to assess their helpfulness on a case-by-case basis?
I’m not about to start torrenting Hollywood’s entire 2010 output, and perhaps you’re determined never to join a social networking site, or even the thought of using an RSS feed kicks your nervous twitch into overdrive. Maybe there are some preferences or morals that we’re perfectly happy to describe as our “limits.”
That’s fine — as long as we make that choice consciously. But should we let our unconscious preferences restrict our understanding of what’s happening in our chosen fields? Should they stop us from gaining experience or building our expertise?
I don’t think so. I have the feeling that the more I look at my areas of specialization, the more places I’ll find that these preferences have curtailed my understandings and perceptions.