Signal vs Noise (or Is Technology Destroying Humanity?)

Everything you’ve been force-fed about blogging ruffled a few feathers. That wasn’t the intention and, for the most part, I got a lot of positive e-mails/tweets/comments.

It got me thinking about how I decide to do what I do. Specifically, how I use technology in regards to this site and how technology has given us the ability to act in ways we would never act face-to-face.

For example, why don’t I tweet Instagrams? Because they are (usually) lame and (usually) nothing more than ego strokes. Do you text/call your IRL (in real life) friends every time you take a photo or go to the gym or a restaurant? Think about it. Why do we feel the need to announce to the world where we are or what we’re doing on a regular basis? (This goes for Foursquare, and other check-in apps as much as Instagram and its ilk.) It’s because we want people to know we’re doing stuff. Ego driven. We want people to be a little envious of what we’re up to. Ego driven. Or we want people to know that we don’t just sit at home on the computer all day. Ego driven.

I’m not saying these things don’t have their uses sometimes. They do. If you’re walking across America, for example, it might make sense to check in so anybody who wants to follow along can do that.

What it boils down to is signal versus noise. If what you’re doing is noise to the majority of the people who have opted in to follow you then are you acting in a way that’s aligned with how you want to live your life? You obviously can’t please all the people, but if you’re reaching your right people you should be more signal than noise to them. Isn’t that common sense?

Back to a part of the “everything you’ve been force-fed” article that ruffled feathers: Why don’t I tweet my articles multiple times per day? Because it’s noise. I don’t like when other people do it, so why would I? Yes, I know I’ll get more visitors to my site if I do it. So what? Once, and sometimes twice (if it’s relevant), is enough. If the message is worth spreading it will spread. I’m not going to force it down your throat hoping it’ll change things.

Why don’t I send blanket “good morning” or “good night” or “how can I help you today?” tweets every day? Again, it’s noise. And it’s incredibly insincere. Fun test: Next time you see a “how can I help you?” message flung out to the world make a request of that person and see what happens. Maybe I’m being incredibly cynical and these questions are sincere. As for me? While I do care about you, I’ll ask how you’re doing one-on-one instead of asking you and the thousands of people following me on twitter in a very disingenuous manner.

Moving along …

Consider popups, which many of your favorite bloggers use. Why don’t I have a popup on this site? Because I don’t like popups on other people’s sites. (I have a hard time believing anybody does.) It’s very rare that I’m actually finished reading an article before a popup distracts me. If it pops up after I’m done reading then it bothers me a lot less, but I can’t think of a single person who does this right. Yes, I know I’m throwing away a good 30% of my income by not having a popup. I don’t care. Life is not business. Business is not life.

If You Don’t Like Something …

Don’t do it. It feels very odd writing that because everybody knows this simple rule of life. Why does technology make people forget?

If you love popups then, by all means, put a popup on your site.

If you love seeing people’s instagrams then post, post, post.

If you love seeing the same article tweeted out over and over from its author, then do that with your articles.

If you like noise, create noise.

If you value signal, then broadcast signal.

You are the barometer.

Do what you like. But don’t do something just because “everybody else is doing it.” There’s that odd everybody-already-knows-this-but-not-everybody-practices-it feeling again.

What’s your take?

{ 48 comments }

Adam

I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, but reading this feels like finally someone has given me permission to ignore all the noise. I know that sounds stupid, but it felt great to read this post because it confirmed that at least one other person in the world doesn’t like all the “noise” that comes in social media streams, and that it’s OK to not like it. I’m glad you wrote this and I’m glad I read it.
I really like the concept of Twitter, but I hate when my few minutes spent there feel like prospecting for gold in a river of muck. I haven’t used Facebook actively once I had more that 10 friends because of all the game invites. (That’s what you get for friending all of your old high school mates, I guess.) I love involvement and connection, but don’t love learning where you’re eating lunch or your new high score on an online game.
Thanks, Karol, for speaking your mind and calling a spade a spade. This is why I’ll always be a freedom fighter!

Karol

Thanks for getting even more out of this than I intended Adam. :)

It doesn’t sound stupid at all to feel like you’ve been given permission. I get that feeling when I read or hear certain things sometimes as well. Sometimes something just “clicks.”

Meg

Adam, you said it all for me! Love this: “prospecting for gold in a river of muck.” That is exactly what it feels like. I culled my follow list and have hidden 90% of my Facebook “friends” for the very reasons you described.

mark e

Oh, I hate pop-ups!

Benny

It’s like when people announce their going to bed on Twitter. Or someone once said what they’re leaving to go do. Did we really need to know that?

As for popups, I can’t stand them. I don’t like the ones that pop up one second after I’ve gotten to their site. I click away immediately. I don’t remember the last time I signed up for their free product with a pop up.

Karol

I think the lesson is to be mindful as opposed to using twitter and other services as a stream-of-consciousness outlet. Nobody’s perfect, of course, but if we take a second or two to think about what we’re doing it helps a lot.

Elle Dougherty

I’m guilty of tweeting too much sometimes & I kinda hate myself afterwards! Thanks for the reminder to STOP. Now if only my life wasn’t just so dang interesting…haha ;)

Karol

haha, no reason to kinda hate yourself! But the fact that you are having feelings about tweeting too much says something.

Brigitte

Karol – Thanks for writing this post, and the one that initially riled everyone up.

I personally enjoy seeing instagram images, so I occasionally post them myself. I can’t stand pop-ups or “good morning” tweets, so I don’t do them.

Sure, there’s a certain level of savvy required to rise in the blogging ranks. But what kind of success are you courting if you start doing things that feel icky?

In short – co-signed!

Karol

You’re welcome Brigitte.

I like the way Instagram looks. I use Retro Cam (Android), which is similar, and I love the way the images come out. They make me feel like I actually know how to take a nice photo. But I don’t think anybody wants to see a photo of my plate of broccoli or my Mom’s cat. If that’s somebody’s interest they can follow Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/karolgajda) where it’s far away from the majority who don’t care. :)

Brigitte

I just went through my (15) posted instagram photos. There’s maybe one I would choose to post to Twitter again.

Thinking about appropriate venues, I know you can follow people on instagram without having your images posted to Twitter. Think I’ll go change that setting now. With all the integration options, it can be easy to start using tools for jobs they’re not meant to do.

Zane

Interesting way of phrasing it. As a mobile app developer who occasionally takes clients, I am always looking at in from the other angle. My clients always want to integrate Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other buzz words they’ve heard in the latest tech mags… but I always have to ask: why? So often they want to go social but do not appreciate or consider what social is adding to the app. They want users to do the leg work of spreading the app but give the users no incentive to do so… it is just a “press to share!” button.

Karol

Thanks for joining in on the discussion Zane. The reason they ask for a press to share button is because it works, and I don’t necessarily think it’s noise. Although very true it probably works a lot better if there’s an incentive or a good reason why. I appreciate when somebody shares a useful app or web site or article or sale or whatever on twitter. That’s part of the point of using the service in the first place … for me anyway.

Jennifer

I find the idea of Instagrams/Foursquare/etc. rather interesting. Since most people have mobile phones, it’s relatively easy to reach people where ever they are. I find that more than acceptable; in fact my boyfriend doesn’t own a cell phone and I manage to keep in contact with him with great regularity. But now we have this marvelous thing that lets us broadcast where we happen to be. I can only imagine how boring that could get (okay at least for me)… why do we feel a need to be so reachable that we lose a fair bit of privacy?

Karol

Maybe privacy is a thing of the past? I don’t mind that so much or else I wouldn’t be doing what I do. :)

Gayle Thompson

“I’m still weighing my options for roller coaster tour because a lot of people have expressed interest in meeting up with me at parks. That said, I also know a lot of people don’t care.”

If we have signed up for the roller coaster tour blog then we care! Maybe just a quick daily post while you are on the road??? Excited for your adventure and thanks for the link to Nate walking across America. Something I would really like to do with my dog before we both get way too old!! LOL. Have a good day.

Karol

Thanks Gayle. Yes, the rollercoastertour.com blog will be updated for every park. That’s different. What I’m wondering is if I should tweet about which park I’m at and where to meet up every day.

Gayle Thompson

Hey Karol –

Gotcha – Yeah, I tried to get “into” the whole twitter thing but, just like you said, too much noise for me. So, I wouldn’t check it anyway. Facebook and email is plenty plus I don’t have a phone where I can check my email or Facebook and I don’t want one. It is like when you talked about setting yourself up to avoid temptation. I don’t drive by the donut store on the way home from taking the dogs for a walk! And, I might as just not have the mobile device so I have to make a concerted effort to check email or Facebook rather than just have it come to a mobile device. I know myself well enough to understand that I would never get anything done.

Karol

After 6 years of owning a RAZR phone that didn’t do much more than text and call I upgraded to an Android device (Nexus One that I bought used) last week. One of the things that kept me from getting a smart phone before was I see how everybody gets so sucked in. I expect mine to replace my ipod and still camera as soon as I get settled with it and figure it all out. The benefits finally outweighed the downsides. The data plan will also help while I’m traveling around the US for the next 3 months.

Joseph Rice

karol,

i think you’re getting it right here, and in the previous post. one of the things i haven’t aligned myself with is the idea that we’re “evolving” as we take up the new social media. there are obviously some advantages to twitter and facebook, but a lot of potential for abuse, as well. i follow only a small number of people on twitter (compared to most people), and use facebook mainly as a way to get updates from my favorite blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. sometimes, a friend will have something witty to say, but a lot of the personal status updates are just bs that i don’t care about.

i think the key to using social media is to zero in on those interests that really move you and get you thinking. those are the things that make it worthwhile to check out twitter streams or facebook updates. sifting through all of these other things is, like you say, noise, and i think most of us don’t need any more noise in our life.

with respect to the roller coaster tour, if people want to meet up with you, they’ll know when you’re in their area. i’ve already got you penciled in for your visit to six flags over georgia. maybe a post every 2-3 days would be good, but i don’t think it’s necessary to check in every day. we’ll find you. :-)

joseph

Karol

I know people forget or don’t pay attention as far as the coaster tour. :) In any case, we’ll see what happens. The rollercoastertour.com site will have updates after every park. Although, depending on how much time I have to edit videos, I might have to group some posts about parks together on the same day.

“the key to using social media is to zero in on those interests that really move you and get you thinking.” Good point. I guess this is why people use lists or apps to use twitter … there’s so much noise (i.e. they’re following too many people) that they have to filter it down to what actually interests them. I feel like if you have to filter then there’s something inherently wrong with the situation.

Elana Miller

I just joined twitter a week or so ago (I know… have I been living under a rock?!) and it’s interesting to see how people use it really differently – some primarily as a personal outlet, others as a business one. I feel like I need to hire someone to teach me how to use it. Regardless there is A LOT of noise, but what is noise for one person may be signal for other. Maybe a person likes hearing about what their favorite celebrity ate for lunch seeing random instagrams from their day. I actually don’t mind hearing some of the more personal stuff from the people I admire (like you Karol!). It’s one of those things that different people are going to have different preferences on.

Karol

hehe, you don’t need anyone to teach you twitter … just do what feels right. Don’t let the technology or the masses influence your decisions … not too much anyway. ;)

Ellen

Hi Karol,

It seems that noise is all around but at least through it I find something with meaning, like your post and an. article I just read, “Is a Well-Lived Life Worth Anything,” (http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2011/05/is_a_well_lived_live_worth_anything.html) and it carries your ideas even further to how all this noise carries the message of “more” not “better” and makes us less interested in humanity and more interested in only ourselves, making us shallow.

All that noise in my twitter stream and my email does make me more shallow, I turn off a part of me when I read by stream, looking for something of value and more and more finding noise, repetitive messages, trying to get me to do something. I actually appreciate the occasional InstaGram (not all the time, please) photo by a favorite person I follow and the twitter post that pointed me to the article noted above. Nothing is being asked of me except maybe clicking on the link to see the photo or to read an article that makes me think or feel something other than having to have more.

So, I am glad today that through the noise I saw a few things today that made me think and react – or in the case here, have an interaction in more than 140 shallow characters.

Thank you.

Karol

I’m not saying it’s all noise, but there definitely is more than it should be. :) I love twitter and have met lots of cool people and found lots of cool things through it. It just seems that certain aspects of it are getting out of hand.

Jeffrey Mitchell

Karol,

Great encore post to you post about blogging. I totally agree that if you do not like doing something, don’t do it. I believe you were the first person to write about not using photos on your blog. That simple concept has relieved me of a lot of stress; no longer do I spend the time trying to get photos, worrying about permission to use them, and worrying about uploading them when they are not the right size or format for whatever blog tool I am using. All those problems went out the window and my traffic remains roughly the same.

Karol

All credit for no photos goes to Leo Babauta from http://zenhabits.net. He showed me the light. :) Glad it helped you as well!

Rosa

Right on Karol!
I fail to understand why people do things they themselves don’t like.

I vote yes to the Roller Coaster Tour updates :)

Karol

Thanks Rosa. Updates will definitely be on the coaster blog, but not sure if I’ll annoy twitter with it yet. :)

Salvatore Greco

Funny this published today… This morning I was on the beach watching the shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral… Then I realized… “Should I be taking a picture of this for facebook etc…”

Once I realized that I had the thought, I decided HELL NO!!!! Not everything has to be documented. Some can stay as a blissful memory.

Surfs up,

Karol

“Not everything has to be documented. Some can stay as a blissful memory.” – Love it!

Jackie

Ahh, you’re a man after my own heart!

I think most of us start out with the “monkey see, monkey do” philosophy…it’s how we learn.

The challenge then lies in adopting & amending what works for you, and fits with your ethos. The rest is just trash.

Here’s to following your heart, and cutting your own trail.

Karol

“I think most of us start out with the “monkey see, monkey do” philosophy…it’s how we learn.” – Yes, very true.

A lot of this is so new … things are a bit chaotic.

Jackie

Good thing about chaos, it shows you lots of contrast, and contrast inevitably brings clarity.

Galen Pearl

Your post reminded me of something I wrote recently about speaking wisely. We can ask ourselves, “Is what I’m about to say (post, tweet, email, etc.) an improvement on silence?” If we paused to reflect on this, we could cut out a lot of noise!

Karol

That’s a good test. I feel like most of what I say doesn’t improve on silence though. haha

Jeanie

I’ve reached a point where I’m struggling with the “value” of technology vs. tangible services/goods.

I know that I made ridiculously radical changes in my life due to the influence of a few (you’re one of them ;)) but I also know that most people need a much…gentler slope of change.

Touch, in person, higher “bandwidth” connection seems to motivate people much, much more than scattered words via a backlit screen…but those words have the potential to reach more people.

Calculating my own “signal vs. noise” factor has been a major reason I’ve basically gone dark, except for keeping up with friends and family.

I think, also, that weeding through our own demons about the importance of ourselves is essential in reaching people. It’s all a balance, right?

Karol

“I think, also, that weeding through our own demons about the importance of ourselves is essential in reaching people.” – Interesting point.

I agree that in person connections are usually better … but they’re also not always possible. I’ve spoken with a bunch of people online who have inspired me to no end and I still haven’t met many of them. :)

Howie

Love this post.

I bash on Facebook’s Business Model all the time over this same theme. As well as pick on Marketers that all rush into a space and drown each other out. We all hate clutter. Email is the same. How many email communications have you signed up for that eventually you just delete enmass?

Technology first aids then it pollutes. Not sure why. But as facebook forces more and more in people’s feeds, less and less get’s seen. Same with acquiring twitter connections. When is it too much.

Oh and thanks for Tweeting on 4SQ you are at starbucks. Unless you are taking orders, paying with your money and delivering to me…please refrain from doing this!

Beatz

Great article.

I heard Someone on the interweb say “I did it just because”. That’s another
Thing I feel has been lost. We have to justify every damn thing
In our life now with over used words like “passion” or meaning. My new
Shit is “fuck it! I wanna do it just because”. I think all of this tech
And “awakening” is pretty awesome, but let’s just have some fun
And fuck around. Hell, isn’t that what we’re here to do.

Chris Rg

Thanks for this Karol,
its always great to know whats new and whats going on around the world of blogging, I’m keep a check now on your new posts and will be back soon, thanks again xxx

pea

I love it – ‘ how can I help you today?’ – I have just seen a few of those – gave me a chuckle.

Esther van der Wal

I’m with you. Good reminder to produce more signal and less noise. I hate it when people only tweet what they’ll have for dinner or what time they go to bed. I mean, every once in a while is fine, but not every single day!

I have, however, tweeted a “how can I help you today?” or two, because I meant it. If I feel like helping you out, I’ll ask and sincerely try to help you out if there’s something I can do. If I don’t feel like it, then I won’t drop the question. It’s'about intentions and acting how you appreciate others act.

Karol

“It’s about intentions and acting how you appreciate others act.” Exactly. Thanks Esther!

Brandon

I realized I had been sucked into BEING a noise-maker on Twitter. There is a draw to produce for your followers which is both ego-driven and a result of (perceived) social pressure. Noticing this in myself, I stopped tweeting about unimportant crap. I dropped to only tweeting 2 or 3 times a day; and even that was sometimes a response to my own perceived pressure to be “present” in some way.

And then I realized most of my stream was just noise. I’ve met a handful of great people on Twitter, but the noise wasn’t worth the cost. I cancelled Cable TV because I realized that paying $120/mo for 300 channels of noise wasn’t worth the cost.

The cost of Twitter is mental – constant interruption (both real and self-imposed) and distraction, constant social pressure to be “present” and “produce.” Just like Cable TV, I terminated my Twitter account. The noise wasn’t worth the cost.

Karol

Hey Brandon, we all get sucked into being noise-makers sometimes. What’s important is to simply be mindful of that when it happens. Congrats on cutting off the noise in your life!

Markus

Amen to the popups thing. I’ve always hated them and I don’t care that my “conversion” isn’t as high as it could be. I love this: “Life is not business. Business is not life.”

Karol

I’m thinking about making my whole site a popup. A blank website with all the content in a popup. Just kidding. ;)

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