I can deal with information overload — if I didn’t get to read that special article everyone is sharing then no big deal. But conversation overload is an entirely different thing.
As a journalist I have trouble keeping up with the conversations in my email, yet today I have conversations everywhere and in new places. There’s email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my two blogs, then there are SMS messages, voicemail (which I never check) and the latest is: Google+.
The problem with conversations is that they are more important than not reading that great article… Conversations are with people that I work with, that I meet at conferences and events, potential business partners, friends, family, readers, supporters, and more. I want these conversations because I respect these people.
But I don’t want it to seem that I’m ignoring people or that I’m arrogant in some way, but I have to admit this — I can’t keep up! And I bet many others can’t keep up too.
This is a big problem because some people will try to maintain all their conversations, because they have jobs in professions such as PR where they have to be always on, always responsive, always engaged. Now they have to do this across a fragmented landscape of social networks and messaging platforms.
But trying to keep up is a killer. It will kill people. Especially affected will be the people who don’t realise they can’t keep up with all their conversations but will try to do it anyway.
My attitude has been that I will do as much as I can and be fine with unfinished conversations. If I don’t reply to emails, or comments, or if I lose the thread on conversations, I’m hoping that people will understand and that if it’s important, they will try to engage with me again. I’m hoping that people understand that it’s not personal.
And on the whole that’s worked for me so far. And as more people start to deal with these issues there will be an even greater understanding of the immensity of this problem and each of us will develop their own ways of dealing with the stress of conversation overload.
But not everybody is able to cut themselves a break. Some will hurt themselves and their health will suffer. All because they want to stay in the conversation all because they want to show they are engaged.
And what about brands? They want to engage with you too! Another layer of conversation overload… But this one is far easier to deal with. Brands are spam, easy to ignore. People are not — and that’s the problem.
Tom Foremski is a former Financial Times journalist and the Founder and Publisher of Silicon Valley Watcher, which is an online news site reporting on the business of Silicon Valley and the culture of disruption. More