I remember an experience I had shortly after I first moved to Fiji. The landlord of the house I moved into arranged for a group of workers to come and fix a leaking roof. They arrived just a bit behind schedule (about two and a half days) and proceeded to set up their equipment and work area. That took another few hours. When they appeared to be “all ready”, they sat down for morning tea. Two of them stretched out on mats and fell asleep. I didn’t understand very much at all at that point.
Fast forward four years and I now know that more often than not, the phrase “I’ll come by on Monday” can accurately be translated into “IF I’m not too tired on Monday, I’ll think about coming by on Thursday but not if the following Friday or Monday are holidays in which case it will probably be some other time.” That’s cool. I understand now.
The last Digital Talanoa referred to the emergence of Web 2.0 and how many of these new communication technologies are entering our lives in various ways. It can easily be argued that some of these “advances” are a pretty significant drain on our productivity. I’d like to introduce one more that has the potential to make the concept of “Fiji-time” feel like a cheetah after four cups of coffee.
Before I do that, however, lets go back to my “roof worker” story because there’s more to tell. A week and a half into the 5-hour job, the foreman came to see the progress. I was sure he was going to let some heads roll and I even prepared a mop in case blood actually flowed. When he arrived, I stepped away so as not to be forced to witness the carnage that would certainly be taking place. After an hour or so, I could hear the workmen back on the roof. The foreman, having done his job of punishing the troops, was snoring loudly on the verandah. He was even using my son’s purple inflatable toy frog as a pillow. I’ll forever kick myself for not taking a photograph of this scene.
One of the most popular, recent additions to the Web 2.0 world has been the emergence of a web application called Twitter (https://twitter.com). Twitter is built around a world-wide answer to the question “What are you doing?” In fact, at face value, it is nothing more than an answer to that very question. When you sign up for a free Twitter account, you’re given the ability to let friends, family, co-workers, bosses, enemies, neighbors or anyone know what it is you’re doing or thinking at that particular time. Twitterers (people that use Twitter) submit updated short messages (called “tweets”) through the Twitter.com website, via mobile phone, via Instant Messenger software or pretty much via any method other then the traditional post office. These tweets are then passed along to the people that have identified you as a friend. Those followers can opt to receive tweets via their mobiles, instant messenger or web browser. All this happens in real time. As you Twitter, they receive.
I’ll be honest and write that the first time I saw this, I felt it was the most useless website application I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t fathom who would be interested in using something like it. When I signed up for my own account, however, and joined a few friends, I found it to be an extremely interesting way of staying in touch with people I know. Yes, there was certainly some dribble and lame commentary but also some greatness. I expanded out my list of friends to include a political comedian named Stephen Colbert in the US who uses the service. He twitters such gems as “The pen is mightier than the sword, if you shoot that pen out of a gun.”
In a recent New York Times interview, the founder of the company which developed Twitter described the service as “a highly flexible messaging system that swiftly routes messages, composed on a variety of devices, to the people that have elected to receive them in the medium the recipients prefer.“
In typical Web 2.0 fashion, the entire Twitter messaging platform can easily be extended into other uses and new applications. There are a number of excellent Twitter extensions out there but my favourite is Twittervision (twittervision.com), a mash-up (or combination) between Twitter and Google Maps that visually tracks Twitter activity in real time. In other words, you’re able to see tweets as they happen, superimposed on a map of the world. It’s a very cool thing to watch.
Perhaps the best way to understand Twitter is to get your own account. I’m hoping the foreman from my house years ago gets one. I’ll even compose his first twitter: “At a customer’s house now to check on a project. Just about to take a nap.” All the foreman’s friends would then receive that message on their own mobiles and know what to do next.
For those reading this wondering if there’s any connection between Twitter and the roof worker story, I’m sorry to say there isn’t. I set out to write this column about productivity and how I was able to maintain my own productiveness even as I’m surrounded by interesting things. Unfortunately, I kept getting sidetracked by the twittering of my friends.