Learning strategy: follow disgruntle

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
— P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

When it comes to Twitter (and I still don’t come to Twitter that often), I’m finding, if not nuggets, at least flakes of gold.   A little while ago, Harold Jarche sent this quotation: “”Information overload does not exist. Failing information strategies do exist. ”

Twitter: the liquid versionHarold included this link to an interview with Ton Zijlstra, who describes himself as “a networked individual in a networked world.”

So, the disgruntled part first: on reading that quotation, and bits of the interview, my first thought was, “Yeah, yeah, hyperlinked, overcaffeinated.” Especially when I read, “My networking activities are a continuous thing, never really switching off.”

Let me tell you: I switch off.

But that’s not the real point.   It’s easy to stay inside a comfort zone.   Democrats tend not to read columns written by Republicans (except maybe to yell at them); people with school-age children find their lives centering on kids, school, sports.

So lately, when I feel far from gruntled, I’ve been trying to step back (or, if I’m getting paid, metacogitate) and explore why I feel that way.   I’ve learned (more than once) that feelings are indicators of internal states, not external realities.

Zijlstra says in the interview,

My strategy to avoid overload is to embrace social media entirely. I do not watch television, don’t read any newspapers or magazines anymore, nor do I read books related to my profession; I hear it all through my networks. The authors are in my network, and I usually hear things much quicker and more nuanced. I trust my networks to give me the feedback to detect those patterns.

Well, I see newspapers, and the magazines that come here, as one more channel — more concentrated in some ways, not really a network.   I don’t yet have all that much confidence that my networks include all the authors or authorities I need.

But — Zijlstra is making sense.   First, he’s not telling me to be like him; he’s just sharing how he works.   I took the implicit invitation and visited his blog, Interdependent Thoughts. And from there he took me to this presentation.

Polit Camp Graz

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: politcamp graz)

Slide 27 in that set is “The Tools I Use.” I like how he presents them:

  • Jaiku, what I do
  • Twitter, what I say I do
  • Plazes, where I am
  • Dopplr, where I will be
  • Blogs, what I think
  • …and so on.

The half-dozen or so slides after that are worth reading — an explanation of why he thinks as he thinks. One highlight (my rework of slide 36):

  • More connections –> Active personal role
  • More speed –> Other information skills
  • More information –> Different tools and work forms

I’m still skeptical about multitasking — evolution doesn’t happen in one generation, or in five — but Zijlstra helps convince me that we can get better at task management and task switching. I know that I need to do both: control the flow (the way you’d turn off the TV or click away from breaking news) and develop the cognitive muscle to switch flexibly when I need to.

So, disgruntlement — a frown, a roll of the eyes when coming across an idea I’m quick to pass unfavorable judgment on — is becoming for me a cue to explore further. There are limits — I have no interest at all in hearing why the earth is only 6,000 years old, I lack both skill and interest for fantasy sports teams. When it comes to work and learning, though, I’m prodding myself to work at learning.

Gold-panning photo by anglerp1.

7 thoughts on “Learning strategy: follow disgruntle

  1. I’m still feeling my way around Twitter. I am starting to use it to post, “seen in passing” items of interest. It’s one of the things I want to see from others in my Twitter network. I’m glad that you too found it interesting.

  2. Harold, that may be one of the discoveries each person has to make for himself: what you do in Twitter (and what you get out of it) is something you yourself create.

    I signed up in May, I think, and I follow maybe 18 people. I don’t think that’s the right number, or maybe it’s the wrong mix for me. But your approach strikes me as a good one: put into the system what you hope to get out.

    And, yes, the Zijlstra stuff was a good thing for me to come across. In calling the post “Follow disgruntle,” I was thinking of the Watergate mantra, “Follow the money.” The disgruntlement is an indicator: my concepts are being questioned (inside my head).

  3. Hi Dave, thanks for this blogposting.

    “Yeah, yeah, hyperlinked, overcaffeinated.� :) Actually I hardly drink coffee. Maybe 1 a day. Hyperlinked, yes that is most likely true.

    As to switching off. Well, I say I don’t switch off, but in fact I do, just in a different way most people associate with switching off. I ignore tools when it fits me (e-mail, IM, letting the phone ring), and I never get worried when my feedreader says I have 3200 unread items today. I simply hit ‘mark all read’ and move on. If there was something important in it, it will be talked about tomorrow as well and I will find it in my feedreader then. So ‘not switching off’ doesn’t mean I never switch off tools I use, or that I never ignore them (ignoring I do more often I’d say. My phone e.g. is always on vibrate only. If I feel it I probably have time to answer it, if I don’t there is voicemail).

    It also doesn’t mean I don’t need undisturbed time to focus on a single task. I do. In fact staying anchored and focussed in the midst of all the available distraction is an information skill of growing importance (and in the list of information literacy skills George Siemens quotes in his connectivism as well and that I use a lot as well)
    So I create some silence in the midst of the information storm routinely to get things done.

    What I never switch off is my ‘networking’, i.e. disconnecting from all of my social contacts. Because they are the ones that make up my information filter, the ones that allow me to make sense of my world. But that can take both face to face form as well as on-line. Because both the distinction between work and life, as well as online and off-line has become virtually meaningless to me. To a large extent I think that is caused by being self-employed in an area I am very passionate about, and my wife sharing that passion and being self employed as well. All the people in my social environment, whether online or not, are my extended ears and eyes in the world. I may temporarily not be in touch with layers at a larger ‘social distance’. When I have limited time I spend it connecting to those closest to me. But I am a social animal, and I don’t think there are moments I am not connected to ‘someone’.

    As to multitasking. I think it is a much misused word. I don’t think it exists (even driving and talking interfere although we routinely do them simultaneously). The higher speed of change around me, the higher number of connections to support do mean I need to switch contexts a lot more and a lot faster. Five years ago I would have been able to handle two or three clients at a time. Now the list is usually 8 to 10 at the same time. Clients who all expect me to be in their ‘context’ whenever they contact me.

    But that switching behaviour is something you see kids do all the time (in their play, in their media use), and is nothing new. Even before we had a remote for our tv set as a kid I would be watching 5 channels at a time, simply by rotating through them with the buttons on the tv. It is something I think we unlearn in our lineair education system. And need to relearn once we hit the work place.

  4. Ton, thanks so much for your comments (and your earlier email).

    Like many people, I’d often prefer face-to-face if I could get it. But I can’t — and, as you point out, for years I’ve been connecting remotely. That’s networking beyond the range of where I can walk.

    There’s a complexity or a richness below the surface layer of this networking, and I think it’s hard for someone to understand who hasn’t experienced it.

    As an analogy, years ago I was part of a user’s group for some mainframe computer-based-training software. We came from different industries and had different skills to teach through CBT, but we shared both the software and the concept of training effectively without being physically present. I met these people only two or three times, but virtual contact helped build strong, valuable relationships.

    And switching our attention from one arena to another — really, it’s a skill that the best classroom instructors have, isn’t it? They shift from Socratic mode to explanatory mode to coach to observer… and not willy-nilly, but both as planned possible activity and as swift responses to the unfolding situation.

    I’ll look forward to hearing more from you.

  5. I’d often prefer face-to-face if I could get it. But I can’t — ….

    Indeed I treat face to face time (and attention) as a scarce resource.

    So when I do meet face to face with someone, I use social tools to be prepared (what have we both written about, what is currently on her mind judging by different online channels?). So that I can be in the here and now during the actual meet-up (sometimes referring to online material on the laptop as conversational object). And I use social tools for follow up (I call it come prepared, leave prepared), to connect in additional ways, to set agreed upon actions in motion etc.

    As you say there lots of situations where meeting face to face isn’t possible. The tools help me to extend my network reach. Those connections can be very deep as well, and get reinforced by sparse actual meetings. Also over the years I have spend a lot of time and money to go meet those online contacts.

    And even if exhcanges are only superficial, like Twitter messages, they can feel intimate. Because in Twitter you get to share the stuff that would normally only be visible to people near you. That I am having my morning coffee, that the train is late. We subconsciously regard that as intimate knowledge about eachother, because it used to be only sharable with those in the immediate vicinity.

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