Stowe Boyd Lays Down the Law

Stowe Boyd responded to a typical re-hash of the “connectedness = overload = falling productivity” argument against social media, but to be honest, the argument (yawn) wasn’t nearly as interesting as Stowe’s response. It’s a lovely visionary rant about a future most people can’t even imagine, from a guy who sounds like he’s been there. This is what he calls Boyd’s Law:

Connected people will naturally gravitate toward an ethic where they will trade personal productivity for connectedness: they will interrupt their own work to help a contact make progress. Ultimately, in a bottom-up fashion, this leads to the network as a whole making more progress than if each individual tries to optimize personal productivity.

At the the risk of sounding like some sort of Boyd fanboi, this is the stuff that flashed my ass off last year at Reboot.

The willingness to swap personal productivity for connection is just that: it is an ethical choice that asserts that the bonds of connection, today and over time, are more important — not just abstractly, but in the most concrete way — than making headway on this piece of work, right now.

As someone who’s got more friends who’ve never heard of Twitter than have, it all sounds pretty damned far out to part of me. But there’s also a part that has begun feeling incomplete without an hourly dip into the stream of contact that today’s net makes possible, and that part can see Stowe’s future from here, and is eager for everyone else to get on with it and get connected.

I have said for years that the centroids — media, religion, government, and corporations — would war against connectedness and the flow consciousness that is needed to operate in the new social Web. It is inherently subversive, because at its core flow is about remaining connected to those that matter to you over the more formal and official relationships that individuals are supposed to have with organizations.

I’d agree, but so far in my experience the biggest hindrance to a more connected world are the people themselves, and not the media, church or whatever. For example, I’ve been evangelising Twitter quite a bit lately, and the first reaction of most people is a pitying look–“Matt, my soft-brained friend… I hope he’s not dangerous…” Of the very few who actually give it a try (possibly only to pacify me), almost all come back to me after a day and say, “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” When I try and show them, and see that they’re only following one person–me–I try and explain it’s about connectedness or as Leisa Reichelt calls it ambient intimacy, and that you can’t be very connected with only one contact, and, and… and then I often run out of steam and mumble something like, “you’ll get it if you do it long enough…”

The reason I know Stowe’s onto something, no matter how far-fetched and techno-hippie it sounds, is I’ve seen this kind of transformation happen. Firstly to myself (I didn’t get it to begin with either), and occasionally to someone I’ve browbeaten into trying Twitter for more than a day. The transformative power of social media is made clear by the aversion most feel to it at first–it’s foreign, unimaginable, and therefore threatening–and the “I get it!” moment most experience at some point after giving it a try. If it was just another fad, just something to play with and forget, everybody would try it without resistance and nobody would care longer than a couple of weeks. But for most, it’s becoming an essential part of everyday communication, and it’s changed who they are. And who we’re becoming is more connected, more aware and faster thinking people, through the influence and support of our networks. And that’s such an optimistic vision–such a rare optimistic vision of the future–that I can’t help but grin to be a part of it, and can’t help but thank Stowe for pointing it out to me.