We live in an interconnected world. When I look at the web sites I frequent there is an increasingly tight web of connections between them. Twitter, Plaxo, iGoogle , FriendFeed, BrightKite, this blog. None of these services survives in isolation. They all benefit from the flow and we as consumers of these services benefit in turn.
When people first turn to Twitter they often wonder what all the fuss is about. And when you look at an empty timeline where you have no followers then yes, Twitter looks pointless. However, when you have 50 or more people that you follow, particularly that group of people I have called "the conversationalists" then Twitter becomes a captivating tool. The glimpses of conversations can lead you to serendipitous discoveries of things you might never have thought to search for.
The distractions that arise from the flow at first blush appear to be a drain on our focus and hence our productivity. It is this line of argument got my attention in a commentary by Stowe Boyd on his /Message blog about Christine Rosen joining "the War On Flow." Christine's argument is that Multitasking is overrated. We are more effective when we tackle one thing at a time. Unfortunately the modern day world does not work that way. Have you watched the news lately? How many pieces of disconnected information are visible on screen at any one time? I don't watch much TV, but on CNN, Fox or MSNBC you can bet there is more than one topic on screen.
I have to agree with Stowe. It is not about trying to do as many things as possible at the same time. It is about being connected to the flow of information and leveraging continuous partial attention.
These days we rarely have the luxury of producing output in total isolation. At work we typically combine in to teams. In this situation Multi-tasking is not about individual productivity it is about team productivity. I lose count of the times in a day where an email received on my phone can be responded to in a sentence or less and the result of that sentence is to remove a roadblock for a team I am working with.
In the wider sphere of the Internet I continually marvel at our ability to search for and find information. We all benefit through the contributions of others. It really is a case of "standing on the shoulders of giants." If I am tackling a programming challenge I know I can go out on to the Internet and find a prior example of code that is tackling something similar to the challenge in front of me. The contributions of others can save hours, days or weeks of effort. When you have benefited from this combined wisdom you should want to add your own wisdom back to the community.
A perfect example was this week. While working with the new Firefox 3 I found that Google Maps would no longer work. A quick search on the web gave me a number of settings to try out. I then realized that I had the new Skype plug-in activated. I removed the plug-in and lo and behold it worked. Now, I could have left it there - problem solved. However, I went on line to the Mozilla support forums and posted my discovery. The minute it took to post to the forums might help hundreds of other people save countless minutes of frustration trying to solve the same problem.
Web 1.0 was a one way publishing paradigm. Web 2.0 has given each o us the power to publish. We all gain by joining and contributing to the flow on the web. This thought has led me to a definition of Web 2.0 that is much briefer than Tim O'Reilly's compact definition.