When a dear friend sailed away from the town he'd called home for decades, he probably assumed his small cadre of Twitter followers was alerted to his bon voyage. Not so. I only learned about his departure hours later when a mutual friend mentioned it in his updates and I followed a link. There I learned I'd missed not only the launch; I hadn't seen a handful of fascinating updates, critical changes, and significant life events posted during hours I'm rarely online.
This fueled my growing fascination with what I call the time-of-day phenomenon (#TODP) happening in the two social networks I frequent most: Twitter and Facebook. Although I assume I keep up with people there, in truth, I'm beginning to see I'm mostly aware of those who are typing during the same blocks of time as me. In techno-jargon, although these tools offer a way communicate asynchronously, I learn the most from the synchronous communication.
The temporal communication flow is skewed to the people I see updating in real-time. Unless I read way back through my stream, I'm not seeing the posts of those who I really want to learn from.
Although I often check in first thing in the morning, I'm usually writing and reading at night on the East Coast, more apt to see the after-supper crowd on the West Coast, early risers in Europe, and others in my part of the world who are also sneaking in work after light’s out for our kiddos.
Does that mean updates I receive have less breaking news and more cerebral end-of-the-day ponderings? Perhaps. Are there more bleary eyed repost and quick replies than original information? Probably. Are there some people, who update frequently during the day, who I haven't seen an update from in months? Definitely.
I rely on direct messages, replies, comments, and retweets. My asymmetric follow proves invaluable for extending my research arms but search terms I track sometimes get more attention than people I adore.
Sure, I could chalk this up to the everyday proximity issue we face in all social situations. We learn more from those around us (physically and virtually) than anyone else. What's different here is that it doesn't feel proximate. I recently missed a local friend moving her entire household because she's an early-morning poster and we didn't see each other for a few weeks..
Tomorrow I'm going to seek out twitter tools that will allow me to group those I want to watch most closely. I've also begun to follow fewer people in favor of reading their blogs instead. On Facebook, I'm going to devote a little more time to searching back through the day's posts from friends. I'm also going to check in with people I haven't heard from recently, like my sea fairing friend, just to see what they're up to. While up until recently I felt confident I’d be alerted directly if there was something vital I needed to know, as these tools become more ubiquitous, there might be less alerting my way.
If you have thought about this timely phenomenon or if you sometimes feel like Susan Heim who twittered, "I dreamed last night that I was at a Twitter party and I couldn't keep up!" comment here or in fewer than 140 characters @marciamarcia.