The Power of the Follow

If it’s #followfriday (#ff), this must be Twitter. #followfriday is when folks who Tweet list names of folks they think other Tweeters might want to follow. This custom has a sweet history.  Michah Baldwin, the originator,  says,

It wasnt hard for people to suggest folks to follow, because everyone has people they follow that they find interesting, insightful, funny, intelligent or whatever it is that makes you love to interact with another person (online or off).

Then came #teachertuesday, when folks were (are?) called on to list educators who would be interesting to follow.

I’ve been a little leery of the custom.  Sure, it’s gratifying to get listed– who didn’t want to be one of the cool kids in high school? But when people keep recommending the same people, who in turn recommend people from the same circles, etc., what’s that about?

Probably these folks really like and admire each other.  Probably they– we– just love lists.  For example, I can predict with some accuracy that I’ll bookmark a site with a headline like this:

Or, maybe we just want guarantees: we want to be sure that we get the most valuable information. After all, since there is so much out there, we want to know what the best is. This is true of everything from movies and restaurants to pediatricians and… education blogs?

But I think there’s at least one other explanation for all of this listing, rating, and recommending.circling-the-wagons

As the tsunami of information continues to swell, it becomes less possible for all of us to know the same things. Do you feel that rumbling beneath your feet? That’s just everything we once felt sure of, breaking open.

I think lists counteract the feeling of overwhelm or helplessness in the face of TMI (Too Much Information) or TLC (Too Little Certainty.) After all, if there’s a list, it means there’s  Someone Out There Who Knows and Something We (All) Should Know.

Recommending the same folks over and over reminds me of circling the wagons on a new frontier.

And still, with every dawn, that wagon train uncurls. It pulls out again.

But sometimes it seems as if people who are actively making recommendations keep recommending the same people, who in turn recognize similar names from overlapping circles.

9 responses to “The Power of the Follow”

  1. I think that following and lists just help narrow the search for what’s relevant. There’s just too much out there to be finding stuff for yourself all of the time. It’s nice to find stuff that your online peers have tried and found useful. I’m just thankful that people are so open to sharing and listing and collaborating!

    • Karen says:

      @Hattie DeRaps,

      The attitude of giving back to the larger community is one of the guiding principles I love about the web. Part of that, to me, is to always keep an eye out for someone new to the circle. That’s not too typical of human nature, I think. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

  2. Jo Hawke says:

    You make a really good point with the counteraction idea. It’s kind of like my need to have everything everywhere neatly stacked. Much of the time, I have no idea exactly what’s in the stack, but at least it seems neat, maintaining some semblance of order in the chaos.

  3. Karen says:

    I can relate. (I believe neat stacks are also known as “filing by piling.”)

    For me, the key words in your comment are “seems” and “semblance.” It’s so hard for us humans to give up thinking we can whip chaos into line.

  4. rob cohen says:

    Well, here’s the thing: Making lists is simply a function of being able to write, of having a writing system in the first place (no writing, no hierarchical organization). But the current means of recording information are so much more diverse and complex than the writing systems that spawned the list that we can no longer use old tools to effectively catalog what is coming at us. Nonetheless, we keep trying (myself included). I don’t think the overload is chaotic at all, I think it just feels that way because those who, like me, are non-millenial, are stuck with old paradigms we keep trying to impose inappropriately .

  5. Karen says:

    Hey Rob,

    Yep, I’m with you. My big point, though, is not to disparage lists, it’s to suggest that we should take care to not circle the wagons so tightly that we exclude people who drift across the campfire. (Hmm. Maybe that extended metaphor didn’t work. Trying again:) …to suggest that we take care to not circle the wagons so tightly that we exclude people trying to get a little closer to the campfire.

    BTW, did you take the Pew How Close to a Millennial Are You? If I see it again, I’ll pass it your way. It’s funny.

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