Today’s post is the featured article from the March 2009 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newSomeone is going to need to go on a diet with all the “tweets” going around. It is the whole new phenomenon of Twitter. It seems to have come out of nowhere and now it seems to be every where. And if it isn’t Twitter, it is Facebook, Plaxo, and LinkedIn. Just name your own flavor of Social Networking.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell looks at what triggers the exponential spread of a trend. It seems that “social networking” has hit the “tipping point.” It is spreading like a wildfire and the question becomes … can we harness it enough to unleash its potential? There is no question that there will be some inefficient investment of time along the way. And I am certain it will be misused by some.

Yet the potential for connection is enormous. It is like sitting on a virtual “front porch.” It certainly raises the question of the depths of relationships being thousands of miles wide and only a fraction of an inch deep. But it also opens up the possibility of creating a reservoir of magical connections.

The greatest potential of the social networking tools may, in the end, having nothing to do with connections and relationships. It may have everything to do with accountability.

I remember, years ago, doing some pre-work for a time management class. As part of the prerequisite, you had to keep a log of your schedule … writing down what you had just done in the last fifteen minutes. You had to record your entry every fifteen minutes of every waking hour for a whole week. It was revealing. It raised the awareness of the truth of how you were using your time. It was the manual “Twitter” of it’s time because it begged the question … what are you doing now?

Twitter is simple. There is nothing fancy or complicated about it. It is all about … what are you doing now? With your updates limited to only 140 characters each (characters, not words!) you must be short and … shall we say tweet! It’s all about going public with what you are doing day to day. My first response is … who cares? But as I started “following” some good friends on Twitter I have to admit that it gave me a sense of connection to them even though I had not actually talked with them for a few weeks. Because I knew just what they had been doing!

As I began to post my “tweets” two or three times a day, I couldn’t help noticing the growing awareness of a subtle question … is this the best use of your time? And I don’t mean the time that it took to post the “tweet” … I mean what the tweet revealed of what I was doing at the moment. The element of “what are you doing” being up for public display raised the stakes of accountability. I don’t mean in how others will judge your use of time (although they surely will!) but rather your own personal accountability.

There is no question that Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, and LinkedIn (yes, just to name a few!) all hold the potential for being an enormous waste of time. So can email, the internet and the telephone for that matter! They are all simply tools and the tools are neither good nor bad. They are neutral. How we use them will determine whether they have added value or distraction.

I would suggest if they raise our awareness on how we are using the precious gift of time each day then their potential is unlimited. If it helps us realize that time is our most valuable and limited asset, then these tools will have proven to be a miracle … and that would be really tweet!

I can’t imagine a more important question than … what are you doing now? This is the only time you will get to experience this moment, this hour, this day, this week, this month in your entire life. Are you making the very most of it? If so, you may just be pleased enough to share it with the world. If a raised awareness changes how we choose to use our time … well, I would then suggest that “social networking” is no waste of time!

ACTION IDEA: Carefully consider how you are using the new tools of “social networking”” and set the parameters of how you will efficiently participate in this new phenomenon. More importantly, use social networking’s critical question “what are you doing now” as a constant reminder to evaluate if what you are doing now is the best use of this moment!