"Drinking from a fire hose"

The Setting

I’ve been very unplugged for a few months. First I was busy with my move from China back to BC, Canada. Then I was truly unplugged on a trip to England and France, then I started work immediately upon return. I love my job as Vice Principal of Open Learning with the Learning Innovations Network Coquitlam (LINC). But I have a huge learning curve that I’m working on and that has continued my tendency to be unplugged.

The Background

A couple years ago this long of a gap in my digital presence would have driven me crazy! I would have considered a week-long haitus from my network to be an eternity. Since then I’ve made a shift… and I’ll share a metaphor that exemplifies that shift in a bit…. but first I’d like to share some of my personal life-cycles of some tools I’ve used.

The Tools

Blogging & RSS
Start blogging -> I have nothing to say -> I should really write a post -> I actually want to write a post -> I need to blog about this -> I get to reflect out loud and people give me feedback ->  I can follow others in an RSS feed -> I need to read everything ->  ‘You have 1,000+ unread items in your reader’  ->  I’m drinking from a fire hose, this is too much -> I just read items my friends in Google Reader have ‘stared’ (highlighted) -> I only read from my RSS on my phone, when I have a few minutes, and the 1,000+ unread items don’t bother me.

Why would I want to tell people that I’m brushing my teeth? This is like facebook updates without Facebook -> But Claudia seems to think there is something to this -> Wow, these teachers are sharing great links -> I can’t miss a tweet, need to read them all -> I’m drinking from a fire hose, this is too much -> hey, I can narrow this by following a list in Tweetdeck -> and hey, I can follow a hashtag to focus this even more -> I can go away and when I come back, my network will still be there -> This is better than my RSS feed -> If I miss something in my RSS feed, and it is good, it will probably get back to me via twitter.

Wow, like twitter but more conversational -> I’m drinking from a fire hose -> this is too much, I’m out!

Google Buzz
Not only is this like drinking from the fire hose, but I’m not even thirsty for it.

Adding people to circles -> Why am I doing this? -> I’m already drinking from enough fire hoses, I’ll wait for others to lead the way and let me know if I should drink from this one too!

The Metaphor

I used to see information like a large pool or lake… a resevoir of information to be collected, and held on to. Now I see information like a river… a constant stream of too much information to hold on to. The stream runs whether I’m near it or not. I can hop in a canoe and paddle along for a while… but when I get out of the canoe I need to just let the river flow by without worring about what I missed. I can’t pool that information, and even if I try, it is too much and I feel overwhelmed (kinda like drinking from a fire hose). I need to enjoy paddling in the stream when I’m in it, but let the stream go by when I’m not.

The Network

My network narrows the stream of information for me. My digital colleagues and friends highlight the information worth looking at, and allow me to drink from a managabel stream rather than from a fire hose. Certain people are very selective about what they will ‘star’ in Google Reader. Certain people consistently share amazing links on Twitter. Certain hash tags tell me what to pay attention to at a distant conference and hashtags like #cpchat are great to go to when I just want to find a good article to read. Certain people will always take the time to answer my questions, (even the dumb ones), or at least point me to someone that can answer them. And… others look to me in the same way.

The End ?

There is no end. The information river is getting bigger and we will need to give up our canoes. We will need to navigate it with a river raft, rather than solo in a canoe… but my network will be there with me, helping me paddle and steer the raft. It will be harder and harder to navigate the river of information going by without a network of support to help guide me or to support me when I don’t know which way to go. There will be many new rivers to navigate, new tools to help us navigate, and new network connections to help us find our way. Toffler was right, ““The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

…and New Beginnings

One key thing we need to recognize is that for people who enter the river now, the growing rapids can be too much. We need to figure out ways to share our networks and support those who want to navigate the river of information that flows into an unknown future. It was actually easier for us to navigate and learn to paddle on our own a few years ago, now we need to act as river guides for those that join us… and with our support, they too will quickly become guides, and new nodes in our networks.

Thanks for paddling this way!

15 comments on “Drinking from a fire hose

  1. Wow, can I relate. I’m thinking this is a natural way finding process. We all go through a journey of discovery, overwhelmedness, refocussing, and filtering to get to a place that works for us. I really like how you’ve described your trip through the social networking rapids.


  2. Dave,

    I also really identify with your description. I did think it would be getting simpler, but I am finding it is getting more complex. I am now part of conversations about the same things that will take place on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google + and on a blog. One goal has been to simplify and streamline my network – but I often think I am going the opposite way.

    It is similar to my thinking around devices – I used to carry around 2 (phone and computer) and talk about soon carrying 1 – and now I have 3 (phone, iPad, laptop).

    Your post is a good read for teachers just testing the social media waters to support themselves professionally – it is OK to drop in from time to time and miss some posts.

    Of course, you have to be OK with a lower Klout score 🙂

  3. I too can relate! When I think about how overwhelming it is for people like us (fairly well connected and comfortable with technology), I can’t imagine how someone just entering into this world must feel. In my work with educators who, for the most part, are attempting to expand their practice and connect with 21’st Century learners, their greatest obstacles are “T2” – Time and Too much! We often expose them to numerous means to obtain information and resources, but not how to manage it. It seems to me that making them better aware of how to streamline (eg. Twitter – #hashtags) this information would be a very worthwhile endeavour.

    Similarly, I have come across the same predicament with technology hardware itself. People are constantly scrambling to get that new phone, tablet, E-reader, etc. not knowing why except that it’s newer and “better”. My advice to them is, and I will use a metaphor here, to “sample” different tools as you would if you were trying new cuisine. Find what “tastes” best for you! Not everyone likes Sushi and not everyone likes touch screen phones. Find what works for you in your role and feel good about it. If that 2 year old Blackberry Bold is working for you, then stick with it! Like the “Firehose” of information and resources that we access through these tools, the time will come when you will grow a bit tired of the taste or it just won’t fill you up anymore. That will be the time to “unlearn, and relearn.” Toffler


  4. That was just so good! I have felt the fire hose pain, too! And I have come out on the other end getting timely information when I need it. The network makes a difference.

  5. I clicked on ‘Claudia’ expecting some tweet of mine to point me to some thought that inspired you. I wonder which one it was… anyway.

    This is a timely reflection for me. For two things.
    a-I’m redesigning the way I use my RSS reader (They’ll be a post, just give time to reflect on it. Still testing).

    The other one is funny. I do not use a mobile phone. Yet.
    I’ve made up my mind to buy one and I already wondering how much it will affect my connecting habits.

    Good summary of the many tools we have tried and the thoughts that must have crossed our minds. About information overload or firehose effect, I do not think it’ll be that hard for new ones. Not necessarily harder than for you or me. Openness to change is perhaps more of a conditioning than not having seen this complex environment as it developed one tool at a time.

  6. Looking at information as if it’s a river is a great metaphor. I think that to be really useful, though, the metaphor needs to be expanded to include all water; after all, all water is connected. Some bodies, though, are connected in very different ways. We need to remember that where we’re putting in is merely a particular point on a global system of flowing water.

    As our awareness grows we’ll notice whether or not we’re on a stock pond in the middle of the prairie, or on a river that flows unimpeded to the ocean. And it will be good to remember Wendell Berry’s words, too, “the impeded stream is the one that sings.” Portaging may be necessary and right.

  7. Thanks for the comments!

    Dave Sands,
    Your hardware sampling comment reminded me of my Plurk experience… I tried it out and thought, ‘This isn’t for me!’
    I have countless social media profiles where I signed up, put my profile into the site, then decided for some reason, shortly after joining, that I wan’t interested in playing along.
    There are some amazing tools out there, but I still go to Powerpoint first when I have to throw something together… I think I do things with Powerpoint that most people don’t take the time to do and I’m very comfortable with the tool, (for example the water fountain/fire hose image in this post was done in Powerpoint).

    I joined Twitter in November of 2007, which was later than most of the people I was connected to that were blogging back then. At that point you had ‘seen the light’ and the potential of Twitter and had blogged about it a few times. I went to your blog http://eltnotes.blogspot.com/ and did the only search I could, a Swicki Search, but didn’t find any of your early posts. I have more time early this morning than I did yesterday when I was hitting ‘publish’ on this post before heading to work so I did a Google Search. These were the kind of blog posts from you that helped me decide to actually give twitter a try:
    I also found this one from shortly after I joined, have a look at your comment:)

    I credit your inspirational posts as the reason I entered the 2nd best Professional Development space I’ve ever had! (Twitter is second only to this blog.)

    Great continuation of the water metaphor! It made me re-think of why I don’t like to see blogs inside walled gardens protected from the ‘scary internet’… and disconnected from the creative/insightful/rich flow that openness invites.

  8. So True!
    I’ve taken a few of the steps you have mentioned to limit the flow. I only follow two hashtags on twitter and I only check twitter once a day.
    I do continue to blog though – I find I need the outlet of reflection and self expression.
    REALLY great post!
    Shana Tova!

  9. I notice you left Facebook off the list. Allow me to extend the metaphor to say that I try to avoid that hose more than any because the water has become particularly contaminated of late.

  10. Naomi,
    I sometimes think in blog posts. I’d be hard pressed to limit my blogging and don’t consider it more information to deal with, but rather a cathartic exercise instead of one that adds to the streams of information coming at me.

    I left Facebook off the list because I was sharing ‘my personal life-cycles of some tools’ and quite frankly I don’t really engage with Facebook much. I’ve written about Facebook: Facing Facebook & Facebook Revisited (The comments add a lot of value to the posts.)
    I love your contamination metaphor as the ‘new & improved’ facebook seems to be just that… contaminated with useless information that is forced upon you.

    Appreciate the comments!

  11. Thank you for the clarification. A couple of hours after posting my comment here, I was on a train and it dawned on me what you meant! You read my own blog better than I do!

    I like what you say to Naomi about thinking in blog posts. It’s a style, a genre in our minds. Shifting to blog mode, or tweet mode.

    The why we write here is a fascinating issue. I think I have many times felt the catharsis effect after a long rant. Some other times, I need to polish or order my thoughts. Lately I find it is a way of processing and put an end to a draft.

  12. This water metaphor is very apt. I like to think of my blog as my home base…the lake house, maybe? I go on excursions around the blogosphere, stopping in at others lake houses (or mansions, or universities, as the case may be), and partake of their fine hospitality, offering what I can to be of service. Sometimes, I take quick jaunts out onto the streams with a canoe, using TweetDeck and hashtags. But if I feel like full blown river excursion, I dive into my Twitter feed, or stop by my FB home. But I think your most important point is that the choices we make should be conscious and thoughtful, and that the people we “surround” ourselves with are critical as we learn to navigate, or if we ever happen to need a lifeboat. Thanks for your insights!

  13. Thanks for putting words to my feelings, David. A colleague and I recently asked our fellow faculty members to “dip a toe, just a toe, into the digital waters,” hoping to get them started with this paddling process. I’m sharing this post with all of them! Love your blog, thanks so much.

  14. Your reflection here captures what I often feel as an educator.Thank you for your insight. The work/family balance is hard to negotiate but being strong and influential educators require us to be savvy users of technology as well as having a strong and growing knowledge of our subject specialities. Sometimes it is all too much and it is important to remember that we can give ourselves permission to have a break on the shore knowing that our colleagues will be their to help us get back in again… and we, too, for them later.

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