Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Signal vs Noise

I hate Facebook. Well, hate is a strong word. I really dislike Facebook. I have a lot of reasons some of which I have talked about before. However, lately the biggest reason has been the signal to noise ratio has been really low.

Everyone knows what signal to noise ratio is, you might have never heard it that way. Suppose you are driving on a road trip and you turn on your favorite radio station or perhaps are listening to your favorite basketball team on a local station. As you get farther from town you begin to hear a little bit of static since you are further away from the tower. After a while the static gets really bad and you can barely hear the station and at some point the signal is so bad you have switch the station. The signal has been completely overtaken by the noise.

So what do I mean when I talk about signal to noise ratios as it relates to Facebook or other places where you go to get information? Signal is anything that provides meaning to your life. Pictures of your new nephew, results of your mom's surgery, or even inspiring quotes from your best friend. These all have a really high "signal" because they are providing you value. Other things like link-bait, candy crush invites, and status updates from your high school friends that you haven't seen in 15 years have really high "noise" because they provide little meaning to you.

Now that we have a definition we can ascribe values to something based on its signal to noise ratio. Say you follow 1000 people on twitter and you are just scrolling through your feed of tweets. If every tweet was somehow meaningful to you you would have an extremely high signal to noise ratio and you could say your twitter feed is very valuable to you. However if you spent 10 minutes scrolling through your feed to find something you cared about you would have a really low signal to noise ratio and you could argue that your twitter feed is not very valuable.

Ok, why does this matter? In this day and age everyone consumes so much data and often times the data we consume has little to no value to us. It is just noise. The problem is that the internet is tricky and often times we perceive value in things that don't have much value at all. This is one of the problems with pinterest. Spending an hour pinning feels like you got something accomplished but really there was probably a high signal to noise ratio, meaning you had to go though a lot of pins to find the ones you like and who knows if the ones you found are even valuable to you. Facebook also gives the perception of value but has a really low signal to noise ratio.

I say it is time for a digital makeover. Go through your Facebook feed and unfollow all of the noise you see on a daily basis. Go through your email and unsubscribe from the junk that you have to wade though to find your actual emails. Go through and delete half of your pins and then go through again and delete the other half. Unfollow those people who tweet the dribble you have to scroll past to find the gold.

Finally define what is meaningful to you and then try and boost your daily signal to noise ratio.


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