Is it possible to walk and chew gum at the same time?
Helen Bevan, the leading expert in transformative change for the U.K.’s National Health Service recently posed a similar question to an audience at a major health policy conference in Toronto, Canada and the answer, unfortunately, was ‘no’.
The actual issue raised by Bevan had nothing to do with ambulation and mastication but rather with the potential to listen and comprehend a speaker while simultaneously engaging with others in a discussion of the speaker’s comments on social media.
Results of the real time experiment seemed to suggest there is a limit to the amount of engagement even the most dedicated networkers can undertake with one of the best social media tools – Twitter – while also paying attention to an absorbing presenter.
At her suggestion, a few people tried gamely to discuss issues raised by Bevan on Twitter while she was still speaking, but these conversations quickly petered out as those in the audience returned their attention to Bevan, and directly tweeting her comments.
What Bevan definitely did not do was undermine her argument about the power of social media to expand the dissemination of the important ideas – even though this exercise may have provided fuel for those who argue that live tweeting distracts from taking full benefit from listening to speakers at conferences.
Watching a graphic representation of tweeting during Bevan’s plenary address at the Health Quality Transformation conference is like watching a fireworks display as Bevan’s point on the map explodes as hundreds of tweets referencing @HelenBevan and her presentation spread out over the map during the hour of her talk.
The growing power of the type of informal networks that social media platforms support to make real change in the health care system was one of the key themes in the multiple keynote and more informal presentations Bevan made while attending a number of meetings hosted by Health Quality Ontario.
She also talked about the importance of the new connectivity these social media platforms provide to link people within organizations as well as nationally and globally.
But Bevan’s impromptu attempt to get people to participate in multi-task engagement suggests there are some limits to what even social media can accomplish if you ask that it all happen at the same time.