Social networks are often heralded as the enemy of productivity, but Wired's Brendan Koerner points out that the kind of activities we engage in at sites like Twitter and Facebook can in fact be very productive.
Studies that accuse social networks of reducing productivity assume that time spent microblogging is time strictly wasted. But that betrays an ignorance of the creative process. Humans weren't designed to maintain a constant focus on assigned tasks. We need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform - pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking. Musing about something else for a while can clear away the mental detritus, letting us see an issue through fresh eyes, a process that creativity researchers call incubation. "People are more successful if we force them to move away from a problem or distract them temporarily," observe the authors of Creativity and the Mind, a landmark text in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity. They found that regular breaks enhance problem-solving skills significantly, in part by making it easier for workers to sift through their memories in search of relevant clues.
And while that probably doesn't give you carte blanche to feed your Facebook/Twitter addiction every second of the day, it is a good reminder that sometimes we shouldn't be so hard on ourselves about doing strictly productive things. Sometimes those not-so-productive endeavours will pay off in the long run. Photo by Noah Sussman.