Brendan Koerner writes over at Wired about How Twitter and Facebook Make Us More Productive. He says:
Last year, Nucleus Research warned that Facebook shaves 1.5 percent off total office productivity; a Morse survey estimated that on-the-job social networking costs British companies $2.2 billion a year.
But for knowledge workers charged with transforming ideas into products -- whether gadgets, code, or even Wired articles -- goofing off isn't the enemy. In fact, regularly stepping back from the project at hand can be essential to success. And social networks are particularly well suited to stoking the creative mind.
Brendan makes the point that surveys like Nucleus Research's or Morse's, assume that all Twitter/Facebook activity is wasted, but in reality it is not. He then goes on to discuss the human creative process, highlighting the "need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform -- pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking."
Regular breaks, it turns out, are important for our brains to process information and the "conceptual collisions" that occur when we see nuggets of unrelated information can prompt us to make mental connections that we otherwise would not have. Twitter and Facebook are, of course, great at exposing us to unexpected information.
I'd add two more points to explain why Twitter, used well, isn't a de facto waste of time:
Firstly, Twitter is amenable to sporadic checking, which means that users can check Twitter in otherwise dead moments, e.g. waiting for a web page to load, a file to save or a phone to be answered. Quite often I check Twitter whilst I'm waiting for my computer to do something else. What else would I do with that time? Stare at my screen and wait. So net win on the time saving there.
Secondly, Twitter saves me time by connecting me to people who have answers to my questions, including some questions I didn't know I needed to ask. I get a lot of ideas for blog posts from links that my friends post to Twitter, for example. I also often get my answers from Twitter faster than Google can manage and those answers are often higher quality and contain insight Google just can't provide.
These productivity research companies really do need to get a clue when it comes to Twitter and produce something a bit more nuanced and less scaremongery!