If Salesforce.com and TIBCO Software have their way, business systems will in future resemble social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Both have recently launched software that allows workers to monitor the activity of their peers in a constant stream of status updates, supposedly allowing real-time collaboration and therefore improved business agility.
But at what cost will this constant stream of information come? Recent research at the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that younger workers would take it in their stride, but older employees may struggle to ignore what may often be useless information.
Professor Adam Gazzaley and his team at UCSF’s Neuroscience Imaging Centre found that younger men and women (aged around 25) were better able to ignore irrelevant information and concentrate on a given cognitive task than a group of older subjects (aged around 70).
They found that working memory, which people use to juggle information when performing mental tasks, is more likely to be disrupted by irrelevant distractions in older people, making it harder for them to maintain their train of thought.
“The impact of distractions and interruptions reveals the fragility of working memory,” remarked Professor Gazzaley. “This is an important fact to consider, given that we increasingly live in a more demanding, high-interference environment, with a dramatic increase in the accessibility and variety of electronic media.”
This raises the point that the benefits of a system that allows for more frequent, real-time updates must be balanced against the potential impairment on concentration. It also supports the theory that consumer web-based technologies could widen generational divides within the workforce.
Closer to home, a scientist at the University of Cambridge has been drawing comparisons between Twitter and the human brain itself. Speaking at the Cambridge Science Festival, Professor Ed Bullmore said new techniques for analysing the functions of the brain reveal them to bear more than a passing resemblance to communications networks such as the popular microblogging service.
“We are ‘taking the brain out of the skull’ to look at it directly in comparison to many superficially different information-processing systems,” he explained.
To illustrate the point, he asked attendees to write tweets containing a particular phrase, ‘#twitterbrain’. The network of Twitter connections between audience members could then be analysed, and compared with the network-like functions of the brain.
And how did they compare? “We found that the #twitterbrain network was somewhat like the brain network in being small-world and modular with highly connected hub nodes,” explained Professor Bullmore. “However, the brain network was more clustered and less efficient than the twitter network.”