Jodi’s Journal: Tweeting CEOs and digital dementia

Aug. 19, 2018

I was walking by a TV about lunchtime a couple of weeks ago and caught the news alert: Trading had been halted on shares of Tesla stock.

Now what, I wondered.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to trace it back to a tweet.

CEO Elon Musk, who has tweeted more than 5,000 times to his more than 22 million followers, had fired off this:

“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”

In a matter of 61 characters, he prompted regulators to halt trading of his company after the stock jumped by 11 percent. The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission is continuing to investigate.

This is far from the first time Musk has taken to Twitter.

In fact, in a 2013 8-K filing, Tesla even suggested, after mentioning its website, that “for additional information, please follow Elon Musk’s and Tesla’s Twitter accounts.”

Seriously? Now, I’m not opposed to executives having a presence on social media. I can buy into it as a strategy for brand building, perceived increased authenticity, direct-to-consumer engagement, etc.

But when I see a company CEO prolifically posting on social media, I sort of wonder if maybe the energy is misdirected.

The jobs of most CEOs leave little time for it. In this report I shared recently about CEOs and time management, the demands on top executives time are enormous. There’s interfacing with your leadership team; balancing relationships with investors, public officials and your community; being visible and engaged with your employee base; setting a strategic vision for your organization; overseeing major initiatives; and, of course, keeping up with email and other correspondence, among a plethora of other duties.

Jodi’s Journal: Time management at the top offers insight for others


And if you’re fortunate enough to have all that under control with time to spare, maybe it should be spent ideating, innovating and – most critically – listening.

In my opinion, that’s where any CEO spending time on social media should direct the most attention. Observe how your customers are sharing information about their likes, dislikes, spending habits and product interaction. It’s a trove of information that you can use to improve your products and services.

After Musk’s tweet, he emailed his employees to explain his rationale. Too bad they first had to see it on Twitter too. He subsequently shared in a New York Times interview how difficult the past year has been leading his company, how it has caused him to have trouble sleeping and how he takes to Twitter during his bouts of insomnia.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but according to the article:

“Mr. Musk added that he did not regret his Twitter post — ‘Why would I?’ — and said he had no plans to stop using the social media platform. Some board members, however, have recently told Mr. Musk that he should lay off Twitter and focus on making cars and launching rockets, according to people familiar with the matter.”

I argue it’s not just CEOs who might need to step away from the smartphone.

Try this.

Recite for me the top five phone numbers you call the most.

Can you do it?

I turned around while writing this and asked my content manager, Rosemary McCoy, if she could.

“I can get to three,” she said.

We talked about how that’s probably pretty common.

“I actually don’t know your phone number,” she said.

“Uh, I don’t know yours either,” I answered.

“And it’s not just that you have three phone numbers,” she added.

Well, there is that.

But in total seriousness, becoming overly reliant on smartphones and social media is having real neurological and psychological effects.

Neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer is credited with coining the term “digital dementia” as a way to describe how overusing digital technology relates to the breakdown of cognitive abilities.

Once we enter a contact’s phone number in our smartphone, we no longer need to remember the seven digits associated with it.

So we don’t. And when we then try to memorize for other reasons, we are more inclined to struggle.

“We’re outsourcing our brains to our smart devices,” said Jim Kwik, a global memory expert, at a recent conference. “We’re so reliant on our smartphones, that our smartphones are making us stupid.”

Muscles that aren’t used atrophy, he continued. Same with mental muscles.

Add to that the documented shot of dopamine that occurs every time we see a notification on our phones or someone likes or otherwise engages with a post we create on social media.

Dopamine causes us to take action to meet our craving for it. In a digital sense, that means many post on social media in anticipation of the engagement that will follow.

When you’re a CEO with millions of followers, that can be a lot of engagement.

What is it doing to the brain? I’m certainly not qualified to say, but there’s plenty of emerging research that suggests it creates an addictive habit loop that decreases productivity.

“And the dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is small so that it doesn’t full satisfy,” according to an article in Psychology Today. “A short text or Twitter is ideally suited to send your dopamine system raging.”

And by the way, Tesla stock ultimately closed down the day of Musk’s tweet. Probably another sign that spending too much time online is a bad idea.

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Jodi’s Journal: Tweeting CEOs and digital dementia

Too much time on social media can create serious implications for businesses, the leaders who use the platforms and anyone else.

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