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The 140 character discussion

Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by David Carr

Perhaps it is a symptom of having an old, linear brain, but I have a great deal of difficulty in following and finding value in discussions held on Twitter. It's like having a debate in which you only get to say 10 words or so at a time, there is no speaking order, anyone can just chime in, and multiple topics are on deck at a single time. And most speakers seem to have a speech impediment. 

The average number of letters in an English word is 4.5. Add the spaces between them and you get 5.5 (Aren't you glad you aren't Tweeting in German?) This give one about 25 words - fewer if you @somebodies or add #hashtags or somewhere - to make a cogent point about what are often extremely complex topics. It's a bumper sticker mentality applied to children's futures. More than a little scary.

For example, Mr. Bretag, I admire your blog posts. I read your Metanoia regularly. I think we are sympatico on 99% of our educational values. I even am guessing that I agree with your sentiment - at least the second half - when you tweet:

@edrethink @mcleod @blueskunkblog @library_jim the fault does fall to the teachers. You have a bad PD program if you are teaching tools

But have you or anyone in this "discussion" actually added value - or have you only added a bit to the cacophony of the Internet? 

At a certain age, children "parallel play" which Wikipedia defines as: where children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another's behaviour. ... It usually involves two or more children in the same room that are interested in the same toy, each seeing the toy as their own. Somehow, Twitter exchanges seem something like "parallel" conversations. 

Comparing the content of tweets to the comments that followed McLeod's or my blog post on "The Unholy Trinity," I wonder where my time is best spent as one who wishes to influence readers and find ideas of substance? While still opinion and not exactly long discourse, blog comments have value. And somehow I still feel I learn the most and am compelled to think the most deeply reading thoughtful commentaries by scholars like Larry Cuban. (Read his Online instruction for K-12 (Part 1) if you haven't - a triumph of analysis over opinion.

As I am writing this, a comment was posted to my blog by Lisa Unger. She writes:

On a side note, I love being a part of a profession and PLN in which people can and do challenge each other and push each other's thinking. I think that's an important part of growth and communication. I hope we all model how to do this for our students and encourage them to do the same for each other.

I just hope as we push each other's thinking, it is done more than 140 characters at a time.

In response to the request below...

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Reader Comments (9)

tl;dr -- could you summarize this in a tweet instead?

Just kidding. I think Twitter is great for sharing resources and links, but weak on actually debating weighty issues.

June 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Mark, how's this:

@mpullen98 Twitter disc. r stoopid. Look, a squirrel. #Twitter #thingsthatrstupid #squirrels


June 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hello Doug (and everyone)!

I am quite famous in my "off-line life" for writing long and detailed emails. I'm not trying to be wordy. It's just that I want to write with clarity and to express myself exactly as I mean.

If you look at my blogposts for Coetail, they aren't the "short" and "snappy" blogposts that are trending widely. They're long and they're detailed. They express who I am though. They express what I mean. I know I may lose people along the way that aren't interested in reading so much. I keep that in mind and I try to make every word count and to inject some humour or some story along the way to keep them reading. My blog will never win any awards and may only have a small following, but I decided to not change how I write, as that's who I am.

(You're not likely to see "10 Amazing Tech Tools to Save your Classroom and Usher in Everlasting World Peace" on my blog ;) )

As for Twitter, it's what is popular and trendy. It's where everybody "is" right now. I meet the rich and famous there. (OK. Strike out the "rich" part. Educators aren't rich!) I get a word in edge-wise with the popular kids.

Maybe it's like mingling at the most famous bar in the world? (Oh THAT's why people post Instagrams of food and alcoholic drinks on Twitter!)

I agree it's not the platform for serious debate and discourse. Trying to limit myself to 140 characters (when trying to say something meaningful) is driving me around the bend. I once suggested that perhaps Google+ might be a possible platform for discussion and debate. There is too much room for misunderstanding in 140 characters with Twitter. (I don't have a Facebook account so I can't speak about that platform). I do have a Google+ account (due to Coetail). It's interesting that people who aren't willing to follow me on Twitter will follow me there! My guess is that people don't have a lot of connections on that platform yet, so they'll take ANYBODY! (even me!)

I find Google+ quite boring actually. It's basically the same stuff repeated from Twitter. I would like to challenge people to differentiate themselves and their content on Google+ from what they are sharing on Twitter. Maybe we can have some meaningful discussions there, since we are not limited by character count.

To me, Twitter is a place to meet educators that I would not be able to meet in off-line life. Then, I go off to their blog (go and visit them at their home) and then the conversation can deepen. Twitter is where the invites are posted.

One of my Twitter friends asked me to Tweet him a summary of a podcast. He lives in a part of the world that cannot stream the podcast well. I considered doing that for about 2 minutes and realized I'd better write it out on a webpage:
Tech Trends by Jeff Utecht

If we're going to say something, let's say it with some substance and add value to what is on-hand.

(Silly two-liners and T-Shirt slogan absurdities are always welcomed on Twitter!) ;)

Meet you on my Tweetdeck!


June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVivian

Gosh. I love Twitter so much that it's difficult to read your post and not feel the urge to convert you. :)

That said, I've tried (unsuccessfully) before to show others how meaningful Twitter can be as a professional learning tool, so I'll limit my comments to these:

a) Although we all have a finite amount of time that we can devote to professional learning, Twitter VS Blogs/ScholarlyArticles/LongerProse is not an either or proposition. In fact, I would say the former often leads me to more/better examples of the latter. Which leads me to...

b) I like to think of my Twitter stream as a more democratic RSS feed. While I choose who I follow, I have no control over what they share, so (as opposed to my Feedly, which I loving curate, and thereby limit) my Twitter stream is full of voices that I might not otherwise hear. Which leads me to...

c) I think there's a place for cacophony in learning. In fact, I think much of what we do in schools is too linear, too standardized, too focused following directions (as opposed to figuring out solutions) and too removed from things that are messy. Twitter is messy. And it requires readers to think about what is said in those 140 characters and then look for further information. Some tweets are bad/misleading/divisive, but so are some blogs/journals/articles. Which leads me to...

d) Twitter is always just a starting point for me. I devote about 30 minutes a day to Twitter. And each day, I sign off with a bucket full of links and notes to explore later. Do I get to all of them? Of course not. But the ones I question, the ones I'm curious about or the ones that I've seen discussed or questioned or retweeted over and over - they somehow make it to the top of the heap.

All of that said, I don't think there's a right or wrong way*** to learn, share or connect. Twitter works for me. As does reading blogs and journals and longer forms of communication. The important thing is to figure out what works for you and to continue learning.

/sermon :)

***Except maybe Pinterest. I'll never understand Pinterest. *wink*

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I also use Twitter, but I find myself scrolling through many or most of the tweets. I'm looking for links to information that interests me and that look valuable for my work. I quickly skip over ones that are clearly intended for a single person, sent to the general population instead of direct. Twitter is very important to me - some of the time. But, virtually all of the time, the tshirt wisdom is priceless.

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBob Follmuth

I learned to Tweet in IM554, a part of my graduate program. I found tweeting with classmates to be an interesting way to share resources; however, I have not used it much lately except to follow @HonestToddler. I find blogs and journal articles more interesting, especially my daughter's blog on food safety: Meat Salads.

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeAnn

I've been introduced and the re-introduced to twitter probably 10 times since it made its first appearance. I just can't get into it. I can totally see its value for sharing resources and links, but I agree that the conversation is disjointed and non-linear. Yes, we need non-linear thinking sometimes, and surely students need exposure to various forms of media and communication, but each function has a tool or set of tools that are appropriate to its form. One of the things I stress to my students is audience and the appropriate form and discourse to the tool at hand. Rather than teaching them to use a tool for the sake of using the tool, I teach them that the tool exists and then we talk about wht it's good for and match form and function. Like others have expressed before me, twitter has its function, but sometimes I think we force something to be more than it was intended to be to the detriment of our intended communication. However, at the end of the day, to each his own and if others get more of out of it than I, I'm happy for them. I'll stick to my blogs and Facebook though.

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Hi Jennifer,

Very rational point of view. When I have time, I scan for links as well. It's just the "discussions" I don't see amounting to much.

I appreciate your younger brain!


Thanks, Bob. Try to inject a little intelligence with the t-shirt philosophies. I scan now and then and pick some stuff up, but I always wonder if it is worth my while.



"to each his own" might be the key here. I like your approach of having kids evaluate the use of these tools. Sometimes I think the "tool du jour" gets more attention and use than it really merits.

Thanks for the comment,


June 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I agree entirely, Doug: most of what goes on Twitter is just adding "a bit to the cacophony of the Internet". Possibly because it's important to screech loud and often in order for you to make yourself heard.

Take some of the big "names" in education: they're all doing it. OK, I'm an old fuddy duddy but a blog is so much better if you've got something serious to say (like this post) or discuss.

June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom

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