“There’s all this emphasis on having your own blog, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, but what about the skill it takes to read and listen to those things?” he said. “For all the technophilic love given to networked communication and peer-to-peer learning, it’s not the best educational mode—there’s something about linearity and dialogue that works better than the chaos you saw today.”
I think part of the inherent breakdown within the discussion this article talks about is partly the medium, and partly the education of consciousness and interaction with networked modes of communication.
Regarding the medium: Twitter is not the best venue for these kinds of discussions. There is an internal lack of stability that does not allow for a consistent and organizable flow of conversation. True, it has gotten better over the years, but a nested timeline like the Plurk interface where each update is its own dropdown conversation, and tangential threads can easily be removed to their own thread
or even a shared document like in a Google Doc would better allow for a discussion because different subjects could be fleshed out and, more importantly, contained. The form of the website itself dictates, in part, the way we interact with it just like a film is different from a book even if they have the same story.
As packets of information, tweets are not an effective tool. Using them for discussion is similar to reading a play by Shakespeare but only reading one couplet at a time with significant pauses in between.
It also seems a mistake to have everyone in the same room tweeting at the screens in front of them. It helps keep the conversation on track, yes, but it also creates an environment of enforced silence where the only expression of ideas is through the screen, through twitter. Why not let everyone go home and sit in their pajamas to tweet? They may be distracted by other things, but the comfort factor can easily help relieve the stress of using the Twitter platform for discussion.
Regarding consciousness: Just like with any other skill, it takes practice to master communication through a social media platform. Some of us are better equipped than others to the demands of digitized communication. I for example can run two small blogs, a tumblr, personal Facebook page with two shared pages through work, multiple emails, a plurk account, a twitter account all with some degree of success in part because I know how to focus and refocus my attention and can conceptualize the ways in which my multiple online presences interact with each other, with my audiences, and with how much attention I give them.
This is a learned skill.
One that with developments in technology we are learning at earlier and earlier ages.
If I may use another analogy, some people can only text one person at a time (and even then are pisspoor at following through)
|Google Gooeys on texting|
Using social media at the level necessary to promote meaningful discussion requires a base understanding of not only the dynamics of the social media, but also people. If I flood someone's feed (be it twitter, or otherwise), there is no chance for response. Conversely if I do not update enough, my input is not contributing.
Digital and social media will never surpass the linear flow of a classroom discussion for direct transfer of information, but they have other benefits.
There is a record of the conversation being had that can be referenced repeatedly. You don't have to be there to take part. Linking and further networking provide opportunity and access to further information (outside articles, et. cetera). Digital communication and social media are vaguely atemporal in that they do not require a strict linear progression of information. You can revist, add to, or critique any point of a conversation at any point. The text (as most concrete signifiers of communication) is malleable and moveable in ways that verbal conversations aren't.
For example, for a group project in a class I took my freshmen year of college, we created a Facebook group that surprisingly still exists. Utilizing the social media as a tool, we were able to have meaningful discussion, in part because we chose a format that was most meaningful and helpful to our needs.
Twitter can never be that because it is too disorganized and too short. Tumblr because it removes length constraints has some options that make it more useful than Twitter, but the interface is still missing the traceable cohesion required for meaningful communication. I think that plurk has a better interface, but suffers some of the same limitations as twitter for size of posts. Things like Google Docs (or the now defunct Google Wave) offer probably the best option, but are also more unwieldy and disorienting as a shared experience.
In short, I think the classroom experiment as described in the article fails not on a why, but on a how.