One week ago I was not a Twitter user. After hearing about it for years and seeing other people use it, I wasn’t convinced it was a tool for me. I personally have problems communicating in 140 characters or less (mainly because I don’t usually put a limit on myself) and I think Twitter has changed language use. We see words not being capitalized, the use of numbers where letters should be, an insane amount of shorthand, and #somanyhashtags I can’t #decipher what someone’s actually #tryingtocommunicate.

And then I heard this story on NPR, which claims that Twitter can boost literacy. And I got to thinking, am I just uncomfortable with Twitter because I haven’t fully immersed myself in the experience? Is there something to it that I’m missing? So on Monday, I created an account (@mamileham) to see how this cultural tool is used and what it means for us as researchers of free-choice learning.

Twitter is a cultural tool that’s here to stay.  It allows people to connect and communicate in a way like never before. As this video says, “you wouldn’t send an email to a friend to tell them you’re having coffee. Your friend doesn’t need to know that.” But what if someone is truly interested in the little things? With people connecting (@) and mentioning (#) where they are and what they’re doing, we can follow and understand what they are experiencing and possibly how they’re evaluating and making sense of the world.  With Twitter, the video says, “[people can] see life between blog posts and emails.” What if we could see the meaning making (in almost real time) between entering and exiting a museum based on an individual’s tweets?

I’m not completely sold on Twitter boosting literacy, but I do understand how we are using social media to share information, find information, think about who we are (i.e., identity formation), and that tweeting is a new language. You have to learn and then know how to use the @ and # but maybe it’s worth learning. However, think about how all those #hashtags sound when used in real life.

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One thought on “Twitter as a #CulturalTool

  1. I am so torn about twitter.

    “XX has changed YY use.” – This sounds like an argument I’ve heard many times, about cell phones, smartphones, the internet, email, texting, probably computers, TV, and radios, too. With Twitter and some of these others, I bet it’s not just language, but thought/thinking, that has changed. People probably say it about almost every new groundbreaking, widely-adopted innovation. People probably said it about museums at one point (at least I hope they did). I wonder, though, how widely-adopted a platform has to be before it has this effect. Or is it the reverse, that how much it changes our use drives how widely-adopted it becomes?

    What I hate most is that I feel like there are too many new things for me to keep up with, and there seems to be a barrier for entry that I’m no longer willing to invest in all these new things. Which, I think, means that I might be missing out on some real gems (maybe Twitter) because I can’t/won’t just try everything. However, I guess I’ve never really been an early adopter of a lot of things, which helped me to avoid Beta tapes and Laserdiscs.

    I think it leads me to feel frustrated that the barrier to entry seems even higher now that I *might* want to adopt something like twitter. I guess I didn’t have a smartphone for a while, nor were conferences as wifi enabled as they have been recently. My favorite use so far has been at conferences, following what others say about not-so-interactive lecture presentations. I also learned about using Storify to collect Tweets and other postings from social media.

    I guess I’m just not convinced that I have an audience on twitter, nor do I know how to build one. However, I probably first joined Facebook not ever thinking I’d have over 500 friends. That still doesn’t solve the way of using Twitter effectively as a professional medium, especially in our field, which I think is still pretty small.

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