Brendon Walsh
Twitter Fragments

Twitter Fragments


Well, well, well. It would seem that Twitter is not a place where I just shout into a (Rubified) void and hear my own thoughts reverberate back in retweets and favourites driven by my own fake accounts. This will serve as a reminder to myself and all of you who may not always take into account the potential audience for your online content.

The following is an email conversation that was initiated by my boss after he stumbled upon a conversation between myself and @JThrust on Twitter. Not being a follower of either myself or JThrust, his upcoming reaction to this brief conversation is noticeably uneasy and understandably so given the character that I am on Twitter and the way I actually behave in meatspace. He has no contextual relevance for the conversation other than this brief exchange coupled with his interactions with me in the workplace.

What I say on Twitter isn't necessarily harmful to anyone or directed as an attack to anyone specifically. Even so, I am not the most politically correct person when I conduct myself there. I don't plan to change that as a result of this incident either. I share this with all of you so that perhaps you can take away what I failed to concerning workplace expectations and the dangers of a passer-by in a Twitter feed.

We all know that I share a great deal of contention towards people who may not be as well versed in technology as I am. And that statement is not meant to put myself on a pedestal above all others as I recognize that I am quite a ways from the top of the geek food chain. Perhaps this contention has been brewed while offering free tech support to anyone who asks all these years. Or maybe it's just way too much time spent living vicariously the lives of people in Silicon Valley. Whatever the reason, I want to fully acknowledge that I often come off as heavy-handed and probably did here too. I sincerely do wish to apologize for the pompous behaviours of mine as they happen.

But I would also like to plead for some sympathy. We've all been the tech support person. It's not fun regardless of how much money may or may not be involved. I'd like to graciously ask you keep this in mind while reading my response in particular.

Finally, I'd just like to point out that certain aspects of both emails have been altered or omitted to protect the innocent.

The Boss

Niamu writes:

@JThrust Tell me about it. I don't know what the all buzz is about in this board for Twitter, because they don't know how to use it.

So does that mean we should stay away from it, never venture forward, not try new ways or learn new things? When you began to venture into the world of computers, did you avoid programs that you new little about, or did you move forward eager to learn about all what they could do and how to use them effectively? Maybe we don't know how to use it, but if we don't try then we will never learn. You get frustrated by folks who aren't well versed in technology, so would your solution be to ban them from using it, or to help them gain the knowledge to become proficient?

My Reply

Well, where do I begin...

I can understand that you may perceive this incredibly brief exchange of thoughts between myself and JThrust as an attack on efforts everywhere by educational institutions and the indeed the world over. And sure, I've openly admitted frustrations that I have with users who do not understand technology the way myself and friends seem to grok it. However, there is a greater subtext here that you will have undoubtedly missed I'd like to share with you to help you understand the greater conversation that JThrust and I have had over the years about Twitter specifically and other technologies.

JThrust is a good friend of mine. We've known each other for years, hang out on occasion and have even ventured into shared blogging communities and briefly, podcasting in the past. Suffice to say that we have had many conversations concerning the effectiveness and pervasiveness of technology. You may find it even more interesting that while we seem to be in agreement in this brief discourse, we almost never share the same opinion. In fact, JThrust has perhaps the most compelling Twitter origins of anyone.

Initially, he proclaimed Twitter as this minimalist Facebook status update that was publicly available for anyone to be informed of what you had for dinner that night, or what your dog just threw up all over the living room rug. For him, as for many people initially, Twitter served no purpose. After months of many of us harping at him to try it out and experience what Twitter had to offer, he finally began to use the service on February 23, 2009. About two years after myself and other friends.

Like all things, it took time for Twitter to make sense to him. But the greatest of kudos go out to him for not only sticking with it, but experimenting on a level that we were not even made aware of until weeks later when the internet started to buzz about a sensational viral marketing campaign that many believed to be perpetrated by Nintendo to generate interest in a new video game property...

@TopHatProfessor Layton and the Curious Twitter Accounts

The above article captures most of the event in question and JThrust's involvement. What JThrust had done was truly inspiring. He had taken the plunge into not only one account, but a second one as well. He had spent the time to get to know the medium and had trusted in many of us who said, and still assert today that 100 tweets is what it takes to fully understand Twitter.

A compelling story to say the least. And we're not done yet. JThrust, as you may have gathered from the originating tweet for this conversation, works within the education system as well. So I believe he can speak with some authority on the subject. Arguably, his comments hold far more weight than my own now that you have glimpsed his history.

Coming to the heart of the matter though; Were we both a bit crass in our expressions of the way Twitter is being handled in schools? Probably. Of course, Twitter is all about subtext. It has to be when you only have 140 characters. And given the new backstory that you are now aware of, I think you can understand my greater meaning.

Naturally, I'm pleased that my suggestion to use Twitter has grown into something that is being pushed so heavily right now. Where my concerns lie are not with people using it. My concerns are with people not knowing enough about the medium to make effective use of it. That may come with time. But time is not the only factor here. You will agree that attention is also necessary for success. Time and attention are something that Merlin Mann talks a lot about and something that I've come to accept as fundamentals to doing great work. My wish is that the rest of the educational community will see that as well. But my fears and observations often get the better of me. Accounts like this one often seduce me into thinking this won't take off so well within our board. Link removed to protect the innocent

In closing - and I apologize that it's taken so long to get here - I'd like to just re-affirm that I obviously don't want to "ban" schools or educators from using new tools because they don't understand them. But I would like to see a conscious effort of both time and attention on these new tools so they can use them effectively because in all honesty and frankness, there are many of them who really don't know how to use it because they haven't breached that magic 100 tweet barrier where things become clear.

Just one more thing; I don't often like to spend so much time on emails (especially those that concern work), outside of office hours. However, I felt that this was an important matter to address.

Moral of the story

I hesitate to make this one of those cautionary tales about being careful what you post online. Obviously, my tone will change if I happen to be unemployed come next week. But that's really not what I think is the core issue here. The core issue here for me is being conscious of the fact that anyone can stumble into a fragmented conversation and extrapolate something that isn't there in a tone that you did not intend. This incident probably won't change much of the way I behave on Twitter or elsewhere. But it was a nice reminder that words do have meaning. Even if that meaning is interpreted differently by the audience that stumbles across it.