Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Alfie Kohn on Twitter

This was written by Alfie Kohn who writes and speaks about parenting and education. His website is here and he tweets here. This post was originally found here.

by Alfie Kohn

In 2009, when a friend breathlessly told me about a new social media format in which messages would be limited to 140 characters, I smirkily predicted that within a few years it would be mentioned in the same breath with the pet rock craze of the 1970s. Fifty-two months after having stuck my toe in these digital waters, however, I'm prepared to admit that I was wrong. This thing may be around for awhile. Still, my attitude about Twitter remains ambivalent, and I thought I'd take about 3000 characters to explain how I view it and use it.

RECEIVING: I've been accused - mostly by people who don't much like my ideas anyway - of being arrogant or unsporting because I don't use Twitter to converse. It's true: I don't. If someone asks a question, and I happen to see the tweet, I'll usually invite him or her to send me an e-mail so we can communicate privately and without the need to omit important qualifications or 2 dpnd on irrtatng abbrvs. I follow only a handful of people - plus another small bunch in a backup account that I check less frequently. That's my limit. I frankly don't understand how it's possible to follow hundreds, or even thousands, of people: Those who do so are either devoting orders of magnitude more time to this medium every day than I do (or would want to), or else they're missing the vast majority of those tweets. Most of the ideas and perspectives I encounter, like most of the conversations I have, don't involve Twitter.

SENDING: I limit myself to one carefully chosen message a day, which is either a reflection (about education, parenting, human behavior, or occasionally politics), a quote I found provocative, a link to a useful resource, or, once every week or two, an article of mine. This limit forces me to be selective. It allows me to avoid (a) spewing out a volume of material that would be more overwhelming than useful to those who follow my tweets, (b) presuming that people care about what restaurant I've just eaten in or whether the traffic is really bad today, or (c) creating a loop of self-congratulation whereby I retweet every message that mentions me favorably. If I restrict myself to a single tweet, I'm not tempted to impersonate a fire hose, or to share my prosaic daily activities with the world, or to keep saying, "Look! Someone likes what I wrote!"

CHATTING: I've tried a few times, but mass Twitter "conversations" just don't work for me. Each person is talking to everyone and to no one. Your attempt to respond to a particular observation or question is quickly buried under a pile of subsequent messages. And I find a 140-character limit a terrible match for the rapid-fire nature of the colloquy. I can be succinct (sometimes) or I can be fast, but please don't ask me to be both at once.

Even reading selectively, Twitter helps me learn about articles I might otherwise have missed. Conversely, I hope my one-a-day links and thoughts are useful to those who follow me. At some point I may rethink and expand my use of the medium, but for now this restricted use - and the limited commitment of time it entails - still makes sense for me.


  1. Yeah... I attend #engchat most Monday evenings, but I don't like its format much. I would prefer a dedicated chat program that allows you to type as much or as little as you want and often lets you open separate windows for smaller groups. I'm a lot more active on tumblr, which integrates images and video much more fluidly and allows for longer posts while encouraging brevity. I just wish it had threaded private messaging.

  2. One of the highlights of my time on Twitter was getting an e-mail from Alfie Kohn asking permission to post something I had written. The e-mail was approachable, classy and made my day, given the fact that it was written by someone I highly admire.

    The same thing could have happened on Twitter DM, but it wouldn't have been the same. It would have lacked the tone or the nuance that an e-mail exchange could offer.


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