Is twitter bad for our souls?

I just finished an abstract for a special issue on online social networks and ethics. I put it together pretty quickly because I found out about the call for papers just a few days ago and the deadline was today (19 june). It’s partly inspired by my recent post on Bill Keller’s The Twitter Trap, more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’. Here it is:

Does twitter turn us into distracted, uncaring, apathetic, disengaged, unethical citizens? Many critics seem to think so. In “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell dismisses twitter as being unable to incite revolution and radical change and as only generating superficial, weak connections between individuals and communities. In “I Tweet, Therefore I Am,” Peggy Orenstein charges that twitter encourages us to become packaged selves who instantly and unthinkingly publicize our experiences and, as a consequence, are alienated from our own humanity. And in “The Twitter Trap,” Bill Keller laments that twitter reduces us to soulless narcissists who care more about spreading information and gaining notoriety than experiencing intimacy and forging authentic connections.

In all three of these articles, twitter is indicted as an online social network that threatens our ability to be ethically and politically engaged citizens. According to these authors, not only does twitter lack any ethical value, but using it can actually do harm to our ethical selves, making it increasingly difficult for us to think deeply and reflectively and to act responsibly and ethically within the world.

Is this an accurate assessment? Does twitter usage lead, in the words of Bill Keller, to the erosion of our souls? Yes and no. While twitter can encourage us to be superficial,apathetic or disengaged, it can also enable us to communicate meaningful narratives about our lives and to share those narratives with each other. And it can enable us to cultivate authenticity through how we express ourselves and document our experiences, how we engage with the world and its inhabitants, and how we create connections and form alliances with each other.

Challenging the claim that twitter is only a threat to our ethical selfhood, this essay explores how twitter participation–through posting tweets, following other twitter users, participating in online twitter conversations, sharing resources, reading others’ tweets to gain social/critical/ethical awareness–might contribute to ethical development and help guide online (and offline) practices in ways that are more engaged, authentic and ethical.

This essay will be divided into two main parts. In the first part, I will offer a brief overview of twitter, some of its key features and who (based on factors like race, class, age, and gender) is using it and how and why. I will also provide some background on four ethical perspectives from which to assess the ethical potential of twitter: the dignity and human rights perspective, the justice perspective, the virtue perspective and the feminist ethics of care perspective. Then, I will describe some general ways in which twitter might contribute to authentic expression, engagement and connection. In the second part of this essay, I will ethically evaluate three current examples of twitter usage, using the four ethical frameworks that I introduced in part one, and raising critical questions about whether or not they contribute to the fostering of ethical selfhood, especially in relation to authenticity. These three examples are: 1. Authentic expression and Angie Jackson’s live-tweeting of her abortion in February, 2010; 2. Authentic engagement and the use of hashtags, like #WeAreAlabama, to spread awareness and information about the tornados in Alabama in April 2011; and 3. Authentic connection and Joel Johnson’s promotion in Gizmodo of “stalking a sexy black woman” on twitter in order to learn more about people and cultures very different from your own in July, 2010.

Each of these examples raises important and difficult questions about ethics, authenticity and twitter. In live-tweeting her abortion, Angie Jackson claims that her goal was to honestly document her experiences using RU-486 in order to “demystify” abortion for others. Is this live-tweeting an authentic expression of someone striving to grant dignity to her experiences (and the experiences of other women) of having an abortion or is it as an example of someone with “bad manners” whose only interest is in gaining public notoriety?

Hashtags like #WeAreAlabama were used to spread awareness and mobilize individuals and communities who wanted to learn more about how they could help victims of the Alabama tornados. Do these hashtags enable twitter users to have authentic engagement with those communities, allowing them to bear witness to the devastation and to contribute in meaningful ways to the relief effort? Or do these hashtags, and the information they provide, encourage twitter users to remain passive and disengaged as they falsely believe that merely reading stories and donating money via twitter links enables them to think that they are “doing their part”?

Finally, Joel Johnson encourages us to follow the twitter feeds of people who aren’t like us in order to “experience the joy of discovery that can come by weaving a stranger’s life into your own.” Does following a stranger on twitter and reading tweets about their life enable us to learn more about them and care about and for them, thereby resulting in the development of an authentic connection with them? Or does following someone on twitter resemble stalking and only lead to the most superficial of connections?

So, that’s it. Like I said, I put it together pretty quickly. I’m not happy with my abrupt ending, but I like the argument and analysis that I’ve come up with–although I don’t like how the questions I pose about the three twitter “moments” create an either/or binary. In ethically evaluating these moments, I am not interested in drawing such easy conclusions–that they are either good or bad, this or that. Instead, I would like to explore the ethical difficulty of understanding these moments as possibly allowing for authentic and inauthentic expressions, engagements and connections. Oh well, I will change these questions in my extended draft. Whether or not this article is accepted, I will have fun writing it!

A few sources to check out

After (finally) finishing my entry on more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’, I seem to be in technology/social media mode. As I start to think more about blogs and social media in relation to ethics, moral selfhood and care of the self, here are a few sources that might be helpful:

1. Jonathan Franzen.  Liking is for Cowards: Go For What Hurts (Also known as: Technology Provides an Alternative to Love”
One key argument he makes is that internet technology (ex. the “like” button on facebook) contributes to our narcissism and our refusal to move outside of ourselves to actually connect (and love) others. When we “like” something or friend someone, we just invite it into “our private hall of flattering mirrors.”  I want to come back to Franzen’s claims in his essay and really think them through, especially what they mean for the Self. I’m not sure how or if it connects, but I want to revisit Chela Sandoval’s discussion of love in Methodology of the Oppressedand read it beside Franzen’s assessment of love.

2. Natasha Singer. The Trouble with the Echo Chamber Online
Speaking of insular selves who devote too much energy to reading/thinking about what they like/what they are interested in, Singer discusses the problems with the personalization of the web. Here’s a relevant passage:

But, in a effort to single out users for tailored recommendations or advertisements, personalization tends to sort people into categories that may limit their options. It is a system that cocoons users, diminishing the kind of exposure to opposing viewpoints necessary for a healthy democracy, says Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and the author of “You Are Not a Gadget.”

I was excited to see this article because I have been known, quite frequently, to rail against the streamlining of my experience–especially when it comes to Netflix and how they recommend films based on my daughter’s excessive watching of Barney or Horseland or Suite Life on Deck.

3. Parser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You
In this book Parser, who is the former executive director of, discusses the dangers of web personalization and the filters that search engines–like google–or social media–like facebook—use to streamline our internet experience. Here’s his description of the filter bubble:

The basic code at the heart of the new Internet is pretty simple. The new generation of Internet filters looks at the things you seem to like—the actual things you’ve done, or the things people like you like—and tries to extrapolate. They are prediction engines, constantly creating and refining a theory of who you are and what you’ll do and want next. Together, these engines create a unique universe of information for each of us—what I’ve come to call a filter bubble—which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information.

Of course, to some extent we’ve always consumed media that appealed to our interests and avocations and ignored much of the rest. But the filter bubble introduces three dynamics we’ve never dealt with before.

First, you’re alone in it. A cable channel that caters to a narrow interest (say, golf ) has other viewers with whom you share a frame of reference. But you’re the only person in your bubble. In an age when shared information is the bedrock of shared experience, the filter bubble is a centrifugal force, pulling us apart.

Second, the filter bubble is invisible. Most viewers of conservative or liberal news sources know that they’re going to a station curated to serve a particular political viewpoint. But Google’s agenda is opaque. Google doesn’t tell you who it thinks you are or why it’s showing you the results you’re seeing. You don’t know if its assumptions about you are right or wrong—and you might not even know it’s making assumptions about you in the first place. My friend who got more investment-oriented information about BP still has no idea why that was the case— she’s not a stockbroker. Because you haven’t chosen the criteria by which sites filter information in and out, it’s easy to imagine that the information that comes through a filter bubble is unbiased, objective, true. But it’s not. In fact, from within the bubble, it’s nearly impossible to see how biased it is.

Finally, you don’t choose to enter the bubble. When you turn on Fox News or read The Nation, you’re making a decision about what kind of filter to use to make sense of the world. It’s an active process, and like putting on a pair of tinted glasses, you can guess how the editors’ leaning shapes your perception. You don’t make the same kind of choice with personalized fi lters. They come to you—and because they drive up profi ts for the Web sites that use them, they’ll become harder and harder to avoid.

You can read an excerpt of the book here. You can also watch a Democracy Now! interview with Parser here.

more twitter hatin’ and conflatin’

On Monday, I came across The Twitter Trap via hastac and Cathy Davidson’s It’s Not the Technology, Stupid!. Davidson does an excellent job of critically responding to the many (and I mean many) problematic claims made in this brief editorial. I feel compelled to add a few my own thoughts to this conversation by engaging in some direct talking back (see this post by KCF for more on bell hooks and “talking back”) to a few of Keller’s statements. As an aside, I am looking forward to Davidson’s new book, coming out in August, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live and WorkAnd I am very appreciative of the great work she and the other amazing scholars at HASTAC do.

Bill Keller opens the essay this way:

Last week my wife and I told our 13-year-old daughter she could join Facebook. Within a few hours she had accumulated 171 friends, and I felt a little as if I had passed my child a pipe of crystal meth.

Wait a second? The title of this article is “The Twitter Trap,” yet he opens with a discussion of facebook. When did facebook = twitter? Like many authors who hate on social media, Keller conflates facebook with twitter.* They are not the same. Here’s one (very brief way) in which I distinguish between facebook and twitter (read the full post here):

How is twitter different from facebook?

  • Twitter is a public site. There is not an expectation of privacy.
  • People who read your tweets are your followers, not friends.
  • Twitter has a 140 character limit.
  • Twitter relies on crowdsourcing and how it is used is driven more by how people are using it and experimenting with it. Example: hashtags

In addition to these structural differences, twitter and facebook often appeal to and are used by different groups of people (influenced by gender, age, race, ethnicity, class, global positioning). While I am in favor of critical engagements with the limits of social media, those engagements demand that we provide specific critiques to the various media as opposed to over-generalized, hyperbolic statements that equate participating in social media to using crystal meth. While Keller’s flippant remark is probably intended to get a laugh, what it really does is shut down any serious (as in deep, thoughtful, meaningful) discussion about what various forms of social media do to us and what we can do with them.

*note: Keller does distinguish between twitter and facebook, at least briefly and somewhat superficially, later in his essay. However, his opening conflation still speaks to how social media is frequently represented as a monolithic threat; it becomes SOCIAL MEDIA as opposed to various forms of social media.

mini-rant: In addition to conflating twitter with facebook in this opening, Keller also invokes the tired old trope of the internet/social media as dangerous predator. Lock your doors! Shut down your computers! The interwebz are coming for your poor, defenseless children! Don’t even think about letting little Johnny go on facebook. Just like Jim Ignatowsky in Taxi when he take his first bite of the marijuana brownie and instantly becomes a drug addict, all Johnny needs is one click of the like button and he’s hooked forever. But seriously, I don’t want to dismiss the potential dangers of facebook (cyberbullies, privacy violations, posting private thoughts/images that shouldn’t be public, inordinate amounts of time spent in front of the computer instead of outside or with other people). Instead, I want to shift the conversation away from envisioning social media as a threat that children need to protected from.  We need to spend more time focusing on how to guide children in using social media effectively and critically/creatively. We (adults/parental figures) might also spend time learning from our kids about using social media.

Later on in the editorial, Keller writes:

Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud. The upside is that this frees a lot of gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and “Real Housewives.”

Claiming that the only upside to using online technologies/social media is that it provides us with more time to do Farmville and watch/discuss “Real Housewives” ignores (or actively suppresses) the wide range of critical and creative ways that lots of people are using social media–like facebook or twitter–to share ideas, connect with others and create and document authentic expressions of selfhood. From:

  • live-tweeting conferences and workshops I was just following the hashtag for #racialequity and the plenary with Peggy McIntosh. See below for one of my favorite lines:

  • to mobilizing others to action check out mashable’s post on How Egyptians Used Twitter During the January Crisis
  • to documenting/sharing stories/spreading the word on the devastating tornado damage in Alabama and Missouri On both facebook and twitter, I was able to bear witness to first-hand accounts of the devastation and determine reliable ways to donate much-needed supplies to those communities.

Finally, Keller concludes:

There is a growing library of credible digital Cassandras who have explored what new media are doing to our brains (Nicholas CarrJaron LanierGary Small and Gigi Vorgan,William Powers, et al.). My own anxiety is less about the cerebrum than about the soul…

Throughout the essay, Keller spends some time describing the ways that social media (and here he particularly targets twitter) serves as a threat to our souls:

  • twitter is an enemy of contemplation, demanding that we pay attention to it and other tweeters at the expensive of our own thinking and reflection
  • erodes “our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity”
  • encourages us to unlearn “complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy”

I don’t totally disagree with Keller’s assessment of the potential effects of social media. Yes, various forms of social media (I tend to focus on twitter and facebook), can create distractions and encourage uncritical ramblings. But, that’s not all these social media can (or actually) do. Perhaps Keller will dismiss my claim, just as he dismisses the anonymous “tweeter” in his article who suggests that the value of social media “depends on who you follow/who your friends are.” But, I want to echo Davidson in her essay and suggest that “it’s not the technology, stupid!” but the people who use the technology that plays the most significant role in whether or not twitter erodes the soul.

Also like Davidson, I was initially reluctant to waste time responding to Keller’s “plaintive, yet hyperbolic critique of all social media.” However, since one focus of my current work is on how blogs and twitter can potentially enable us to cultivate authentic moments of (moral) selfhood and help us to create spaces for deep critical, creative and ethical reflection, I couldn’t not talk back to his claim that social media was a threat to our souls.  I plan to spend a lot of time this summer working through what it might mean to use blogs and twitter in tandem to cultivate and practice virtue and to (a la Foucault) care for the self. For now, check out my post on the undisciplined self via twitter.


Staying in Trouble and Being Undisciplined, part one

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on my research, particularly as it relates to feminist media studies. Here is the first part of it. I plan to post the other parts in upcoming entries.

Staying in Trouble and Being Undisciplined,
or one way of doing feminist interdisciplinary work on and through digital media

I often tell students one effective way to understand what an author is trying to say is to explain their title. In that spirit I want to begin this presentation by explaining my title; in many ways, it speaks to who I am and what I aim to do as a scholar, critical thinker and educator-activist.


Staying in trouble and being undisciplined:
In much of my work, I am interested in exploring the ethical and political value of making and staying in trouble for feminist and queer projects and practices.  This work is partly inspired by Judith Butler and her claim that “trouble is inevitable, the task how best to make it, what best way to be in it.”  While I imagine troublemaking and troublestaying working in many different ways, I am particularly interested in how they can connect to a feminist curiosity about the world, a persistent desire to ask lots of questions (like “why?” and “at whose expense?”), and a refusal to uncritically accept ideas or practices as given and beyond question.

In relation to my valuing of staying in trouble, I also identify myself as being undisciplined. I like to experiment with what counts as “knowledge” and who counts as a “knower.” I frequently experiment with and attempt to transgress boundaries and unsettle “proper” ways of knowing and producing knowledge. I often like to put disciplinary forms of knowledge into conversation in unexpected ways and my work frequently resides at the limits of disciplines. I am also undisciplined in how I engage with and on social media. I frequently push at the limits of how blogs, for example, can (or maybe should) be used.  Yet, even though I am undisciplined, my ability to do so comes from extensive disciplinary training and results in repeated, very purposeful practices.

One way of doing feminist interdisciplinary work:
I do not wish to present my work on trouble and digital media as the model for how to do interdisciplinary feminist work. Instead it is one vision that hopefully serves as an invitation to others to critically engage and to offer up their own understandings of how we might do feminist interdisciplinary work. My vision comes out of an understanding of feminism as a collection of movements and communities that exist in relation to and beside other social movements and that gains vitality from not reconciling the various ways in which it gets expressed/realized/enacted/practiced. It is interdisciplinary because I draw from a number of different disciplines, including: philosophy, education, religion, ethics, cultural studies, media studies and political science. I understand the work that I do to include: not only the finished products of my research, but the thinking/connecting/experimenting/processing work that I also do. I aim to make all aspects of that work visible and accessible to others.

on and through social media
I engage in research that is on (about) digital media, particularly exploring the limits and possibilities of digital media for feminist pedagogical projects. I also use digital media to engage in and document that research and thinking. While I focus primarily on blogs and, more recently, some on twitter, I am also interested in critical explorations of facebook and youtube, digital storytelling, creating digital videos, video-logs, podcasts, and maptivism through google maps.

Why social media?
First, I believe that there is tremendous potential in digital/social media in shifting how we value and engage in learning and producing and sharing knowledge. I have already written extensively about blogs and how they can foster experimentation, enable us to get our work out to others immediately (more accessible to wider audience), allow others to engage with us, and encourage collaboration and sharing of resources.

Second, social media isn’t going anywhere. We need to develop strategies for critically engaging with it (not just rejecting it or uncritically embracing it). How do we respond to the ever-increasing presence of social media in our lives/classrooms/workplaces? How are social media shaping who we are, what we know and how we know it? In many ways, we are in a social media era where it is not so much a matter of being for or against social media; they affect us/shape how we are intelligible as consumer-citizen subjects and regulate what information/ideas/products that we have access to. So, the question is not: are we for or against social media, but how can we position ourselves in relation to social media in ways that are more resistant to its harmful effects while harnessing its potentially transformative possibilities? How do we use social media in resistant, transgressive and transformative ways? How do we develop strategies/ways-of-being that enable us to use/engage with social media for our feminist pedagogical-theoretical-activist practices and projects? What role can feminist scholar/educators/activists have in shaping how social media is practiced–in how people are trained to use them? What skills they develop as they post, tweet and update their statuses?

Third, in my own practices, I find digital media, especially blogs, to be very exciting and useful. Here’s what I recently wrote about why and how I use blogs:

Having used blogs in my courses since early 2007 and in my own research, writing and collaborative projects since 2009, I see them as potentially powerful spaces for radical transformation, critical and creative expression and community-building. They play a central role in all aspects of my life as a thinker, learner, writer, teacher and researcher. I write in three of my own blogs and I make blogs a central part of all my classes. I use my personal and course blogs to encourage myself and my students to archive our ideas, to document our research, to put seemingly disparate ideas or representations into conversation, to offer up various accounts of ourselves, to build relationships with visible and invisible/known and unknown readers, to experiment with pedagogical techniques, to cultivate effective writing and thinking habits, to disrupt the rigid rules and disciplinary borders that discourage new ideas and unexpected connections, to lay bare our own thinking and writing process, to practice what we teach (and preach), to develop connections between our different selves, and to remind ourselves that being thinkers/learners/teachers can be energizing and fun. In addition to all of these reasons, writing on my own blogs and using blogs in the classroom enables me to access my feminist troublemaking self.  Through blogging, I reject rigid boundaries between disciplines, find creative ways to connect my research with my life, and infuse my ideas with a sense of humor. I play with what should count as rigorous scholarship or as proper objects of study. I cultivate a curiosity about the world that is motivated by a desire for engaging and experimenting with ideas as opposed to acquiring knowledge. And I invite my fellow bloggers (inside and outside of my classes) to join me at an experimental and unsettling space where we strive to remain open to new ideas and to critically exploring the limits of our own perspectives.

I didn’t start out a few years back, intending to think about/reflect on blogging and social media so much. Instead, I wanted a space to begin documenting and archiving my writing and ideas, ideas that had been brewing for years but that I never had time to formulate in concrete ways. I also wanted a space to experiment with new course assignments. However, once I began writing on this research/thinking blog, I knew that if I were to use blogs effectively, I needed to learn more about how they function, how others are using them, and what specific limits and possibilities they offer to an undisciplined and interdisciplinary feminist educator/activist/troublemaker. For the past year and a half, I have devoted a lot of time to researching, writing about and engaging in blogging practices.  In the last six months, I have expanded my work to think more broadly about social mediatwitter, in particular–and its limits and possibilities, particularly, but not exclusively, in relation to feminist (and queer) pedagogy.

Having explained my title as a way to introduce, in broad strokes, who I am as scholar and educator, I want to offer up several of my current research projects and the clusters of questions that these projects raise for me.  As part of my own troublestaying and undisciplined approach to feminist work, I gravitate towards questions instead of answers. In the next entry, I will discuss my first research project.

Twitter and Feminist Pedagogy

Note: The following is a sample class discussion on feminist pedagogy, digital literacy and twitter. The purpose of this discussion is to generate a feminist curiosity about feminist digital literacy and twitter and to get students thinking critically about social media in the classroom.

To tweet or not to tweet…that is not the question.

Consider the following passage from Academic Hack in their entry, “On What it Would Mean to Really Teach ‘Naked”:

Teaching without digital technology is an irresponsible pedagogy. Why? The future is digital, love it or hate it. We can argue later about whether or not this is a good or a bad thing. (Hint: the answer is both.) But to educate students, or to attempt to educate students without developing their digital literacy is to leave them ill prepared for their futures. Eliminating technology produces not the affect [sic] of a more engaged literate student populous, rather it produces the reverse, an ill informed, uncritical, unengaged student populous who will become at the very best passive consumers of the technology being resisted, and at the worst its willing victims.

I want to take AcademicHack’s claim seriously (not necessarily to agree, but to take it seriously by critically engaging with it) and think about the importance of digital literacy in terms of feminist pedagogy and practicing and theorizing about twitter. How can/should feminist educators discuss digital literacy in relation to twitter? What sorts of conversations should we/they have and what practices should we/they engage in order to develop feminist digital literacy?

Twitter Basics

Before moving into a discussion of twitter and feminist digital literacy, I want to offer up some twitter basics.

1. What is twitter? According to the official about twitter site:

Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting. Simply find the public streams you find most compelling and follow the conversations.

At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters in length, but don’t let the small size fool you—you can share a lot with a little space. Connected to each Tweet is a rich details pane that provides additional information, deeper context and embedded media. You can tell your story within your Tweet, or you can think of a Tweet as the headline, and use the details pane to tell the rest with photos, videos and other media content. See it in action.

2. How does twitter work? Here are just a few basics. If you want more, check out: twitter basics, How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To), and this twitter cheat sheet

disclaimer: People/organizations are using twitter in all sorts of ways that I haven’t even begun to imagine–especially since I just started experimenting on twitter this past August. My discussion merely touches upon some basic ways that twitter logic works.

  • Brief posts (called tweets) are limited to 140 characters or less
  • Post updates about what you’re doing, thinking, reading
  • Share others’ ideas by retweeting (RT) their posts
  • Create lists of people on twitter, organized under a topic (e.g.: class list)
  • Use hashtags (#) to tag post as related to a particular topic (e.g.: #fp2010)
  • Reply directly to other twitter accounts (tweeps/tweeple?) or mention them in your tweets by including @ + their twitter name in your tweet.
  • Tweets are posted in “real time” with most recent tweets at the top–the twitter timeline
  • Tweets often include links to blog posts or pictures (twitpics).
  • Other people can find you and follow your twitter timeline. You can also follow them.

3. How is twitter different from facebook?

  • Twitter is a public site. There is not an expectation of privacy.
  • People who read your tweets are your followers, not friends.
  • Twitter has a 140 character limit.
  • Twitter relies on crowdsourcing and how it is used is driven more by how people are using it and experimenting with it. Example: hashtags

Here’s a helpful youtube video that explains a key purpose of twitter: “real life happens between blog posts and emails. And now there’s a way to share”

Uses of twitter in the classroom

If we have time, we can return to this discussion. For now, here’s just a few ways I’m using it for research and teaching:

  • live-tweeting class (tweeting comments/summaries of what is being said in class as it is being said)
  • live-tweeting class readings (tweeting passages from and questions about the text as I read it)
  • answering questions tweeted by class members
  • posting announcements
  • posting questions/queries to the class
  • sharing links to relevant sources
  • live-tweeting extra office hours (haven’t tried this one yet)
  • experimenting with different accounts (tweet as class administrator + tweet as myself: undisciplined)

Here are some more ideas from AcademicHack. Also, some reflections on the art of the tweet. Also, check out my three twitter accounts: qued2010, femped2010, undisciplined

Discussion: Twitter, authenticity, lived experience, and daily habits

We could talk about the limits and possibilities of twitter in many different ways in relation to feminism and feminist pedagogies. For example, how does twitter work for (and/or against) activism? Lots of folks are critically reflecting on this question. Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s article about twitter and “Why the Revolution Will not be Tweeted.” Over at DigiActive, they put together a guide to Twitter for Activism. And Ronak Ghorbani offers up a series of podcasts + analysis on tweeting feminists.

We could also talk about how twitter works in encouraging back channel conversations in classrooms (during lectures and discussions) and in conferences. We could discuss this in relation to class distractions and the need for paying and shifting attention. Check out “Designing Choreographies for Attention” for more. Sample Reality offers up an interesting take on the value of “snark” (or, sarcastic, irreverent comments about the readings or the instructor’s teaching). In terms of using twitter for conference conversations, check out how it was used in the 2010 NWSA conference (they had the live feed on their website).

While these are all great conversations to have (and ones we could continue on this blog), I want to focus on one other way in which to discuss twitter and feminist digital literacy: authenticity, lived experience, and daily habits.

My focus on authenticity, lived experience and daily habits is partly inspired by Berenice Malka Fisher and her claim, in No Angel in the Classroom, that we “try to bring our most authentic [read: complicated, uncertain, multiple, honest] selves” into the classroom (51).  Can we achieve authenticity through the documenting of our lived experience? Through the repeated archiving and sharing of our daily habits? Can we “authentically” connect with others through our engagement with their tweets? What are the limits and possibilities of this archiving/documentation/sharing/engagement?

The following represent two different “moments” related to twitter and the above questions:

Moment One: I tweet, therefore I am, but if I don’t tweet it, did it happen?

Two related events:

a. Peggy Orenstein is sitting with her daughter in her front yard, enjoying the beautiful weather and listening to a download of E.B. White reading “The Trumpet of the Swan.” Instead of “being fully present in the moment,” she reflects on how best to capture the experience with a tweet. She wonders: “when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy?” And concludes: “The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity.”

  • Does tweeting “alienate us from our own humanity”?
  • What sort of authentic expressions are possible via twitter?
  • Is authenticity counter to/in conflict with performativity/performance?
  • How does twitter work differently for different bodies and different expressions?
  • Can we use twitter to express (and value) our lived experiences?
  • What are the problems and possibilities of expressing/relying on/invoking lived experiences?
  • In a youtube video about twitter it is suggested that twitter is concerned with documenting “the real life that happens between blog posts and emails.” What value do you see in expressing and documenting these aspects of real life?

b. BIll Nye (the Science guy) is giving a lecture at USC. Suddenly he falls to the floor. Instead of rushing to his aid, it appears that students quickly whip out their smart phones and begin tweeting about the event. The Lookout, a Yahoo news blog, describes it as an example of “civic indifference” and “youthful digital passivity.” The Lookout article links this event with what it describes as “an even more disturbing” example of civic indifference: the posting of images online, in real time, of the shooting and death of “Messy Mya,” a New Orleans comedian and youtube sensation. The Lookout article makes the rounds on facebook, possibly serving as further evidence of the evils of social media.

  • Do social media like twitter encourage “civic indifference” and “youthful digital passivity”? How?
  • Are there other ways than “youthful digital passivity” to read what was happening with the posting of the image of Messy Mya’s death? How do the events (and the bodies of the “victims”) differ in these two cases? Are these differences important in thinking critically about how twitter works and what it does (or what we can do with it)?
  • (How) does tweeting an event make it more “real”? Does this type of “realness” = authenticity and truth?

Moment Two: Following others’ tweets and the limits of sharing

Joel Johnson writes a blog entry entitled, “Why I Stalk a Sexy Black Woman on Twitter (and why you should too)” for gizmodo. He encourages readers to follow someone on twitter that they wouldn’t encounter in everyday life. In a follow-up post, largely written to respond to intensely negative reaction to his initial post, Johnson writes:

You’ve been on Twitter, haven’t you, @shani_o? It’s a website where people post things they choose to display to the public, including—unless one has a perfect follower-to-follows ratio or a private account—several people you don’t know at all who choose to pay attention to your life, your thoughts, and whatever else you choose to share. Rather than worry that I might be viewed as a sociopath for using Twitter exactly in the way for which it was designed, I choose to instead be excited about all the new people and perspectives that are right at my eyeballs’ fingertips. But that doesn’t mean I want—or am even capable of—becoming fast friends with every single person I observe (or read, or watch, or whatever) on the internet. No one really wants that—except for creepy people.

  • How are the expressions of our lived experiences valued and/or devalued when presented in twitter-logic (with 140 characters + random followers + the impulse to be witty and “cute” and quick)?
  • What happens when our authentic/crafted/performed tweets are taken up by others?
  • What are the dangers and limits of tweeting?
  • Is Twitter designed in order to “other” people? Does it encourage us to pay attention to each other in ways that are objectifying and oppressive? Can we imagine sharing and expression of self in ways outside of this model? Does twitter allow for that?

A few final questions: Is twitter fundamentally flawed? Is it possible to use it subversively and disobediently (in ways that it was never intended) in order to further our feminist goals? How might we use it in tandem with other methods (a both/and instead of either/or model)? What important conversations about twitter should we have inside and outside of our feminist classrooms?