Narcissus Redux

In the TV series Lost some of the characters believed that a set of six numbers had to be entered into a computer every 108 minutes or something terrible would happen.  At least initially, it was unclear whether this compulsion to type The Numbers really would save the world from destruction or was just a manifestation of madness.

Typing 6 numbers into a computer every 108 minutes comes to mind when I think about the role that Twitter plays in education policy debates.  Some people feel the urgent need to type fewer than 140 characters into Twitter on a very frequent basis.  Are they saving the world from something terrible or are they suffering from a form of madness?

Judging by the high status of many of these manic Tweeters you might think they are saving the world.  They include respected academics, think tank leaders, and foundation officials, so it would seem that they really must engage in these compulsive acts to prevent something terrible from happening.

Unfortunately, I think they are suffering from a form of madness.  Issuing dozens of 140 character messages every day has no real impact on making the world better.  It just encourages shallow thinking and petty sniping.  In the history of the Universe it is highly unlikely that any Tweet influenced or helped anyone.  Yes, maybe an occasional link to an interesting article was influential, but how many interesting articles can one link to each day? It is virtually certain that dozens of Tweets per day have never done anything beyond soothe the Tweeter’s manic anxiety.

Yet, we see that many seemingly respectable education policy analysts feel the compulsion to type 140 characters more frequently than every 108 minutes.  And millions of Foundation dollars are being allocated to organizations based on “metrics” that include Twitter counts.  What a remarkable waste of Foundation money, not to mention the time of highly educated individuals who could be engaged in productive tasks.  Even worse, manic Twittering has coarsened education policy discussions by substituting superficial slogans and snark for actual thought.  It has electronically lobotomized people into thinking that “tight-loose” is actually an argument.

To gauge the extent to which this madness has overtaken education policy analysts I’ve updated my Narcissus Index to see how frequently people are Tweeting.  When I published the Narcissus Index on April 2 I recorded how many Tweets people had issued as of that date.  I collected information on how many Tweets they had sent as of this morning to calculate the number of Tweets people have sent over the last 134 days.  In the table below you can see the number of Tweets issued over the last 134 days as well as the average number of Tweets per day, rounded to the closest whole number.

I also calculated how many minutes, on average, went by during every waking hour between Tweets.  I assumed that people slept 8 hours per day, so there have been 2,144 waking hours since April 2.  That works out to 128,640 waking minutes.  Dividing that number of minutes by the number of Tweets since April 2, we can see how frequently people Tweet.  Of the 81 people for whom I had information as of April 2, 3 have discontinued use of Twitter. (Good for them!)  The results for the remaining 78 are listed below.  I’m sorry I can’t easily add new people because I only have the April 2 info for these people.

Of those 78 people, 22 send out a Tweet more often, on average, than every 108 minutes.  They meet the Lost threshold for saving the world from destruction.  Larry Ferlazzo manages to Tweet every 16 minutes of every waking hour over the last 134 days.  Sara Goldrick-Rab is not far behind at one Tweet every 18 minutes.  And RiShawn Biddle manages one Tweet every 23 minutes.  Diane Ravitch may be slacking as she only Tweets every 46 minutes of every waking hour over the last four months.

Keep in mind that these people must also shower, eat, go shopping, talk with family and friends, etc…  It’s summer, so maybe they went on vacation or took a day at the beach.  Just think of the number of available minutes consumed with Tweeting.  Presumably they also have jobs.

As long as Foundations continue to allocate funds based partially on Twitter “metrics” and as long as the rest of us continue to treat this manic behavior as not only normal, but something to be admired, we will continue to encourage it.  Folks may even rightly think of it as an important part of their jobs, even though it does virtually nothing productive in the world.  Or does it save the world?

Wait, I have to type 4 8 15 16 23 42…  Phew!  Disaster averted.

Name Handle tweets in the last 134 days  tweets/day minutes between tweets
Larry Ferlazzo  @larryferlazzo 8,175 61 16
Sara Goldrick-Rab  @saragoldrickrab 6,967 52 18
RiShawn Biddle  @dropoutnation 5,538 41 23
Vicki Davis  @coolcatteacher 4,410 33 29
Randi Weingarten @rweingarten 3,901 29 33
Andy Smarick  @smarick 2,952 22 44
Morgan Polikoff  @mpolikoff 2,834 21 45
Diane Ravitch @DianeRavitch 2,797 21 46
Mickey Kaus  @kausmickey 2,713 20 47
Deborah M. McGriff  @dmmcgriff 2,692 20 48
Sherman Dorn   @shermandorn 2,411 18 53
Nancy Flanagan @nancyflanagan 2,379 18 54
Alexander Russo @alexanderrusso 2,162 16 60
Michael Petrilli @michaelpetrilli 1,933 14 67
Marc Porter Magee  @marcportermagee 1,619 12 79
Anthony Cody @anthonycody 1,560 12 82
Neal McCluskey  @NealMcCluskey 1,525 11 84
Mike Klonsky @mikeklonsky 1,486 11 87
John Bailey  @john_bailey 1,445 11 89
Tom Vander Ark @tvanderark 1,340 10 96
Allie Kimmel  @allie_kimmel 1,236 9 104
Kathleen Porter Magee  @kportermagee 1,230 9 105
The Lost Threshold
Sam Chaltain @samchaltain 1,170 9 110
Eric Lerum  @ericlerum 1,117 8 115
Patrick Riccards @Eduflack 1,011 8 127
Andrew P. Kelly  @andrewpkelly 908 7 142
The Frustrated Teacher @tfteacher 896 7 144
Bruce Baker  @schlFinance101 879 7 146
Jenna Schuette Talbot  @jennastalbot 867 6 148
Andrew Rotherham  @arotherham 784 6 164
Howard Fuller  @howardlfuller 777 6 166
Doug Levin  @douglevin 661 5 195
Gary Rubinstein  @garyrubinstein 530 4 243
Neerav Kingsland  @neeravkingsland 510 4 252
Kevin Carey  @kevincarey1 495 4 260
Michael Barber  @michaelbarber9 478 4 269
Joanne Jacobs  @joanneleejacobs 427 3 301
Justin Cohen  @juscohen 424 3 303
Ben Wildavsky  @wildavsky 395 3 326
Robert Pondiscio  @rpondiscio 393 3 327
Dana Goldstein @DanaGoldstein 387 3 332
Kevin P. Chavous  @kevinpchavous 386 3 333
Matt Williams  @mattawilliams 359 3 358
Laura Bornfreund  @laurabornfreund 358 3 359
Matt Kramer  @kramer_matt 342 3 376
Lisa Duty  @lisaduty1 339 3 379
Wendy Kopp  @wendykopp 305 2 422
Irvin Scott  @iscott4 303 2 425
Matt Chingos  @chingos 296 2 435
John Nash  @jnash 289 2 445
David DeSchryver  @ddeschryver 272 2 473
Ashley Inman  @ahsleyemillia 260 2 495
Matthew Ladner  @matthewladner 256 2 503
Jeanne Allen  @jeanneallen 227 2 567
Rachel Young  @msrachelyoung 226 2 569
Charles Barone  @charlesbarone 224 2 574
Michelle Rhee @m_rhee 209 2 616
Adam Emerson  @adamjemerson 206 2 624
Terry Stoops  @terrystoops 198 1 650
Lindsey Burke  @lindseymburke 182 1 707
Mike McShane  @MQ_McShane 163 1 789
Sara Mead   @saramead 158 1 814
Jeb Bush  @jebbush 148 1 869
Richard Lee Colvin  @R_Colvin 122 1 1054
Paul Queary  @paulqueary 107 1 1202
Alfie Kohn @alfiekohn 107 1 1202
Vicki Phillips  @drvickip 97 1 1326
Greg Richmond  @GregRichmond 84 1 1531
Ulrich Boser  @ulrichboser 63 0 2042
Jay P. Greene  @jaypgreene 49 0 2625
Heather Higgins  @TheHRH 46 0 2797
Roxanna Elden  @roxannaElden 46 0 2797
Ben Boychuk  @benboychuk 40 0 3216
Matthew K. Tabor  @matthewktabor 6 0 21440
Jamie Davies O’Leary  @jamieoleary 4 0 32160
Not Diane Ravtich  @NOTDianeRavitch 4 0 32160
Linda Perlstein  @lindaperlstein 2 0 64320

(Edited to correct typos)

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23 Responses to Narcissus Redux

  1. matthewladner says:

    Not Diane Ravitch should tweet a lot more…

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Tweets/followers = Narcissus Index

    Tweets/waking hours = Locke index!

    One problem – on Lost they really WERE saving the world.

  3. Um, have you seen my tweets? TOTALLY saving the world!

  4. Minnesota Kid says:

    So if composing 144 character messages serves no constructive purpose, what about 900-word blog posts? Are those manic wastes of time, too, or can they be deeply thoughtful and profound? If blog posts are great but tweets are terrible, where is the transition point (1000 characters?) that distinguish the trivial from the meaningful? If blogging also is a collosal waste of time, well…

    • Blog posts are also mostly wastes of time. As I’ve written: “Very early on it was Greg who proposed the Prime Directive that guides us in this enterprise: The purpose of the blog is to amuse ourselves. I started the blog with grand thoughts that it would promote my work and influence policy discussions, but once we adopted the Prime Directive we lowered our ambitions. How could a crappy little blog change the world? So we just decided to write whatever we felt like, with no agenda, no inhibitions, and no delusions of influence.” (http://jaypgreene.com/2012/04/11/four-years/ )

      Blogs, like Twitter, should be treated as recreational activities. But when you do it multiple times per hour of every waking moment, then it becomes hard to see how it is recreational.

      And don’t get me wrong, Twitter is handy for distributing a link, following breaking news, seeing something funny. But to use it to influence education policy has to be close to the dumbest thing on the planet.

    • Tim says:

      If you had to bet, sight unseen, which would be more likely to be thoughtful or profound, a </= 140-character tweet or a 900-word blog post, where are you placing your money?

  5. I’m proud to say that I didn’t know there were 140 rather than 144 maximum number of characters in a Tweet. I’ve corrected it in this post thanks to Tweets from Joy Resmovitz and Benjamin Schulze who write “but! 140 characters!! or are there four more?” and ” I know right, I thought everyone knew it was 140 #clueless.” This was then re-Tweeted by Sara Goldrick-Rab. I think this proves my point about the petty sniping and general uselessness of Twitter as a tool for discussing education policy.

  6. Jose Vilson says:

    It depends on how you use it too. As writers, some of us use it because we have to be concise, pithy even. Sometimes, it helps because it keeps the “nonsense” brief enough to reply to. The long-winded arguments sometimes because exercises in redundancy, like when someone absolutely needs to have 10 points against someone’s argument when they really only have 4. Twitter says, “stick to the points.” Also, agreed with the blogs point above. Then again, any form of writing can be trivialized as a “waste” if not done right. Right?

    • Hi Jose. You’re right that people could often be more concise in their policy discussions. And you are right that any format could lend itself to unproductive writing. But as Tim points out above, the odds that a 140 character message could convey something substantial and influential are much, much lower than something longer — even as short as a 900 word blog post.

      Obviously, people should be able to do whatever they want with their time. And as a form of recreation Twitter may be as useful as fantasy baseball or reading pulp fiction. The problem is that Foundation dollars and status among ed policy analysts are beginning to provide professional rewards for an activity that has virtually no professional utility. It would be like Foundations rewarding me for winning my fantasy baseball league. It would distort how people spend their time. Worse — confining communications to 140 characters distorts how we communicate in ways that encourage superficiality and nastiness.

      • Jose Vilson says:

        Jay, as you’re probably well aware, Foundation dollars have gone into worse initiatives than spreading small messages to large networks about themselves. At least with Twitter, people get the information they need much quicker. Some of us do a series of tweets that perhaps might not get traction if put in a blog. Other times, it’s simply the dialogue itself that matters. My blog gets a lot of readership for example, but I can’t @ someone who I want to read it unless I take the extra step of communicating with them directly. Twitter, on the other hand, lets me tweet something to someone who might otherwise have missed what I had to say. 66% of my tweets are dedicated to replies. Just replies. That’s a lot of power for conversation. For those of us who don’t have a “name” or a long history before the digital age, it’s a great platform for doing just that.

        Of course, you’ve been doing this for decades, so if you namedrop someone, they’re likely to pay attention. Nowadays, I have that luxury. Without Twitter, however, I wouldn’t be able to create that from my classroom. Just saying.

  7. I agree Jay, the way you do it is an utter waste of time. As for me, since starting to use Twitter, I have gained:

    3 new undergrad mentees and 4 grad students at Madison who came because they found me on Twitter;
    2 new doctoral students on whose dissertation committees I serve because of our relationships formed on twitter;
    1 new article written with someone I met on twitter & 2 more underway;
    4 research projects initiated by conversations begun on twitter;
    2 new consultancies from introductions made by Twitter;
    Countless blogs and op-eds initiated by Twitter exchanges, and umpteen useful exchanges with people on the Hill, the advocacy community, and other researchers again– because of Twitter.

    Your twitter is a waste of time- yes. MY twitter is highly productive, financially, professionally, and personally.

    What’s so sad is how much time you spend trashing other peoples’ ways of doing their jobs and contributing to the world. But then again, what else do you have to do?

    • Patrick says:

      How many minds did you change? How many meaningful debates? I have to agree with Jay. I just wasted 7 hours on a twitter debate with an education director of a progressive NC anti voucher group. All he could serve up were platitudes while he ignored research articles I presented and returned to me citing Valerie Strauss as his support or second hand summaries of lit reviews by that union funded ed school at Colorado (he couldn’t even give me a direct citation of them)…. The guy couldn’t even give me a straight answer on what he would do on ed policy. Not in 140 characters and certainly not in 1400 characters over 100 tweets in 7 hours.

      Waste of time.

  8. matthewladner says:

    I don’t know whether this SGR person shot your pet dog or what but it is really unkind of you to impersonate her in such a transparent attempt to make her appear humorless and pompous. Cut it out already- you wouldn’t appreciate someone doing this to you after all.

  9. Randall says:

    Even the Pope tweets

  10. WT says:

    Larry Ferlazzo claims to be a high school teacher, but his pace of blogging and tweeting seems impossible for anyone but a retiree who surfs the web all day.

  11. […] on Twitter in the first place. And if one looks closely at his various “Narcissus” lists, it is as much an enemies list as it is some half-baked attempt to measure social media […]

  12. […] on Twitter in the first place. And if one looks closely at his various “Narcissus” lists, it is as much an enemies list as it is some half-baked attempt to measure social media […]

  13. Tim says:

    Twitter is dead, long live whatever is going to replace Twitter: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/a-eulogy-for-twitter/361339/

  14. straight from the source

    Narcissus Redux | Jay P. Greene’s Blog

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