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|
|Deborah M. McGriff||@dmmcgriff||2,692||20||48|
|Marc Porter Magee||@marcportermagee||1,619||12||79|
|Tom Vander Ark||@tvanderark||1,340||10||96|
|Kathleen Porter Magee||@kportermagee||1,230||9||105|
|The Lost Threshold|
|Andrew P. Kelly||@andrewpkelly||908||7||142|
|The Frustrated Teacher||@tfteacher||896||7||144|
|Jenna Schuette Talbot||@jennastalbot||867||6||148|
|Kevin P. Chavous||@kevinpchavous||386||3||333|
|Richard Lee Colvin||@R_Colvin||122||1||1054|
|Jay P. Greene||@jaypgreene||49||0||2625|
|Matthew K. Tabor||@matthewktabor||6||0||21440|
|Jamie Davies O’Leary||@jamieoleary||4||0||32160|
|Not Diane Ravtich||@NOTDianeRavitch||4||0||32160|
(Edited to correct typos)