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An Old Luddite Discovers Twitter

By Roger Schank / May 2010

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I was meeting the CEO of an important company a couple of years back, when he told me I must sign up for Facebook. I figured he probably had an investment in it and if I wanted his business, I'd better do it. So we became "friends."

Once on Facebook, I recognized a few more folks whom I knew, and I befriended them, too, but I didn't see the point at all. Soon, more people "friended" me, many of whom I didn't know, and suddenly I had a whole lot of friends.

I still didn't see the point.

But I did see the point of no longer allowing strangers to befriend me when I began to realize that the updates on the people were uninteresting to know even if I did know who they were. Just yesterday I read that someone who once worked for me was sitting in Starbucks for two hours and was bored. Why her friends need to know this, I don't know. I barely remember who she is.

It was with this Luddite attitude that I encountered Twitter.

I am not physically capable of texting, so the thought of using Twitter never came up. But I encountered it one day when someone emailed me to say they had twittered something about me. Curious, I went to and found that people are twittering about me all the time. Mostly they are quoting something I wrote. I found this curious, but worthy of further thought.

Then a few weeks ago, an article came out about me in the biggest newspaper in Spain. People started twittering it to others, and then it retwittered, and then other videos and interviews with me in Spanish that had been online for a long time were being twittered at the rate of 10 or 20 a day. I started to wonder who these people were and what was going on.

Each twitterer on Twitter has a short bio, so I read the ones of the people who were writing about me. For the most part they were members of various e-learning, teaching, or consulting communities, in every country that speaks Spanish. A random newspaper article was making its way around the web at warp speed sent from one person to another ad infinitum.

Now this is a phenomenon worth thinking about!

Information stays alive if people keep sending it to each other. Yesterday's newspaper is no longer solely for wrapping fish. And communities stay alive if they have things in common that they have read or heard about so that they continue to expand the range of their conversation.

I'm now a big fan of Twitter. Although I'm still not tweeting nor reading tweets, I think the phenomenon is capable of changing the very nature of what it means to learn from your peers. You can join a community of interest without any obligation to stay apprised of what people are thinking there. You will never be thrown out. If I want to know what people are tweeting about my favorite team or my political enemies or any weird intellectual interest, there are people out there to listen to and communicate with.

Unlike other new media that allows people to comment on each other's virility or lack of education after every news post, Twitter does not lend itself to nastiness.

I think we are seeing the beginning of something that means a lot in the world of learning. One form of learning is keeping up with what people are thinking and then being able to talk with others about it. The speed with which Twitter enables this form of learning is amazing.

About the Author
Roger C. Schank is one of the world's leading researchers in AI, learning theory, cognitive science, and the building of virtual learning environments. He is president and CEO of Socratic Arts, a company whose goal is to design and implement low-cost story-based learning by doing curricula in schools, universities, and corporations.


  • Wed, 12 May 2010
    Post by Leo Havemann

    Thanks for this post Roger. As someone who works with academic staff assisting them in adopting technology, I suppose I learned to love Twitter reasonably quickly and easily. Affirmation that Twitter is actually useful is probably more influential coming from a self-professed 'old luddite'!

    For anyone who is interested I blogged about the frustration I felt with the caricaturing of Twitter as pointless ephemera, and what I think it is good for, awhile back:

    cheers, Leo @leohavemann

  • Mon, 10 May 2010
    Post by Loretta Donovan


    You are noticing something that has outstanding possibilities for learners and knowledge workers. From my work that will be published in fall in Social Knowledge: Using Social Media to Know What You by John Girard (Ed):

    "The inherent desire to share information on behalf of creating collective knowledge is mediated by behaviors such as truth-telling, deception, and politicizing. Beyond those social behaviors, new mediators of reality have emerged from strictly technological properties of social media. The technical prowess and presence of opinion creators makes their information more readily available as search engines move contributions to more prominent positions based on accessibility, rather than their reliability. This phenomenon causes information to be noticed, disseminated via links, and replicated in whole or part in other sites or formats. The result is an increasing quantity of information which lacks quality control for its value or capacity to broaden and build the knowledge base."

    Regards, @LorettaDonovan

  • Mon, 10 May 2010
    Post by Macia Conner


    Terrific post. You introduce one of my favorite benefits of Twitter: making what we learn viral so that we can introduce it to others and reflect on it together so that it become something more.

    Twitter (and all social media) is a participatory activity you'll experience differently and at a deeper level when you join in, not just watch with interest from the sidelines. I don't text either, yet here I am, learning nonstop from the sharing, engagement, and process. I hope you'll consider joining too.

    - Marcia (@marciamarcia)