What is the purpose of social media?

I’ve begun to question the use of social media. I am finding Twitter to still be a valuable tool for connecting with other educators, but over the past couple of years, I have noticed that the #edchat channel has become more and more cluttered with advertisements and links, and there appears to be less discussion occurring.

When Clifford Stoll suggested that computers had no place in education, he said:

“Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.”

To be clear, I don’t agree with Clifford Stoll’s assessment of the use of computers in schools. Computers can be powerful tools for education. Are they always used for the most productive purposes? Definitely not, but they have that potential, provided we (as educational technology enthusiasts) provide appropriate support and guidance, and that the teachers using the technology are thoughtful in its use. However, Stoll’s observation that there is an awful lot of noise in the Internet is totally true.

Neil Postman had the following to say of our information age:

But what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos. If I may take my own country as an example, here is what we are faced with: In America, there are 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting tapes; 362 million TV sets; and over 400 million radios. There are 40,000 new book titles published every year (300,000 world-wide) and every day in America 41 million photographs are taken, and just for the record, over 60 billion pieces of advertising junk mail come into our mail boxes every year. Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the twentieth has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person, information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems.

When we post endless links after each other in Twitter (in what seems to be an effort to increase our own online profile?) and forget the social aspect of social media, we contribute to the noise. I can remember going through a phase myself where I was using scheduled tweets so that I could be posting all day and night, and fortunately, it did not take me too long to see the error of my ways; I too was contributing to the noise of the Internet.

While the regular #edchat discussion was happening today, I noticed that the stream was littered with off-topic links, mostly by well meaning people looking for some exposure for their product, service, or exciting news from their part of the world. These posts are inevitable as we want to share what we are doing, but we also need to remind ourselves of purpose of social media; it’s not about attention, it’s about communication and collaboration.

There is some room for sharing resources and links, but we need to be mindful of what the ratio of noise to conversation is at, and limit ourselves to sharing only that which is most valuable, and ideally share it outside of times people are using a particular hashtag to have a discussion. Obviously a link can extend the conversation, and where possible, we should post links which extend or challenge our thinking. We need to post a few less links, and have more discussion.

Howard Rheingold says, “If we decided that community came first, how would we use our tools differently?” The purpose of social media is to connect to other people. Let’s remember that when we post, please.




  • J. Bevacqua wrote:

    Thanks for posting this reflection. I am guilty as charged at times. One of the trends I am noticing is a dramatic drop in the number of comments left on my blog (I also need to do a better job leaving comments). I find that leaving comments on blogs can be far more engaging and allows for more developed thoughts. Having said that, I do know that I often read tweets and posts that leave me questioning or reflecting but I don’t necessarily respond publicly. Another trend that I notice is that some users, for whatever reason have an almost “cult like” following and illicit far more interaction. Some bloggers don’t even reply to some comments (or at least respond to select users)
    Thanks for this thought provoking and challenging post

  • David Wees wrote:

    I think you are right. I’m going to try to do a better job personally of commenting on excellent posts rather than just forwarding them to Twitter. I want to ensure that as we continue to grow as a community that Twitter doesn’t end up just being noise.

  • I agree with both of you and am equally guilty of forwarding great posts to Twitter without engaging in the conversation. I’m now committing myself to participating more actively and this post has given me just the shake I need. Thank you both. ~Erin

  • Great point. I agree with you completely, and your point stresses the importance of digital fluency, as the amount of digital noise will more likely increase than subside. Thank goodness for the ability to block the senders of the messages that you don’t want to hear.

    You may be interested in reading James Harkin’s “Lost in Cyberbia,” or read the Globe and Mail’s review here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/read-the-globes-review-of-james-harkins-lost-in-cyburbia/article1160017/

  • David Wees wrote:

    The review sounds interesting. I’m going to add it to my reading list, thank you.

  • I was going to share a link to this post on Twitter but it just seems wrong. 🙂

  • It does seem like more and more people are just posting links and whatnot.

    I don’t mind it at off-times, but during the actual #edchat hours it’s a real pain.

    That’s the interesting thing, though. Using the #edchat tag during off-hours is a fine way to interact with other like-minded people. You can contribute something that way. But during those 2 hours each week, you’re a spammer.

  • David Wees wrote:

    I like that definition of spammer. It makes it clear that spamming is also a matter of context, not just the content. You can be perfectly well-meaning but still come across as a spammer because of the timing and delivery of your message.

  • I think this is the Twitter Problem: our easiest-to-use and most widely-used tool just happens to be not very good at a lot of things. It’s great for status updates and sharing links, but as a conversation tool I find it downright painful to use.

    Still, it’s too good of a tool to abandon, and I’d never recommend leaving it to anybody. I think a more effective use of Twitter is to point to conversations elsewhere. I second the comment above about posting on blogs. I save my better ideas for my blog because I want them to have a sense of permanence that Twitter and Google+ can’t offer, and I really appreciate people that go the extra mile to comment close to the source. I like it when the cycle works like this: (a) Find conversation via Twitter, (b) Engage in that conversation at the source, (c) Use Twitter to point others to the conversation.

    For things like #edchat, I’d love to see Twitter pointing to a couple dozen Google+ hangouts where educators could have deeper conversations. It’s relatively easy to get some attention with the right 140-character soundbite on Twitter during an #edchat, but now that we’ve done the hard work of establishing a community it’s time to take the next step and seek richer conversations.

  • David Wees wrote:

    I think this makes sense Raymond. I suggested a similar thing a while back, but I wasn’t able to get any traction around the idea. Maybe we can pilot this idea for the next #edchat and get a few people involved in live Google+ hangouts. It would help if we could broadcast those hangouts as well, so that people can continue to lurk if they aren’t ready for the next step.

  • Sheila Stewart wrote:

    Social media is often full of surprises and, as I often say, “It’s complicated”. Here are some of my thoughts from a few months ago on a post I wrote about connecting, “We often enter these spaces with few clear social norms and etiquette rules. It’s people here, and it won’t always be neat and tidy using the spaces as you wish. One space might work for you, or you may use one or more in different ways. It all has to feel personally relevant and authentic to be motivating, in my opinion.”

    So as time goes on I think we are always interacting with people who are at different places and experience with using social media. It can be fascinating and frustrating all at the same time. It is hard to determine why things go as they go, and not easy to decide how best to spend time when we do have time to connect here. I think some people follow people on Twitter because of the links they tweet, and are fine just reading. I started out like that, and still enjoy that part of it. And there are so many blogs that I want to comment on….and then time goes to other things…

    Good post to help us think about the online spaces we use and how we use them, David!

  • I believe that people put too much information about their personal life on social media pages. Social media can make you or break you when update your status on the things you are doing on a daily basis and when you are commenting on a picture,link,or status of someone.I believe that only positive things should be said and posted on social pages. I really enjoyed reading this post.

  • Kristen Cobbs wrote:

    The links and advertisements have gotten out of control on the internet. Not only on Twitter, but also on Facebook. I do believe social media networks can be a great tool for education, but I also believe there is a lot of things on the internet that can hinder education. Some people make posts and updates that are completely invalid. Also, social media networks can be a major distraction for students. I enjoyed reading your post and I agree that people need to stick to making relevant posts and try cutting down on making too much “noise” on the internet.

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