“Virtual” Community | Rachel Lefkowitz
How often have you heard someone deplore Twitter as the downfall of writing? It happened to me –again—just the other day, when a former teacher carefully explained that because of Twitter, no one stays on topic in a sustained way. I feel that this is a lot to put on Twitter. People used to blame Sesame Street for shortening children’s attention spans by creating too short intervals of drama. Maybe we move, think, and write more quickly now than we used to, but I’m not sure that Twitter and Sesame Street are wholly to blame. For example, there was a time in the olden days when we wrote in short little bursts, a time that was also known for elegant formal writing. How different, I wonder, is Twitter from a telegram?
Consider this example, from the 1960s:
MISS MARGARET BHAL= POCAHONTAS ARK=
CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE VERY PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT
IN WINNING THE SOUTHWESTERN PIANO AUDITION=
WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER GOVERNOR=
If you remove the address and signature, it’s tweetable. As is this gem:
May 5th 1945
International Moscow via Mackay Radio
To: Mr Joseph Bard
We congratulate you with setting up the banner of victory upon Berlin by the Red Army = Signed Family Phillip Berdichevsky
The first telegram, of congratulations, and the second one, reflecting world events, could easily be on Twitter today, though we would write them a little differently. (If you are interested in recasting your tweets as telegrams, here are best practices.) Both forms limit how you construct your message. One big big difference between them is that telegrams were for special occasions, whereas Twitter is an every day if not every hour sort of thing. Another difference is that a telegram goes to one person, who then has to spread the news. When you tweet, you share your thoughts or news with everyone you know.
Some people don’t like that because it seems self-promoting and -aggrandizing. But social media can be about more than the individual –the way the School of Education’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog are. You send us your individual news, accomplishments, or thoughts; we combine them with other people’s news and what we get is a picture of who we are as a community. Scroll through our feeds or check them regularly, and you will begin to see what values we hold and represent, and what goals we treasure.
I love this for two reasons. First, it puts concrete examples to fairly abstract concepts. I frequently stand on a soapbox in SOE meetings and declare that it’s fine to say that we are all about Leadership, Equity, and Collaboration, but the power of the words comes when we show how we practice these values. How do we see and define leadership? How do we collaborate and embody equity? Just as any musical group has its own sound, so we have a distinct take on these qualities. And we can share our interpretation not just by describing it, but showing it in action. Social media is the mirror that reflects that action.
I also love social media because it makes another hub of community for our school. One hub is, of course, the classroom, where you meet and learn with your colleagues. Another hub is the wide world, where you may work with other alums. But social media is broader. It is a place where current or prospective students can learn what our graduates do with their degrees. It is a place where graduates can see what their professors are working on now. It is a place where we can share a video our organization made or news of an upcoming event. From social media, we get a wonderful sense of the variety and depth of our work, both here at Mills, and in the world.
Twitter hasn’t kept me from being able to write, for example, a 700 word blog. Twitter has made it much easier for me to tap into the community I work with. It is a real and compelling reflection of who we are, and why we are unique.