Thinking Critically: All that Twitters is Not Technological Gold
Posted by evelynmartens13
After last week’s immersion in Sherry Turkle’s cautionary tale (Alone, together), it’s kind of hard to return to the full-out celebration of all that is Twitter and technological glitter in Qualman’s Socialnomics. I thought I’d bridge the gap by first considering Dave Carlon’s discussion of “Shaped and Shaping Tools” in Digital Literacy (edited by Rachel Spilka).
Time and Space “Fixity”
The subtitle of Carlson’s piece is “The Rhetorical Nature of Technical Communication Technologies,” and in it he calls for technical communicators to “be critical,” to be rhetorically savvy in their use of new technological tools (p. 87). To study the rhetoric of technology, he offers four broad categories of scholarship: rhetorical analysis; technology transfer and diffusion; genre theory; and activity theory.
In his consideration of rhetorical analysis, he discusses the fact that Twitter “opens up both temporal and spatial fixity” because Twitter is not bound by either time or space (93). Early on in the chapter, he makes the point that Twitter can be “endlessly resorted and reorganized” because we have countless interfaces and points of entry. I wasn’t entirely sure what that last idea meant, so I did some surfing and found this “Twitter Storm” piece by Tom Phillips on Buzz Feed http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomphillips/the-29-stages-of-a-twitterstorm).
I think it perfectly makes Carlson’s point about multiple interfaces and points of entry. You can enter the conversation at any point and, especially if you are someone with a following, start the conversation all over again.
Even laggards, thankfully, can enter the conversation at any time!
But, just entering the conversation doesn’t make us critical thinkers with regard to technology, a point Carlson makes, Turkle makes, and even Qualman makes.
Genres as Regularizing Structures: PowerPoint and Prezi
For example, Carlson asks us as technical communicators to think more deeply about how technologies shape us and how we are shapers of technology. Consider his discussion of genre theory. He cites the work of Carolyn Miller (“Genre as social action”) that genres such as memos, reports, and manuals are not simply formats but rather they are “regularizing structures … that shape the work of members of organizations” (97). As example, Carlson cites the work of Yates and Orlikowski’s examination of PowerPoint “arguing that genres create expectations of purpose, content, participants, form, time, and place” (97) and become regularizing structures within organizations.
I’ve seen so many bad PowerPoint presentations (and I’ll bet you have, too), that I readily tried Prezi a few weeks ago simply on the barest glimpse of hope that, if it catches on, people might add a little zip to what otherwise turn out to be humongous snooze fests where we watch someone read from a screen.
Prezi does present a shift in perspective as Klint Finley from Tech Crunch points out: “For those not familiar, Prezi uses a map-like metaphor for creating presentations instead of a slideshow metaphor. This makes it possible to create non-linear presentations, or presentations that use spatial metaphors for organizing ideas, like mind maps.” (techcrunch.com/2012/10/30/powerpoint-killer-prezi-launches-new-interface/.)
In my experience Prezi does offer a different way of organizing information, which might present a new rhetorical paradigm for presentations, but I actually think either platform could be used effectively. If you’re not familiar with Prezi, you should visit their website (http://prezi.com/your/) and try it out. I, a renowned technological “laggard,” taught myself in a couple of hours, so you know it must be pretty intuitive.
Cheerleading for cheerleading camp
The concept of “laggardness” brings me to Qulaman, who is always fun to read because, for one thing, he doesn’t laden himself with too much in the way of academic support. But those are the two querulous impulses I always have when I read Socialnomics―timeliness and evidence.
In the first case, I always have an impulse to check out where the anecdotal evidence stands today. For example, Qualman spends a few pages (161-165) discussing Hulu’s success with delivering high-quality traditional television and movies and for employing an innovative advertising model. Yet, today’s news would suggest that what was true when this book was published is no longer true today. You can read here about the company’s latest challenges: “5 ways new CEO Mike Hopkins Can Save Hulu” from Mike Wallenstein at Variety (http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/5-ways-new-ceo-mike-hopkins-can-save-hulu-1200735150/).
That doesn’t make what Qualman published in 2009 any less true, only outdated, and perhaps what makes it outdated could have bearing on the business strategies and choices Qualman extols. Wallerstein’s advice to Hulu: 1. Get the owners rowing in the same direction 2. Pick―and stick with―a strategy. 3. Time to bid big against Netflix 4. If you’re going to do original programming, do it right. 5. Stop the bleeding.
The other problem, as others have pointed out on this forum, is that Qualman seems to rely a lot on anecdotal evidence. His mother’s friend Betsy’s cheerleading camp (pp. 175-178) was probably pretty meaningful to Betsy, Qualman’s mother, and Qualman himself, but I didn’t find it either particularly informative or easy to follow. What’s missing in Qualman’s analysis is that he can’t seem to direct us to broad conclusions based on quantifiable, reliable data. He can tell stories about this or that success or failure, but he’s not convincing in a broad, academically supportable sense.
Yet, I find him enormously persuasive much of the time, especially when he discusses “finding the right balance between launching every possible idea through the door and ensuring they are not missing out on a great opportunity” (181). He actually lauds TripAdvisor for taking a “deep breath” and re-thinking their strategy with “Where I’ve Been” (p. 106). He also advises companies to “Take time to decide where you will be,” which is sort of the missing element in this 140-character, non-fixity world.
To “think critically,” as Dave Carlson encourages us, does take at least a little bit of time, the most valuable and rare commodity in this twittery, glittery world.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.