Thinking Critically: All that Twitters is Not Technological Gold

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).

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomphillips/the-29-stages-of-a-twitterstorm

Tom Phillips gives a nice, humorous rundown about how Twitter can be “endlessly resorted and reorganized,” as Carlson suggests.
Source: 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, like PowerPoint is not simply a format, but rather it is a "regularizing structure." Source: http://prezi.com/your/

Prezi, like PowerPoint is not simply a format, but rather it is a “regularizing structure.”
Source: http://prezi.com/your/

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/).

Hulu

A new CEO is being brought in to “save” Hulu, which suggests that it hasn’t sustained the success that Qualman wrote about in 2009.
Source: (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.

Posted on October 20, 2013, in Metablogging, mobile, Social Media, Society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi, Evelyn. Thanks for your post! I have used Prezi in the past. Maybe it was the mood I was in that particular day, but I have not logged into my Prezi account since! It’s not that I don’t like Prezi or think it’s a good application, it is simply too time consuming to meet my needs. As a teacher who is constantly forced to change my lesson plans, I do not want to risk taking the time to create a brilliant Prezi for my students, only to have to completely redo it or not be able to use it. Throwing a few PowerPoint slides together is much more appropriate for me. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to using Prezi someday.

    • evelynmartens13

      I was wondering if your students use it? A friend of mine said it’s all the rage in middle school, but I don’t know if he was exaggerting or what.

  2. I like your comment about after diving deep into Sherry Turkle’s point that I have a different look on social media. I’m still undecided on how reading that content has changed and will continue to change my thoughts and usage of social media.

    In my current job, I live in PowerPoint. It seems everything we do is a PowerPoint deck. I have to make sure presentations have enough images and the text isn’t too small so readability is there and hopefully the slides don’t cause people to nod off. I haven’t used Prezi before, but I could see how it can come in handy. There are times where I get ideas and have to create slides for them, but have no idea where to really start. I might have to give it a try and see how it works, but I also deal with a lot of confidential information, so I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable using a platform like this without approval.

  3. evelynmartens13

    Hi:

    Yes, you definitely have to be careful because unless you purchase Prezi, it all remains public info.

    I think PP is perfectly acceptable and can be very effective, but I’ve just seen so many people stare at a screen and read that I’m pretty burnt out. But I think than can happen with Prezi, too, so it’s more a matter of knowing how to be an effective presenter.

  4. Between college and my current job, I have seen many terrible PowerPoint presentations. I had never heard of Prezi, but I might need to look into it. I rarely have to use PowerPoint, but I frequently have to use Visio. What I should do, is combine the two to make more interesting visual presentations.
    My wife just told me that Prezi can make interesting presentations as long as the information doesn’t follow a linear path. It sounds like it doesn’t replace PowerPoint, but rather offers an alternative depending on the information that you are presenting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.