In the opening chapter of his insightful and well researched book The Net Delusion: The Dark side of internet freedom, Evgeny Morozov recalls the hype and misinformation surrounding the role of Twitter following the Iranian presidential elections and the subsequent June 2009 political protests on the streets of Tehran. Many writers and bloggers hailed Twitter as the future of political revolution and change throughout the world. He cites how some went so far as to proclaim Twitter was achieving what the United Nations and the European Union have been unable to do-bring about regime change in Iran. The obsession and infatuation with the social media platform led a former deputy national security advisor who worked during the difficult and painful years of the G.W.Bush administration, to launch a public campaign to nominate Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Morozov, 2011)
Four years on and there’s been no Twitter led or inspired regime change in Iran. In fact throughout the Middle East and North Africa, any claims that Twitter has been at the forefront of revolutions, public protests and political change are by and large inaccurate, misleading and mis-represent the capacity of any social media to bring about political and social reform in any part of the world. Current events in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran suggest that the violence, suffering and misery brought about through modern warfare weaponry plays a much for decisive and destructive role in bringing about or ushering in political change. Furthermore, it’s naive to think and argue that the citizenry of any country will be sufficiently empowered through any kind of internet, social media platform or Google inspired creed to bring about social reform and political change anywhere.
The recent visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to North Korea gained little for its people who for the most part starve and have no access to any kind of social media let alone internet freedoms, apart from allowing the West some limited voyeuristic views of the North Korea via Google maps. Moreover the constant vilification of the Chinese for their lack of internet and social media freedoms belies a much darker secret in the West- we are all monitored too -there’s no freedoms when it comes to electronic media. Every website, tweet, chat, email, or online search for whatever reason leaves a footprint for any keen amateur or professional electronic tracker. All social media claim the right to whatever you say, upload or publish via their platforms. Yet those who sign up for social media access would never allow anyone to walk into their homes, apartments or dwellings and help themselves to information and memorabilia about their personal and private lives. When the internet was first conceived and social media began to emerge as derigure for 21st century communications we knew we were creating the future, but we didn’t realize what kind of future we were creating.
Twitter allows users to communicate with one another using 140 characters or less on virtually any topic anyone chooses and deemed appropriate by the service operators. The social media claims up to 500 million users, but there’s no way to verify they are all genuine account holders, and similar to Facebook, up to 30% could be fake or non-user accounts. Nonetheless, it’s popular and aside from the social buzz and instant celebrity status which may be derived from its use, it has been taken up by corporations and educational institutions as a way to communicate and share ideas. For example, a report in the Australian news spreadsheet-The Age-suggests that Australian teachers use Twitter to engage in education related topics, like reforms, focus and leadership. (MacGibbon & Tarica, 2012). And in the January, 2013 issue of IB World, the official magazine of the International Baccalaureate Organization, a teacher from the New International School of Thailand claimed that Twitter is a great resource “for real time news in a time of crisis”, while another group of educators engaged with the IBO’s Primary Years Programme claimed that Twitter helped them to get “their ideas together” (IB World, 2013). Leaving aside the obvious question over whether or not any communication platform would be available in a time of crisis these are unsubstantiated claims and pertain more to personal opinion. But, it’s worthwhile to consider the type and quality of information which may be shared in 140 characters or less in any situation especially when educators claim its usefulness as a cutting edge communicative platform. According to Twitter in 2012 its three most famous tweets came from President Barrack Obama, the pop singer, Justin Beiber and an NFL football player. Not a mention of a tweet from the Arab world, North Africa or Iran. Furthermore the tweets of the famous three consisted of only a few words. For president Obama it was simply four more years, Justin Beiber told the world he was sick, and an NFL player complained about the NFL lockout. Yet did anyone think they were important messages? About 1.2 million twitter users did.
There’s no doubt that Twitter is beguiling, but its usefulness as an agent of social change and transformation and its ability to convey and spread ideas of any substance is highly questionable. While it may well be advantageous to educators to tweet to one another “learning by doing is fabulous” it’s quite another to read the works of John Dewey, the early 19th century American Philosopher, Psychologist and educational reformer, to really understand what he meant when he developed the concept, and how such a notion would work in the 21st century when educational technology is engaged in so much of the doing. Social media is dumbing us down. It plays into a social and political worldview which prefers passive acceptance over critical analysis of the status quo. It doesn’t allow one to question, analyse and respond rationally and critically.
TED talks, like Twitter is another media platform which engages in the spreading of information via an electronic medium-the internet. Under the slogan of ideas worth spreading, a TED talk lasts around 18 minutes. Audience members must pay a significant amount of money to participate as passive recipients of whatever is being said, and they clap and nod approvingly at various points throughout the presentations. An invitation to present via TED talk is exclusive, somewhat elitist and not open to the public. Are their ideas worth spreading? Not really, because the speakers are unable to deliver a well prepared and thoughtful argument within 18 minutes. Moreover if Bill Gates and Charles Leadbeater are any example, then they are simply spreading ignorance. They are for the most part opinionated thoughts expressed without recourse to any kind of evidence or clear reasoning. It’s difficult to conceive of Heidegger, Kant, Freud, Greer, Butler, Spinoza, Midgley and Sartre to name a few, expressing their arguments and ideas in under 18 minutes. TED talks are the multi-media equivalent of a bar room chat after a two hour professional development session.
We live in an age where we are flooded with information. Myth and fact, knowledge and understanding, reason and belief are merging into one another, and becoming unrecognizable. Meanwhile the skills to wade through it all with good sense and purpose are languishing and becoming inaccessible in an educational sector under siege through the corporatization of teaching and learning, and subordinated to a distorted, chaotic and often irrational technological utopian vision of the future.
IB World. (2013). Ways Social Media Work For You. IB World , 18-19.
MacGibbon, A., & Tarica, E. (2012, November 12). The Age: Teachers unlock tweet smell of success. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from The Age.com.au: http://www.theage.com.au
Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs PBS.