Archive for October, 2008

Twitter promotes illiteracy: Everybody Panic!!

One of my colleagues and classmates sent an interesting article about microblogging to the listserv for our Computer Mediated Communication Class: Oral Culture 2.0

The author describes some theories that were developed based on research of TV watching, and proposes that they can be compared to microblogging, and he ends by asking the following questions:

Because both television and micro-blogging can be explained according to the concept of secondary orality, does this also mean that the effects of micro-blogging, such as reading and writing short messages on Twitter for instance, are similar to the effects of watching television? Can we argue that micro-blogging is detrimental to our reading skills and therefore our ability of critical thinking and engaging in debates? Does micro-blogging lead to the same kind of unification or groupthink as television does?

His claim that microblogging is detrimental to reading ability and critical thinking reminds me of an article that Crispin Thurlow wrote in 2006, “From Statistical Panic to Moral Panic: The Metadiscursive Construction and Popular Exaggeration of new Media Language in the Print Media”.

I’m specifically thinking of “Theme 3–Moral Panic: CMD, Literacy, and the Social Order”.  Thurlow states that some research exists that “dispute any casual link between declining standards of academic literacy and the rise of CMD (De Vries & Van Der Meij, 2003; Raval, 2002)”.  Bartmentloo needs to present some evidence or research to back up his claim that microblogging can contribute to illiteracy, since that is the basis for the majority of his argument.

Secondly, I don’t think a comparison of watching TV and microblogging is accurate and find it highly unlikely that microblogging would cause brain waves to shift to alpha, as they do when watching TV.  Bartmentloo himself said that alpha waves mean “unfocused and lacking cognitive attention”  When you microblog, you are focused on something and you have to be cognitive—you have to think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say that in 140 characters or less, then you have to interact (open the application or turn the phone on, then type or text your message), and interaction also takes cognition.  Additionally, Bartmentloo stated that “beta brain waves that proliferate when reading exemplify a logical and analytical process.” I Twitter alot, and I spend most of my time interacting with Twitter by READING other people’s tweets, not just writing my own.

I’m not opposed to neurobiological research being conducted on those who microblog.  I’m sure the results would be interesting.  However, I am suspect that such research is being suggested as a way to prove a personal, pessimistic hypothesis.


My HSC rant

In the US academia world, if you wish to publish anything in which any human being was used in any way for research, you must obtain approval to work with human subjects from the Internal Review Board.  And, if you wish to publish any kind of research in which human beings were not used, you must let the IRB know that you didn’t use humans.

In theory, the idea makes sense.  It’s a result of experiments like the Tuskegee Experiments, where thousands of Black men were given syphilis without their knowledge.  It’s good to try to prevent such monstrosities like that from recurring.  But, when the process to obtain approval is a tedious struggle, it’s going to hurt research in the long run.

The forms you must complete are confusing, the rules are hard to decipher, the process takes forever, and the customer service sucks.  And, that’s in addition to all of the internal organizational problems our local IRB is having.  (There have been news stories published since summer about how our local office got in trouble and is having to reorganize.)

Here’s the tragic comedy I’m currently enduring.

I want to do a discourse analysis of all the tweets that were posted to the public time line on Twitter during the last presidential debate.  I will not be talking to anyone who posted the tweets; I will merely be reading what they’ve already posted.  These tweets are publicly available, and they contain no identifying information, unless the person posed some.  So, I do not believe I am working with human subjects. I’m working with already-existing data. However, an instructor informed me that she did a similar study and had to get approval.

October 10:  I called the HSC office  to ask if I needed to get approval.  I was told that I had to send an email with my question and they would not answer it on the phone (although on their website, they do say to call with any questions.  Nice.). So, I sent the email.

October 14: I received a response in which they attached a form and told me I had to fill out the form and return it.  Once they review the form, they will tell me what the next step is.  However, the email did not contain the attachment. So I sent an reply asking for the form.

October 15: Received a response to my request with the form attached.  Discover that the form doesn’t work.  I can’t select anything.  But, if I could fill it out, my responses indicate that I don’t need HSC approval (it says so on the form!) I send an email back explaining that I can’t use the form, but I can tell I won’t need HSC approval, so can we just leave it at that?

October 20: Receive a response that said the document is protected and to read the attached document for instructions on how to unprotect it.  The attached document had 4 lines in it.  Why wasn’t that info just included in the email?  It didn’t matter, anyway, because the instructions were written for a PC and I use a Mac.  I tried to figure out how to unprotect the Word document on my Mac without success.  So, I put the file on a thumb drive and took it to a PC–only to find out their instructions didn’t work!  After about 15 minutes of playing around, I figured out how to hack the form so I could check the two stupid boxes.  I sent them an email with the attached form that will show them that I do not need to get approval and am waiting for an email response back confirming that.

I think I’d be laughing at all this if it were happening to someone else!


October 21:  Received an email telling me that I am required to submit an application to work with human subjects.  WTF???  I am not working with humans in any way.  I am reading data that is available on the Internet. This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s things like this that make me understand how graduate students can snap and shoot their textbooks off their balconies!!

Hello. My name is Jenny . . .

. . . and I’m a Twitter addict.

I use Twhirl, a desktop application that that sends the latest tweets right to me, so I don’t have to go to a web page to read them.  I keep it open whenever I’m in front of a laptop.  And I’m in front of a laptop a heck of a lot.  So I’m almost always “on” Twitter.   The past two days, though, have been incredibly busy with classes and work, and from about 6pm yesterday until 1pm today, I wasn’t logged into Twhirl.

(Though, I will point out that during the debate last night, I was watching Election 08 on Twitter, so I wasn’t “off” Twitter for that long.  More on that in a minute.)

When I finally got back to my desk this afternoon, the first thing I did was go to the Twitter webpage so I could catch up on all the tweets I missed (Twhirl will only give me 20 tweets at a time, and I knew there’d be more than 20 unread tweets, so I had to use the web interface).  Since there was a debate last night, there were larger than usual numbers of tweets, so it took me almost an hour to read all the back tweets.

After I got done, I was a little mad at myself.  I really needed to use that hour on something more productive.  But, I just couldn’t help myself.  That’s when I realized I’m a Twitter addict!

And, I’m considering something that probably isn’t good for my addiction.

During the first presidential debate, I thought it would be fun to check out the Election 08 site and see what people were saying about what the candidates were saying.  And it was.  I found it incredibly entertaining.  In fact, I ended up not watching much of the debate and paying more attention to the tweets about the debates.  Same thing happened during the vice presidential debate.

I have two classes that require a research paper at the end of the semester.  In one, I have to critique an interaction using some theory we are learning.  In the other, I have to conduct research on a CMC mode in the setting of my choice. While thinking about possible topics for those, I hit upon the idea of critiquing the interactions of people with Twitter during the debates.  I then realized that that subject would also be an appropriate topic for the CMC paper.

While trying to figure how capture necessary data, I decided to ask a Ph.D. student who has already done some research related to Twitter for some suggestions. He first offered some great ideas, and then later suggested that we write a paper for publication where we create a corpus of tweets during a debate and analyze the information flow.

I’m very intrigued by the topic, and I’ve yet to be published.  Plus, I already have to turn in these papers in December for the two classes. So, it seems obvious that I should do this.

So, while spending time writing some papers about Twitter may not be good for my Twitter addiction, maybe this Twitter addiction will be good for my academic career!


I am currently attending the 2008 Participatory Design Conference.

When I got the email a few months ago through my school listserv, I thought it looked interesting.  And, since the worlds of HCI, and Participatory Design (PD) intersect nicely, and since usability is part of HCI, and since it was going to take place right here on the IU campus (which means no travel, lodging, or other extra expenses), and since I am a full-time student and could get a discounted rate, I figured I’d ask my boss to let me go on the department’s dime. She was awesome and said yes.

At the time I signed up, I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn about PD, since I’m not too familiar with it.  Plus, I enjoy attending conferences.

Now, that I’m in day 2, I realize just how incredibly lucky I am to be here!  This converence has been happening every 2 years for the last 20. This is the first time it’s been in the US.  It’s usually in Europe, though the last one was in Canada.

The wealth of papers that are scheduled to be presented are quite impressive.  There are so many good ones, it’s really hard for me to decide which sessions to attend.  I love, though, that I was given a book that contains all of the papers, so I can at least read the ones I’m not able to see presented.

Oh, and during the “Introduction to PD” session yesterday, I realized that I DO already know what it is and have in fact been studying and practicing it for the past year.  It’s just that the term “Participatory Design” isn’t what we’ve called it at the School of Informatics in my HCI courses.  Contextual Inquiry, Prototype Testing, User Testing…those are all PD.  Yesterday I walked in feeling like a total noob in the world of PD.  Today, well, I’m still a noobie, but at least I don’t feel like a total noob since I’ve got a year of study and 3 months of work at it under my belt.

Some general thoughts/observations about the conference:

  • I am in the minority in that I am an American.  The majority of the attendees are from Europe (Denmark, Germany, Sweeden, Italy…) Yesterday, I was in a session where I was one of only 3 Americans, and the only one from IU.  I really expected there to be many more IU folks, since it’s right here on campus.  (But, I now realize I’m very lucky in that I was able to arrange to miss classes and my work allowed me the time…and paid for it.  I’m sure cost and other commitments prevented many people from attending.)
  • The attendees sure do love their coffee!  I arrived about 15 minutes before the Keynote today, and all coffee was already gone.  During the first break, the first carafe of coffee was gone in less than 10 minutes. I usually have a cup or two at home in the morning and that’s it.  But, yesterday, I found myself drinking coffee all day long since it was available.  Of course, I had problems falling asleep last night!  So, today I didn’t have any before the Keynote (since it was gone LOL), but by the morning break, I was feeling sleepy, so I am having a cup now.  But, that’s all.  I’ll be switching to water for the rest of the day.
  • This is the first conference I’ve been to where they gave you travel coffee mugs and encouraged you to use them throughout the conference, instead of paper or plastic cups.  I think it’s a great, and simple idea to promote sustainability!  I just wish I saw more attendees using them instead of the paper and plastic cups.
  • You can definitely see the influence of the European background to this conference.  The coffee breaks are scheduled for 30 minutes; lunch is an hour and a half.  All of the other conferences I’ve attended just put coffee out in the hallway and you grabbed some during the 10 minutes you had between sessions, and lunch was 45 minutes.  Also, not one single session or talk or paper presentation I’ve been to yet has started on time.  I thought I was running late this morning when I walked into the auditorium at 9:02am for the Keynote that was to begin at 9:00.  But, I was only the third person who had arrived.  The first speaker actually walked in after me.  It’s no big deal.  Just interesting to me, as most other conferences I’ve attended were very strict and tight with their schedules.  (I do want to point out that even though they’ve allotted longer times than I’m used to for breaks and lunches, they are packing in A LOT of sessions, so content does not suffer.)
  • I guess this is the first “academic” conference I’ve been to.  All other conferences were corporate.  That could explain some of the differences, too.
  • As I said before, there are a lot of Europeans in attendance.  There was one person from Japan and one from China in one of the sessions I was in, but the majority are white.  I find that interesting because in the HCI/d program here at IU, there are a large number of Indian and Chinese and Korean students.  I was assuming the same would be true for here.  I enjoy when my assumptions are proven wrong.  Makes me think more! LOL
  • As usual, the lounge areas of the IMU is full of sleeping undergrads.  I find it rather amusing, but wonder if it makes other conference attendees think that American students just sleep all the time.  LOL

Ok, the first paper presentation is about to begin, so I’ll stop here.