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.


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