What Would Does the Community Think?

(Aside: Excuse the appropriation and editing of Cat Power’s awesome album title — and awesome album for that matter!).

Over the last few days Twitter has been ablaze with updates from this year’s Educause Learning Initiative conference. The flood of tweets certainly augmented my already considerable yearning to be there, and Tom Woodward of the Bionic Teaching blog does a nice job of distilling a few gems from his twitter stream in this post.

I expected the Twitter stream to relent a bit today with folks getting ready to depart, and the energy level being all but exhausted given the amount of activity that was apparent from afar. Early on today that assumption proved true, at least until the final Keynote speaker gave his talk. Almost immediately my twitter stream was in full swing asking a series of interrogative questions about this speaker’s approach. From there it seemed to get more and more animated with just how infuriating this talk was for many of my twitter-friendly, first-hand witnesses.

What was interesting was that it was a quite different means of reporting an event. It isn’t uncommon for people to live-blog a conference session (often amounting to a summary of what was said — which has its serious limits in my opinion). The Twitter explosion this morning was the first time I had seen a distributed live-reporting of a conference session that was doing something extremely different than rephrasing or responding to a session, it was an out-and-out group reaction to what the speaker was saying.

From my vantage point, receiving all these reactions second-hand via twitter offered a fascinating look into something other than what was being said at the podium, or the vicarious experience of “being there.” What it suggested to me was how the community thinks about what is being said. To hear a large number of people (all of whom I respect and trust) in my network respond to ideas they neither agree with nor, at times, can tolerate was both unbelievably entertaining and fascinating all at once.

As Kieramc (a fellow twitter-ite who was not at the event) tweeted: “This may be my fave ELI session this year.” I couldn’t agree with her more! It was a blast from the bleachers, in part because I didn’t have to sit (or is it suffer) through this talk, but also because the experience suggests a real pulse within the network. This was a moment of cognitive crisis in our “collective intelligences” which had immediate reverberations in the network (or in this case twitter — sorry if I am using Network a bit loosely here). Didn’t Martin Heidegger say something about heightened being in the face of crisis? Was it at that moment when his notion of authentic being manifested? I forget, but “daseins” are on the wall -or is it the Twitter screen in this case?

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19 Responses to What Would Does the Community Think?

  1. Jeff says:

    If there was ever evidence for the usefulness of Twitter as back channel, collective discussion, multiple layer, conference group narrative, that discussion was it. As a fellow bystander in Fredericksburg, I was pulled in and entranced reading page after page of tweets from people I respect and admire. Oddly, despite their frustrations with the speaker, their obvious communal responsiveness to the session made me want to be there with them.

  2. jimgroom says:

    I totally agree, Jeff. That twitter explosion made me want to be at ELI more than the peevious two days, and that is saying a lot. Also, I quoted your tweet of “suffering through the session” without giving you credit –my bad, Herr Chair 🙂

  3. Heidegger was quoting Hölderlin:

    But where danger is, grows
    The saving power also.

  4. jimgroom says:


    I am extremely fired up that you quoted Hölderlin in the bavacomments, it pretty much made my night. So thanks.

    By the way, your blogging of Western Philosophy is nothing short of amazing, your comment gave back in many ways 🙂

  5. jimgroom says:

    And to finish the existential circle, wasn’t Heidegger a student of Husserl? What would those cats say about our own endeavors into reality and authenticity, I mean a table may not be a table according to those crazy phenomenologists, but what the hell is a tweet? It’s ontologically unsound.

  6. Leslie M-B says:

    Glad you enjoyed the show (even though we did not)!

  7. Alan Levine says:

    Twitter rose to a new high water mark in its pervasive, provocative permeations at ELI 08, and made it richer with the interchange of not only those present, but those participating form afar.

    The flow was a highlight of the conference, only surpassed by the real interactions here.

  8. Keira says:

    Interesting too that my sense of the conversation was based on me following only 2 or 3 of the twits in the room. I could tell by the energy of the tweets that there was a much larger groundswell reaction than I was getting. But no matter it was enough. It ain’t often the internets get me to laugh out loud, despite all the hilarious forwards in my inbox. (Brian just amuses the hell out of me which is why he’s allowed to wake me up at 2am or whenever the hell he gets back from San Antonio.)

    I love when people share what they are thinking as well as what they are feeling. When Gardner gets on a roll I feel like I’m staring over his shoulder experiencing the whole thing- actually its better than that because I’m kind of inside his head. It makes it possible to learn at a distance. Several of his tweets are bouncing around still. Little haikus to mull over.

    Thanks Jim- had to comment. It’s just too groovy to be quoted in a post that generates a little Heidegger/Husserl action in the comment stream.

  9. Barbara says:

    Hi Jim:

    Just cited this post on my blog.

    Twitter was a life saver in a couple of sessions. People were adding to the resources that the presenter was sharing (or in some cases offering urls to dispute the presenter altogether. Twas collaborative learning and disruptive technologies all in one and at their finest.

    My favorite moment was when I was getting twits from people far far away asking me to ask questions of George Siemens while he was speaking. And –hard– questions too. Interesting.

    We missed you but we we were glad to have you there, albeit via the twitterverse.


  10. jimgroom says:

    @Lesliemb: I enjoyed the show, but sorry I missed the wet t-shirt contest 😉

    @Alan: You nailed this experience last year at Faculty Academy with your Being There talk. I have come back to the gem on several occasions. Thanks for that, you’re prescient.

    @Kieramc: It was fun sharing the bleacher seats with you. As hey refer to them affectionately at Yankee Stadium: we were Bleacher Creatures!

    @Barbara: Your tweets were the best. Your keen wit is certainly not lost in that medium. And between you and Brian I couldn’t control my laughter and intrigue. Also, nice to finely grad the feed for http://www.languagelabunleashed.com

  11. Title: I wasn’t there!
    Ouch, I almost hate to toss my fingers into this fire but here’s a reflection from the distressed zone: I was truly jazzed by the sense of long-distance ‘being there’ via Twitter energy during the ELI experience the last few days. Smart, funny, deep, interesting live back channel and longed-for summaries of fun, food, ideas that I missed.
    Then , a LULU of a shift. I checked in yesterday and was stunned by the back-channel backlash, and the…harshness…of the Twitters. So stunned I stepped away from my machine.

    Twitter changed for me in that moment. It lost its luster as a stream of consciousness with my connections and left me disconnected. Someone posted that he felt ‘strange and estranged’ but he was there, and so had a context. I was just sad.

    Finally had time to watch the stream today. Bob Young is a very quirky man with an odd, even ADD sense of humor. He started two of the most fascinating companies today and he had much to share. But he delivers ideas in ways that most ELI constituents don’t. I know a number of physicists and engineering professors with similar humor and odd, unaware social forms – and a few relatives, actually – but none of them would attend ELI. Young calls us “you good students,” good students who speak and express eloquently and ‘think they know stuff’, I believe he said.

    Many others don’t express eloquently, need to be listened to carefully, demand attention to be understood. Even keynotes if as interesting to us as the fellow who founded Lulu. Perhaps Twitter distracts from what is needed to truly hear the ‘dumbest kids in the class’ (again per Young) who become icons of innovation?

    Listening to Young here/now/alone, I don’t think that the community responded to an event, as Jim suggests. I think the Twitter community created an event not of that moment. Is that possible?
    A Twitter enigma or a newly discovered Twitter characteristic?
    Here’s the ELI 2008 media site no one can find:

  12. jimgroom says:


    The eruption on Twitter is fascinating for many reasons, and your discomfort with the changing tone of the stream is an important element. I think part of that banter has everything to do with the fact that you are communicating with a group of folks you know (to some degree) and trust (also to some degree :)). The space isn’t always entirely nuetral, and there is a tremendous amount of exaggeration and hyerbole. I indulge in that on Twitter to a fault, and have protected my Twits because it is the easiest format to take entirely out of context, and given context’s direct relationship to meaning I couldn’t really tweet like I want to comfortably otherwise.

    So much of the meaning in Twitter depends on a moving stream of thought that isn’t always sanguine and neatly packaged. More than that, you don’t always know who people in your stream are responding to or playing off of — making the idea of intentionality really problematic. The space of Twitter is language perched precariously on top of the Tower of Babel. Making meaning of a stream like that is extremely difficult, and what does come through more than an individual’s intention, is a mood. A pulse within the network. And I can certainly see how that mood may have disturbed you, but at the same time it fascinated me because it was premised on a strong group reaction that immediately animated the flat surface of my computer screen. And, as you said, created an event — which is key to what happened here.

    It happens all the time through mediated messages like the news, commercials, movies, radio, etc., and it shouldn’t be surprising — but what’s scary about it is the power of networks to shape and produce meaning together has hit much closer to home in an unparalleled, distributed immediacy. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but I do think it is an insanely powerful lesson to see first hand that we are shaping our own networks. And our own microcosms of power, which very few of us are used to having at all. Which I believe may be changing as we think together and reflect on what is happening with these tools (but more importantly with the growing number of people who are willing to spend time on them and share!).

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m not free of being shaped by the ideas of others I read, study, and respect (many of which fill my Twitter stream), at the same time I also recognize that we have been shaped by expectations of how to tolerate and sit quietly through talks and discussions that we would like to question. I don’ think anyone was intentionally insulting out of the context of the network, but rather reacted to ideas in a self-fashioned forum that is anything but formal. Twitter offered a unique venue, and what this volcano may suggest is that it is still relatively new and unchartered territory to be working through together. And I don’t think we all (or at least I don’t) entirely grok the triangulated relationship between one’s network, the object of discussion, and the outside observer, which is an extremely tangled one.

    I don’t know if that even begins to get at your larger, more salient point which is pretty profound: the ability for something like Twitter “to create an event not of that moment.” I think you’re absolutely right, just like any mediated stream of ideas can shape our perception of events — just think about the Press and Iraq after 9/11 and WMD, and a million other things for that matter — the difference here is that we frame it on such a different scale with far greater intimacy and a much quicker pace I don’t know what to think entirely, but your comment certainly has me re-thinking this anew.

  13. Barbara says:

    Colleen (and Jim)

    There is one aspect of that closing keynote that could not be conveyed via twits or podcasts or webcasts or by other means… and it was the sense among many of the participants (myself included) that this event had gone so well, and had been so interesting for so many reasons, such that people were looking forward to this keynote as sort of a frothy crescendo of the ELI chorus… a moment to send us off energized and enlightened. The speaker missed his mark. He missed his opportunity. Totally.

    Now, I don’t blame him entirely. Yes he is quirky and I bet in a small venue he would do just dandy. His charm would be allowed to come through if he were not speaking in a cavernous hotel conference center. So, yes, in some ways he was a victim of his mauve and chandaliered suroundings.

    But Educause also messed up. Big time. Every single one of the big keynoters, I believe, was not properly prepared for the audience that awaited him or her. In the case of Mr Young, rather than rising to the occasion when he began to realize that we weren’t who he thought we were, he sank to the lowest common denominator, and it was sad and painful.

    I was disappointed by Mr Young’s talk. I had come with questions prepared…things like “tell me how on-demand publishing is going to change how we look at scholarly publications” or “does this mean the end of the academic press” and other things. he missed his mark and instead reveled in the fact that Lulu was the #1 outlet for “bad poetry.”

    In the context of the event, his closing keynote was a huge disappointment. A major downer. After so many positive connections and collaborations and twit feasts during the previous 48 hours, this particular talk was just painful. So we mourned our collective loss (and his lost opportunity) in 140 characters or less.

    And so it goes. Or to paraphrase Yul Brenner said in the movie The Ten Commandments–…”So it is twittered, so it is done”


  14. colleen says:

    Thank you, Barbara. That does help me understand better why friends and colleagues would go ‘wilding’.

    What Barbara felt wasn’t made explicit via the feeds. On the contrary, Twitter let me feel as if I was there, even Skyping in once, but it’s not the same. Watching Young via the feed later, I felt none of the longing or disappointment while sitting in my chair, in my office, alone on a cloudy day. The rage of the community seemed out of context.

    Stepping away from that moment to something it reveals for our community: we need to understand the affordances/inherent use characteristics of the technology we use. And we can only understand through use and sharing results. We don’t yet know what Twitter IS, so a community of friends used it as a private, group chat even though ELI was feeding their posts to a much larger, non-insider community.

    Jim understood ahead of time, and protects his Twits. I don’t, but should have grokked when I flipped over to ELI2008 Twitter feed and saw a @message of mine there that really shouldn’t have been seen by people I don’t know and who never chose to follow me. Or when a friend asked me what I thought of someone at ELI (who I don’t follow) referencing my posts on their channel. Hmmm.

    Carmean, Diaz, McGee are beginning to explore this topic, larger than Twitter, in an exploratory way. http://cmcarmean.googlepages.com/samodel
    If anyone has stories of understood use, how/where to contain them, please join us.

    And Jim, thank you. When I walked away from my computer, I also walked away from doing the right thing. I decided not to Blog about it or confront friends on behavior. I had to reflect and get over the distress. Affordance of Blogging is just that. ‘Public reflection with an implied invitation to comment’.
    You get it. You Blogged it. You ‘invited’ me to do same. Cowgirl up!

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  16. Alan Levine says:

    Wow did you launch a groovy comment discussion, Reverend! I had to leave early for an Austin meeting and missed the whole fracas, and to double the error, did not sift through the twitter detritus.

    I appreciate Colleen’s push back, and while I agree users of these systems need to understand, or at least be open to, the consequences of shouting into them, it would seem the only way you learn the stove is hot is to rest your hand on it.

    My first thought is we may not treat the “environment” of twitter spaces as value neutral. We love twitter when it’s funny, when we get information we can use, when its a happy party. But when it shows its ugly underbelly, are we prone to close up? The technology of twitter do not create this negative vibe, people do.

  17. Jim Julius says:

    As one who had only dabbled in Twitter a bit before the conference, but tried to be engaged with the ELI2008 Twitter stream throughout, I was left with a number of questions, and would love to hear more discussion on this.

    Why was relatively little scaffolding provided around the use of Twitter? What assumptions were made about common understandings of how best to make use of the affordances of Twitter – both technologically and in terms of the rhetorical conventions/expectations of Twitter users?

    Why was Twitter the conference backchannel tool of choice rather than blogs or wikis, or a Facebook group, or a Ning site, or …? Was there some rationale for encouraging people to use Twitter? Could that rationale have been more explicit? Is Twitter now the de facto backchannel of choice for conferences, or is someone actively evaluating/experimenting with this?

    Could speakers have been more prepared for this backchannel to be present? Could they have even been encouraged to think about how the backchannel might have been actively incorporated into their presentations? Could this have been an opportunity for someone to play with/seriously investigate the idea of backchannel in a presentation setting – i.e. the setting most of our faculty teach in?

    How did experienced and already well-connected (i.e. already networked into a group of mutual followers) use and experience the ELI2008 Twitter stream vs. Twitter newbies or “outsiders”?
    What patterns emerged in the Twitter interactions during the conference? In what ways did Twitter/Twitter use enable inclusivity/expansion of social networks and in what ways did Twitter/Twitter use reinforce/strengthen existing social networks … and in what ways were those possibilities complementary or mutually exclusive?

    How will the conference experiences of Twitter users, newbie or otherwise, affect their use of Twitter in the future?

    Did someone capture the entire ELI2008 Twitter stream? Is it publicly available for review/study? Will someone do that?

    I don’t know if this comment stream has died down; I will cross-post these questions on Trillwing’s more recent blog post on this topic:

    Happy to receive direct thoughts via email: [email protected] as well as to continue public discussions …

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