Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After the Ten Stages of Twitter

This post has been in draft mode for about 3 months. I've never stared at that publish button for as long as I have for this one. Then this summer, at Twitter Math Camp, in Jenks, Oklahoma, this happened:

Photo credit: Greg Taylor @mathtans
What is this? This is one of the slides presented by none other than Dan Meyer. His presentation was about who the Math-Twitter-Blogosphere (#MTBoS) is and, among other things, how the members of it use twitter. He showed us some very interesting stats, some of which are in this picture. Under #FOLLOWING are the top three people in the MTBoS in terms of how many people they follow. If you look closely, you'll see my twitter handle. Yup. If Greg had taken a picture of me at this moment it would have looked like this:

♫ Psycho shower scene music ♪

Because it means out of all the people in the MTBoS, almost nobody follows as many people as I do. Dan mentioned that he'd like to hear about how one would manage this many followees. Well, here it is. How do I manage it? I don't. Which is why I was writing this for so long. Nothing like being a statistic in a Dan Meyer presentation to motivate finishing that 3-month-old blogpost! Here it is, folks:

I remember when I read The Ten Stages of Twitter, by Daniel Edwards. I recognized every single one of those. But now I'd like to add a few more stages to his list, based on my own recent experience, maybe yours too.

Stage 11: Vexation.

I'm not really sure when this stage started, all I know is that at some point, my twitter experience started to sour, and to distract me from my growth as a teacher. Reading my twitter feed used to make me feel stimulated and inspired, but suddenly, I was getting vexed instead.

Part of the vexation was sheer quantity. I was following too many people. Checking the general feed felt like drowning, getting pulled in too many different ways. I had tried to filter by creating all kinds of lists, but they also got too big. My "top ten" list had 27 people on it. And I wasn't very good at remembering to check each list anyway.How did I even end up following so many people? Some people I followed simply because they were nice enough to follow me, and after all, I am Canadian. But whether or not I ever saw any of their tweets afterward, or connected at all...for the most part, no. I couldn't honestly call twitter my PLN, because everyone can't be in your PLN. If yours includes everyone, then it really includes no one.

But that wasn't the main reason for the vexation.

Some tweets were actually upsetting me.

I'd see an unbelievably sarcastic, condescending tweet about someone or something, and wonder how an educator could behave that way - especially toward another educator. I often thought - How would this teacher feel if they suddenly realized that their students had witnessed this whole exchange? Would they be proud of themselves? Would they feel they had modeled respectful debate? I know no one's perfect, but shouldn't we try to move through this world the same way we want our students to? That means we treat each other the way we want to be treated, even on twitter.

I have to admit, some of the aforementioned tweets were also very funny, but does that make it okay? I don't think so, but based on how many retweets these funny retorts got, it seemed that on Twitter, as on the playground, sometimes mean was masquerading as clever.

And then there was the twunning.

In real life, when you speak directly to someone, and they don't answer you, it's rude. If they then turn to answer someone else instead, it's downright insulting. And if that happens over a sustained period of time, it's a form of harassment called shunning. I don't know what it's called on twitter, twunning maybe? But it sucks.

I wondered if it was just me - maybe I'm not supposed to have the nerve to be addressing a tweet to someone who has thousands of followers. And of course I get that some people don't have enough time to answer all the tweets they receive. But then someone like Darren Kuropatwa or Pernille Ripp would have that excuse, right? But they DO answer. And besides, isn't that what twitter is for? The chance to connect with ANYONE?

Stage 12: Self-analysis

Instead of getting more and more upset, I had to ask myself what I really wanted out of twitter. Because clearly, either I was looking for the wrong thing, or looking in the wrong place.

I realized that to a certain extent, I was looking for attention. I saw my melancholy self sitting by a stream with a dozen fishing lines going, resting my chin in my hand, just waiting for a bite. Not appealing. So I had to face up to that childish need. This was really hard to admit. *pats self on back*

But I was also looking for authentic and meaningful interaction - with people who are interesting and interested in the same things I am, who challenge me, or who just make me smile. But interaction is by definition two-way, not one-way. So people who tweet some deep thought, then get a zillion responses but never engage beyond that, (or only do so with a select few), have at it, but that's not what I was looking for at all. At all.

Most important of all though -  I needed to take care of the solid connections I had made already. I knew that the twitter fire hose was making me miss out on the good stuff - not only the info that I could truly use, but tweets from people who really mattered to me, with whom I did interact. Those people need interaction and responses too, just like me.

Stage 13: Re-twittering

It was about destroying in order to rebuild:

First of all, I got rid of a lot of the lists that I had.

Then I unfollowed a lot of people. Unfollowing someone is hard, because I'd never want to hurt someone's feelings. I didn't do it to be mean though, or as a tit-for-tat thing, I just felt I had to trim it down. It's simple logic to me - if interaction is what I want, and it's not what's been happening with @PersonX, I unfollowed. But that started to be really tedious and it felt really negative too.

So I took another tack - a more positive one. I decided to take some responsibility toward my actual, real, honest-to-goodness PLN. I realized that a PLN isn't just about what you get, it's about what you give.

I made a new list. A really short one. These are people who already consistently interacted with me. Some on a daily basis, some less frequently, but at least consistently. Or who did any of the following:
  • get me
  • are nice
  • answer me
  • have some common interests to mine, but that's not an absolute necessity
This list has become my PLN. There are teachers on it, there are gardeners on it, there are relatives on it...I can't even characterize any commonalities other than that I know I'll get just as much as I give to these people. I'm sure that being on this list confers no special honour, because it's only a confirmation of a relationship that already existed anyway. By the same token, I'm sure that not being on it won't upset or insult anyone. I don't assign such importance to myself. But I do to my feelings, and to my PLN.

My New Twitter Routine

Now the first thing I do when I get onto twitter is check my daily list. It currently has 46 members. Totally manageable. It doesn't take long for me to scroll through that feed, I see everything these blessed people are saying, I respond because I want to and I can! I feel like I'm in the company of old friends.

One last stage: when online becomes face-to-face:

I hope everyone gets to this stage eventually. When you get to meet these people face to face, after being twitter friends for years. I had the opportunity to do that at a tweet-up in Ottawa, then at Flipcon14, in Mars, Pennsylvania, and also at Twitter Math Camp, in Jenks, Oklahoma. This is a whole other-nother level. (apologies to English teachers everywhere.) Now when I read the tweets of these people, I hear their voices, I see their smiles, I remember moments we shared. The line between online and f2f just got blurred.

Twitter, like life, is a double-edged sword. There's just as much potential for good experiences as for bad ones. But I do have way more control over my twitter experience than my life one, and this change of tack has made a HUGE difference. No more vexation, WAY more growth, and wonderful friendships. I just hope my Daily list doesn't get out of control.......cue Psycho shower scene music again......


  1. Audrey,
    Thank you for sharing this post. It is sometimes a difficult balance to follow enough of the "right" people without getting overwhelmed. I often feel bad that I don't automatically follow people back when they follow me, but I know I can't keep up beyond where I am. I also periodically do a twitter spring cleaning. In workshops I have given on twitter I say that I am not offended if someone unfollows me - they need to follow the right people for them and I can't take that personally.

    I have enjoyed getting to know you on Twitter and in person. I hope your new list works for you :)

    1. That's a really good way to look at it, from both angles, both unfollowing and being unfollowed. We can only hope that others will interpret it as we try to. Love the idea of spring cleaning, excellent idea.

      I'm so glad I got to know you too, starting from twitter, then coffee on New Year's Day, then our legendary tweet-up with the rest of the Canucks! You're a great friend and colleague, and you make awesome food too! <3

  2. As someone for whom social media in general is troubling, this post really hit a chord with me. I still do not have Facebook and suspect I never will. I still feel like I am bobbing in an ocean of information from twitter. Blog posts are where I feel most comfortable but, as I gleaned from Dan's speech at TMC, this seems to be a platform that is dwindling rather than growing. I need to take the advice of voices of reason about how to best interact in the twitterverse.

    1. I think that blogposts by themselves might be dying, but when the conversations they spur take place on twitter it cranks things up a notch or two. Twitter is like the accelerant, and facebook can be too. I've been known to share some blogposts on facebook, just certain ones that aren't specifically about teaching. For example, I wrote a post once about my mother, and put it here because there was nowhere else to put it, then shared it on facebook, which many of my friends really responded to. So I think it's the combo that makes the difference. Thanks for your as usual thoughtful comments, Jim, and by the way, you are one of those voices of reason, make no mistake.

  3. Audrey - great post, and I am looking forward to our f2f meeting which I am certain is in our future. I've gotten to the point where as much as I love twitter and the folk I have connected with therein, I feel like I did when I first got onto Facebook - I open up Tweetdeck, and then 2 hours have mysteriously passed. I don't want to make a blanket statement that the time is unproductive, but I have definitely been diverted from things I intended to do and then lost the time needed for them. I haven't yet learned the art of tweeting while conducting the rest of my life, but then again, that division of mental energy is not one I necessarily aspire to. In any case, your Stage 13 sounds like a good next step. I know which conversations I want to be a part of, and which hashtags I want to follow. Having the entire world at your fingertips (or on your phone) isn't always the best thing. - Wendy

    1. I am equally certain, in fact, I'll be devastated if it doesn't happen!

      I totally agree about the time thing, it's hard to call it wasted but it definitely is taking a bite out of other stuff. That's another way that the shortlist helps, fewer things to read, but I feel refreshed enough to say enough for now, and get to work. For a while's like anything else, I guess, it's not static, it changes as your needs change, it takes discipline, and it takes maintenance.

  4. I'm not sure about this comment thing. It just erased take 2. So take 3.

    I totally identify with your Stages 11 and 12. Right now, I'm in the "it's upsetting me" phase. I'm working through it. I remember you talking about your "daily list" in Ottawa and so I've been giving that a try. Gave that list a major pruning today (it's now 2 people). Will see how that goes.

    So while a bit different comment from yesterday, I am SO glad that you have put in writing what's been going through my head a lot recently! rock!

    1. You're not the first person to tell me that about the comments not working. That kills me! Comments are lifeblood for a blogger. Thanks so much for persisting - see this is why you're on the Daily list!

      I spent a WHOLE lot of time cycling between 11-12.. I tried to just walk away a few times. But what kept me coming back was that I knew there was so much gold out there - and by gold I mean people like you, Mary, Greg....people that I trust, ultimately. I could have called the list "People I Trust".

      I'm also pretty sure this is just a temporary fix, too. A year from now, maybe I'll have a daily list for tchrs, one for gardeners, one for family. Or I'll have trimmed down my followers so I don't have to have this tiny subset on a list. Or I'll know more people I can trust, which would be a good thing - a problem you want to have.

      I hope you find a solution that works in the long term. Let me know what you're stage 13 looks like!

      And you rock too, like a boss.