I was an International Relations major and social studies teacher, and I have been fascinated by the revolution in Egypt. The second highest recipient of US foreign aid, Egypt has played a role of peacekeeper of sorts in the Middle East for 30 years. What unfolds over the next few days and weeks will have global implications for years to come.
Aside from politics, however, what has fascinated me has been how the revolution has been reported. My father in law Jerry Lubenow, who was a reporter and San Francisco Bureau Chief for Newsweek Magazine, gets irritated with blogs. He wonders why people give them credibility when any Joe or Jane off the street can write whatever he or she wants – without fact checkers, corroboration, or even a byline in some cases. My argument has always been that it is not the individual blog that matters, but the aggregation of blogs. Unlike Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon, where just a few different perspectives rarely match and the actual event is unclear, when the differing perspectives number in the thousands, the truth becomes evident in the regression toward the mean. Information is even easier to aggregate with micro-blogs.
When Mubarak shut down the Internet, Google responded within hours and created a phone number for Tweeters in Tahrir Square so that they could still update the world with voice-to-text tweets. Since the Internet has come back online, as Mubarak supporters have targeted journalists, Twitter has become instrumental in reporting incidents on the ground. The veracity of those reports can be construed both by the source and by the sheer volume of the tweets.
I was listening to a local radio news station that reported, based only on “reliable Twitter feeds,” that an Egyptian newscaster had stepped down from the state-run station because she didn’t want to report the lies. And Twitter has been all over the news. For us laypeople, however, all of these tweets can become overwhelming. On Tweetdeck, a search for #Egypt brings so many results that they are illegible as they scroll by, and a Google search of “Twitter Egypt” yields 640 million results. Thankfully, we still have news organizations to filter the information and to make sense of it for us. (One great resource for using Twitter for getting news from Egypt is NPR’s Primer on Following the Egyptian Protests on Twitter.)
What does this have to do with education technology? I’m not sure. Even as Twitter is being validated by the general public for meaningful sharing of information (other than following where Ashton Kutcher is eating dinner), my students, like teens across the country, are staying away from Twitter. I recently asked a group of leadership kids if they wanted to subscribe to my Tweet to keep informed of club meeting dates and they practically laughed me out of the room. Though texts cost money, they wouldn’t buy into a free service to keep them informed. Sigh. By the time I get iPads into the classroom regularly, I wonder what my students will be doing?