I have my concerns about Twitter. Some are small, like “Should I unfollow some accounts?” and some are great, like “Is this thing poisonous to my soul?” (More on that later.)
When people email me questions about teaching, I always ask, “Are you on Twitter?”
Twitter is arguably the cheapest, most powerful form of professional development for math teachers. There is a large, generous community of mathematical thinkers out there, and I have learned a lot from them.
Getting started is a little difficult. In this post I would like to reduce Twitter to two questions, on which I will give isolated (and roughly tweet-long) pieces of advice: what should i read and what should I write
In other words: who should I follow and what should i tweet
(And then I’ll add a few other thoughts on why I’m ambivalent about Twitter and offer some advice that is just as important to me as it is to anyone else.)
Anyway, all opinions are my own. Not only your mileage can vary; it become vary.
Part I: Who should I follow?
- Go to a person’s profile and Read the 5 or 10 most recent tweets. Are these tweets interesting? Helpful? Encouraging? To be thought-provoking? Do you want more? If so, follow suit.
- Is there someone you are particularly fascinated by? Do you want more people like this? Then Go to their profile and click on the list of people you consequences. I found some of my most interesting episodes this way.
- Eclectic is okay. I follow many math teachers, researchers, and popularizers … but also philosophy students, singer-songwriters, cartoonists, parody bots, rationalist contrarians, fictional writers, and college friends. If you want more structure, You can organize these categories in lists.
- Just as important, Don’t be afraid not to followPeople. You can even mute (So you won’t see any more tweets from someone, even if they tag you) or, if necessary, block (like mute, except they are also prohibited from seeing your tweets).
- I tend to avoid reports that write a lot about US national politics. This includes some people whose work I love and whose policies I share. I don’t mean offense if I don’t follow them; It’s just not what I want from Twitter. (See Part III below.)
- For the same reason I don’t take offense when people don’t follow me or block me. It’s her reputation!
Part II: What should I tweet?
- Use the hashtags to get conversations going #MTBoS (short for Math Twitter Blogosphere) and #iteachmath to get your tweets into other people’s feeds.
- Tweet a question to a specific person. If you tweet “Hey @benorlin, I was wondering …” I will always do my best to reply or retweet. But Don’t tag five or ten peoplewhich creates some kind of side effect that everyone ignores him.
- Try to Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. These vary from place to place and can make the text a little impenetrable. (Exception: once you’ve spoken to someone, it is often convenient to use abbreviations as long as you both know them.)
- An old social media truth: Pictures go over wellwhether it’s reaction gifs, silly memes, great memes, or hand drawn cartoons.
- When you send, be honest. I use Twitter to promote my books and other writings. I’m sure this annoys some people. Well I try to be right above it and say, “I’m proud of what I have created here” or “I would be honored if you checked this out.” Humblebragging is out; Frankbragging is in.
Part III: What if I fall into the sinkhole?
- I sometimes describe the math teacher twitter as A beautiful village on the edge of a huge sinkhole.
- What is the bastard? It is a cultural war zoneSystematically lure you into the Twitter algorithms. It is a place where you will encounter idiots and heroes, villains and victims, warring armies and terrible injustice. It is a theater of constant indignation.
- When discussing problems with friends or weighing matters in my immediate community, This is not the sinkhole. But when I’m mad at public figures, or at the reactions of strangers to public figures, or at the unnecessary monitoring of strangers’ reactions to other Reactions from strangers to public figures … This is the bastard.
- Once or twice I went to this place and got smarter. When protests hit the United States following the murder of George Floyd, I went to Twitter to watch videos about the grief and indignation of the people and the brutal overreaction of the state. I benefited from Twitter back then.
- But 99.9% of the time I hate the sinkhole. Not the people; I admire a lot of them. Not the causes; I think many are morally urgent. I just hate how I feel down the shit: like being in a dark pit, catching glimpses of horrific monsters (right? I can’t quite see it!) And learning (from whom? Is that voice only in my head?)?) that it is my moral obligation to close my eyes and strike.
- I believe the powerful have obligations to the powerless. The rich to the poor; the free to the unfree; the high status to the low status. But I never felt that Twitter was a good place to practice this aspect of my politics. The sinkhole does not expand my knowledge, deepen my compassion, or help me serve people in need. It just stresses me the fuck out and doesn’t make me useless to anyone.
- People with the opposite point of view often speak it and people with my point of view rarely speak it, so I want to say this out loud and clear: You have no moral obligation to engage in politics on Twitter. You may or may not have a broader moral obligation to be involved in politics. This is a question for your favorite minister / therapist / political philosopher. I’m just saying if there is such a commitment, Twitter is certainly not cited as a fulfillment medium.
- To be clear, if political Twitter does better things for your soul than mine, then this is great! Get involved.
- But if not, please know Twitter should benefit your life. Does it relax you? Bring you exciting new ideas? Connect you with fascinating people? Right on. But if not? Sign out, commit to a full week, and when you come back use the mute and unfollow buttons as needed to get back from the sinkhole to the lovely village.
Part IV: More Tips
- [This space reserved for the advice, superior to my own, that I know folks will add to the comments and on Twitter itself.]