“I despise Twitter…I think it’s one of the worst things that’s been created in my lifetime, and so there’s no way I’m going to go on it. I dislike everything about it. I think that the notion of the immediate reaction to something without any reflection, the idea that you can say anything that matters in the limited number of characters you’re given, and that you have to do it immediately, and everyone will respond immediately with no reflection, I think it’s the worst of our society.”
It is fair to say, from the quote above, that Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, is not a fan of the micro-blogging site. His words are taken from an interview he gave to his institution’s official student newspaper, The Ubyssey, in February.
He re-entered the Twitter debate this month after Iram Khan, a schoolteacher in Surrey, BC, contributed a post to the CanTeach blog she moderates entitled The Value of Twitter: An Open Letter to Stephen Toope, President of UBC.
“I am quite shocked that the president of an educational institution like UBC, and specifically an institution that trains teachers, would make such a statement,” she says. “I am sure you have heard your share of backlash from this quote. I just wanted to present to you my thoughts as a UBC alumni, an administrator and a teacher.”
Ms Khan (@teachermrskhan) says she initially viewed Twitter as “another time waster” before she discovered that it could be “a tool that has led to deep reflections and connections in the education community”.
“I am proud to say that my school district has welcomed Twitter. We have our own hashtag stream where people from the district and outside of the district share, collaborate and celebrate, all in the name of improving education. We also have recently started holding a weekly chat time every Sunday night where people who are interested gather on our hashtag stream to chat about a preplanned topic,” she says.
After her comments went live, Professor Toope felt moved to respond. Not, of course, via any social network but in an email that Ms Khan reproduced underneath her original blog post.
“I should say at the outset that if you get some value from sending and receiving Tweets, more power to you (as my late Mother would have said),” he writes.
“I can see two productive uses of Twitter: to quickly organize crowds to protest injustice, as we saw throughout the ‘Arab Spring’; and to direct people to other online sites where more serious conversations can be had, such as your Blog.”
However, despite initially appearing to climb down from his anti-Twitter stance, Professor Toope goes on to say: “Neither [of these two uses] seems to me to outweigh the negatives that I have already spoken about” and adds that Twitter “encourages thoughtless, reactive modes of communication”.
“If the entire world thought elegantly in epigrams like Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde, Twitter would be a boon to civilization. Sadly, that is not the case, and the result is mostly inane and obvious commentary masking for discourse.” He concludes: “I won’t be signing up.”
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