Narcissus Redux

By 08/14/2013

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In the TV series Lost some of the characters believed that a set of six numbers had to be entered into a computer every 108 minutes or something terrible would happen. At least initially, it was unclear whether this compulsion to type The Numbers really would save the world from destruction or was just a manifestation of madness.

Typing 6 numbers into a computer every 108 minutes comes to mind when I think about the role that Twitter plays in education policy debates. Some people feel the urgent need to type fewer than 144 characters into Twitter on a very frequent basis. Are they saving the world from something terrible or are they suffering from a form of madness?

Judging by the high status of many of these manic Tweeters you might think they are saving the world. They include respected academics, think tank leaders, and foundation officials, so it would seem that they really must engage in these compulsive acts to prevent something terrible from happening.

Unfortunately, I think they are suffering from a form of madness. Issuing dozens of 144 character messages every day has no real impact on making the world better. It just encourages shallow thinking and petty sniping. In the history of the Universe it is highly unlikely that any Tweet influenced or helped anyone. Yes, maybe an occasional link to an interesting article was influential, but how many interesting articles can one link to each day? It is virtually certain that dozens of Tweets per day have never done anything beyond soothe the Tweeter’s manic anxiety.

Yet, we see that many seemingly respectable education policy analysts feel the compulsion to type 144 characters more frequently than every 108 minutes. And millions of Foundation dollars are being allocated to organizations based on “metrics” that include Twitter counts. What a remarkable waste of Foundation money, not to mention the time of highly educated individuals who could be engaged in productive tasks. Even worse, manic Twittering has coarsened education policy discussions by substituting superficial slogans and snark for actual thought. It has electronically lobotomized people into thinking that “tight-loose” is actually an argument.

To gauge the extent to which this madness has overtaken education policy analysts I’ve updated my Narcissus Index to see how frequently people are Tweeting. When I published the Narcissus Index on April 2 I recorded how many Tweets people had issued as of that date. I collected information on how many Tweets they had sent as of this morning to calculate the number of Tweets people have sent over the last 134 days. In the table below you can see the number of Tweets issued over the last 134 days as well as the average number of Tweets per day, rounded to the closest whole number.

I also calculated how many minutes, on average, went by during every waking hour between Tweets. I assumed that people slept 8 hours per day, so there have been 2,144 waking hours since April 2. That works out to 128,640 waking minutes. Dividing that number of minutes by the number of Tweets since April 2, we can see how frequently people Tweet. Of the 81 people for whom I had information as of April 2, 3 have discontinues use of Twitter. (Good for them!) The results for the remaining 78 are listed below. I’m sorry I can’t easily add new people because I only have the April 2 info for these people.

Of those 78 people, 22 send out a Tweet more often, on average, than every 108 minutes. They meet the Lost threshold for saving the world from destruction. Larry Ferlazzo manages to Tweet every 16 minutes of every waking hour over the last 134 days. Sara Goldrick-Rab is not far behind at one Tweet every 18 minutes. And RiShawn Biddle manages one Tweet every 23 minutes. Diane Ravitch may be slacking as she only Tweets every 46 minutes of every waking hour over the last four months.

Keep in mind that these people must also shower, eat, go shopping, talk with family and friends, etc… It’s summer, so maybe they went on vacation or took a day at the beach. Just think of the number of available minutes consumed with Tweeting. Presumably they also have jobs.

As long as Foundations continue to allocate funds based partially on Twitter “metrics” and as long as the rest of us continue to treat this manic behavior as not only normal, but something to be admired, we will continue to encourage it. Folks may even rightly think of it as an important part of their jobs, even though it does virtually nothing productive in the world. Or does it save the world?

Wait, I have to type 4 8 15 16 23 42… Phew! Disaster averted.

Name Handle tweets in the last 134 days tweets/day minutes between tweets
Larry Ferlazzo @larryferlazzo 8,175 61 16
Sara Goldrick-Rab @saragoldrickrab 6,967 52 18
RiShawn Biddle @dropoutnation 5,538 41 23
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher 4,410 33 29
Randi Weingarten @rweingarten 3,901 29 33
Andy Smarick @smarick 2,952 22 44
Morgan Polikoff @mpolikoff 2,834 21 45
Diane Ravitch @DianeRavitch 2,797 21 46
Mickey Kaus @kausmickey 2,713 20 47
Deborah M. McGriff @dmmcgriff 2,692 20 48
Sherman Dorn @shermandorn 2,411 18 53
Nancy Flanagan @nancyflanagan 2,379 18 54
Alexander Russo @alexanderrusso 2,162 16 60
Michael Petrilli @michaelpetrilli 1,933 14 67
Marc Porter Magee @marcportermagee 1,619 12 79
Anthony Cody @anthonycody 1,560 12 82
Neal McCluskey @NealMcCluskey 1,525 11 84
Mike Klonsky @mikeklonsky 1,486 11 87
John Bailey @john_bailey 1,445 11 89
Tom Vander Ark @tvanderark 1,340 10 96
Allie Kimmel @allie_kimmel 1,236 9 104
Kathleen Porter Magee @kportermagee 1,230 9 105
The Lost Threshold
Sam Chaltain @samchaltain 1,170 9 110
Eric Lerum @ericlerum 1,117 8 115
Patrick Riccards @Eduflack 1,011 8 127
Andrew P. Kelly @andrewpkelly 908 7 142
The Frustrated Teacher @tfteacher 896 7 144
Bruce Baker @schlFinance101 879 7 146
Jenna Schuette Talbot @jennastalbot 867 6 148
Andrew Rotherham @arotherham 784 6 164
Howard Fuller @howardlfuller 777 6 166
Doug Levin @douglevin 661 5 195
Gary Rubinstein @garyrubinstein 530 4 243
Neerav Kingsland @neeravkingsland 510 4 252
Kevin Carey @kevincarey1 495 4 260
Michael Barber @michaelbarber9 478 4 269
Joanne Jacobs @joanneleejacobs 427 3 301
Justin Cohen @juscohen 424 3 303
Ben Wildavsky @wildavsky 395 3 326
Robert Pondiscio @rpondiscio 393 3 327
Dana Goldstein @DanaGoldstein 387 3 332
Kevin P. Chavous @kevinpchavous 386 3 333
Matt Williams @mattawilliams 359 3 358
Laura Bornfreund @laurabornfreund 358 3 359
Matt Kramer @kramer_matt 342 3 376
Lisa Duty @lisaduty1 339 3 379
Wendy Kopp @wendykopp 305 2 422
Irvin Scott @iscott4 303 2 425
Matt Chingos @chingos 296 2 435
John Nash @jnash 289 2 445
David DeSchryver @ddeschryver 272 2 473
Ashley Inman @ashleyemilia 260 2 495
Matthew Ladner @matthewladner 256 2 503
Jeanne Allen @jeanneallen 227 2 567
Rachel Young @msrachelyoung 226 2 569
Charles Barone @charlesbarone 224 2 574
Michelle Rhee @m_rhee 209 2 616
Adam Emerson @adamjemerson 206 2 624
Terry Stoops @terrystoops 198 1 650
Lindsey Burke @lindseymburke 182 1 707
Mike McShane @MQ_McShane 163 1 789
Sara Mead @saramead 158 1 814
Jeb Bush @jebbush 148 1 869
Richard Lee Colvin @R_Colvin 122 1 1054
Paul Queary @paulqueary 107 1 1202
Alfie Kohn @alfiekohn 107 1 1202
Vicki Phillips @drvickip 97 1 1326
Greg Richmond @GregRichmond 84 1 1531
Ulrich Boser @ulrichboser 63 0 2042
Jay P. Greene @jaypgreene 49 0 2625
Heather Higgins @TheHRH 46 0 2797
Roxanna Elden @roxannaElden 46 0 2797
Ben Boychuk @benboychuk 40 0 3216
Matthew K. Tabor @matthewktabor 6 0 21440
Jamie Davies O’Leary @jamieoleary 4 0 32160
Not Diane Ravtich @NOTDianeRavitch 4 0 32160
Linda Perlstein @lindaperlstein 2 0 64320

—Jay P. Greene

Comment on this article
  • Teresa Chan says:

    My thoughts as to why ppl are on twitter…

    For some education groups, networks are not so easily formed. If you work in Academic medicine… you may have a small cadre of local people who do your work and you can meet with them. But schedules are hard, and you can’t always get out to meet in person. In my medical specialty, there are only 2-3 people who do job similar to mine… making it a far smaller community. Twitter allows me to over come this, networking with Emergency Medicine Medical Educators from all over the world (though predominantly North America).

    Cyberspace allows a platform for us to be all ‘present’ while not being in the same room – asynchronous or distanced communication.

    Having a forum on which to interact is key for forming a community of practice (Lave & Wenger). Twitter gives us that forum.

  • Matthew Levey says:


    The silence in response to your observation is kind of deafening. Although I can see it was Tweeted six times, in what is clearly an ironic gesture.

    Larry is truly impressive but clearly some of these folks have professional staff to assist them.

    Meanwhile I suspect the Bard’s observation about ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ applies.

  • Jay P. Greene says:

    I’m proud to say that I didn’t know there were 140 rather than 144 maximum number of characters in a Tweet. I was alerted to that error in this post thanks to Tweets from Joy Resmovitz and Benjamin Schulze, who write “but! 140 characters!! or are there four more?” and ” I know right, I thought everyone knew it was 140 #clueless.” This was then re-Tweeted by Sara Goldrick-Rab. I think this proves my point about the petty sniping and general uselessness of Twitter as a tool for discussing education policy.

  • Beth C says:

    As a classroom teacher, I am isolated from adults for the majority of my work day. This summer, I started a Twitter account. As I develop my PLN, (professional learning network), I’ve had dozens if not hundreds of great ideas from others. Maybe I’m not so “lost” after all?

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