This Will Be Relatively Brief Because It’s Something You Ought to Think About If You Hope to Become an Educated Person Who Is Capable of Sus

January 13, 2010

Sorry. I ran out of characters. That’s “sustained thought” I was headed toward in the title, trying for a complete thought within a 140 character limit. I could, of course, have edited this, but the truncation serves my purposes quite well.

President Obama, upon receiving the news of his Nobel Prize, tweeted “humbled,” except that he didn’t, something confirmed in the latest issue of Vanity Fair (February 2010, No. 394) where Vanessa Grigoriadis notes in her article, “America’s Tweethearts,” that “[h]e recently admitted he’d never personally sent a tweet” (p. 70). Our President has lots of followers, not as many as Ashton Kutcher, Ellen DeGeneres, and Brittney Spears, but lots of them, according to this article, around the same number as Oprah and Ryan Seacrest and Shaquille O’Neal (p. 71). Wow! I wonder if all of them are personally sending out wisdom to the masses awaiting the latest 140 character gem?

I am a quotation collector and while I know that some of what I’ve collected is probably just allegedly said or incorrectly attributed, I also wonder where all this ghost-tweeting is going. I’ll leave it to you to imagine because I have another point to make here. In her article about “twilebrity,” Grigoriadis reports that “[f]or tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy,” continuing with some insight from Stefanie Michaels, a Brentwood, California, twilebrity who says, “Facebook is just way too slow. I can’t deal with that kind of deep engagement” (p. 70).

When you’re in school, the ability to grapple intellectually with the sometimes-frustrating-and-often-difficult sustained thought necessary for understanding is required if you are to become truly educated. Deep engagement also necessary if you want to understand the rest of your life, things like investments and bank statements and taxes and buying a car and making sure you aren’t being ripped off by a credit card company. Of course, if you are fortunate, you could have a ghost-thinker who deals with all this stuff for you. I wish.

To be a successful student, you must also be able to generate sustained thought that demonstrates your deep engagement. When I read tweets, I’m reminded of the handwritten papers I got from students in ninth grade English, each word topped by a carefully-written numeral that proved students had written the requisite number of words after I’d been driven to say “how many” by their pleas. The truth is that “how many” words are necessary to make a point depends. There is sometimes great wisdom in brevity. There is obfuscation in wordiness. And then there is using the number of words needed to say something significant and meaningful.

Pre-writing and post-writing are just as important as the writing itself. What strategies do you use to insure that you have something to say before you begin writing? How do you make sure that you haven’t said too much?

Real education consists in drawing the best out of yourself.
• Mahatma Gandhi


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