Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thinking About Thinking, Or, Everyday Applications of Metacognition and Epistemology


Once again, I've been thinking about thinking. With my instruction background, even have a master's in ed, and my philosophical bent, it's not surprising. Metacognition and epistemological development are my bread and butter, since how people think about thinking and how people think about the structure of knowledge are a major factor in teaching those same people information literacy skills as well as in how I run my library. But lately these thoughts about thoughts have been inspired by controversies that have been brewing and exploding on Twitter.

Some of them have seemed very tempest-in-a-teapot, others are deeply important, but all have been incredibly divisive. I'll admit I wade into the fray on occasion, but usually I try to hang back. No, I'm not going to tell you which of the recent controversies fall into which category for me. First off, I've had friends, colleagues, people I admire, on all sides of these recent debates. Second, I can see validity in many of the arguments. So, in the (perhaps futile) interests of peacemaking, here are a few ideas/rules I try to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to tweet:
  1. 140 characters just isn't enough for nuanced arguments I think are necessary in most cases. Sure, you can actually say a lot in a tweet, but when highly charged topics are being discussed, it may not be enough.
  2. Twitter can be an echo chamber. Things that seem important to those of us who inhabit the Twittersphere, things that seem like big news, can sometimes be barely a blip outside of our world. Sometimes things can be a big thing in one part of Twitter but barely be mentioned in another. (Ever taken a look at those trending hashtags and been confused? I know I have.)
  3. There are some oft cited statistics that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone and inflection, and a measly 7% is the actual words. Even with emoticons and hashtags to give us cues about the 93% that isn't words, it's still hard to read people's tweets the way they may have intended them.
  4. I want to form my own opinions, not just buy into others' wholesale. It can be hard to do this. I'm human and I am just as likely to fall for logical fallacies as the next overly educated adult. And I do fall for them. I'm not trying to say I'm the only one who's right or that other options are all wrong (see my next point), but in the words of a friend with whom I was discussing the participants in a particular Twitter brawl: "I want to listen to them, not obey them."
  5. In most arguments, there are people who are right, people who are wrong, and many shades in between. Those shades in between can be the hardest thing to see. That same sage friend (who I'm quoting here because s/he said it so much better than I ever could): "I think seeing other perspectives as something other than contradiction is a challenge." 

Even if you ignore all of my above highly* important points, even if you take nothing else away from today's post, please remember: think about your thinking, and about others' thinking, and remember that not everyone has the same perspective on truth and knowledge and information. What seems like an offhand comment to you might be taken as a bone-deep insult to someone else, and vice versa. Most of all, please think before you tweet.

*Highly important, in this case, is highly based on my judgement. ;-)

P.S. In response to the people who might be trying to juxtapose this bit of advice with what I wrote last week, these posts aren't actually in opposition to each other. Tweet what you want, for sure, but if you're going to get embroiled in arguments, please do so circumspectly. It makes me think of an old Bill Cosby joke: "I said to a guy, 'Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful,' and he said, 'Because it intensifies your personality.' I said, 'Yes, but what if you're an asshole?'" Twitter is cocaine in this analogy. 

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