Tweets: IFTTT, Twitter, and that binary again

It’s an emotional moment. (OK, not really.) The IFTTT strings are cut forever between Twitter and this blog. Between everything and this blog. It’s a good time, I think, to reflect on my use of Twitter and IFTTT throughout this course. I get the impression that the way I’ve used Twitter differs from a lot of my cohort. Earlier today, for example, the other Helen asked why we might’ve used Twitter more than previous course cohorts, and I was interested in this answer, given by Clare:

By comparison, my use of Twitter has been largely terse, laconic and unsustained – though the platform might be partially responsible for at least the first two. Looking back over my lifestream, I can see how rarely I’ve started or entered into conversations on Twitter, how aphoristic my tweets have been. They’ve been purely functional, one-offs to prove that I’m engaging with this or that, that I’m following the social and educational rules of this course.

At the beginning of the course, I wrote a post where I said I thought I’d find it weird to contaminate my social media presence with academic ideas. This turned out to be either a pretty accurate foretelling, or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps I should’ve set up a new Twitter handle, specifically for this. Or perhaps this would have simply masked my behaviour.

I write this not to excuse the pithiness and infrequency of my tweets, fortuitous though it may be to do that as well. Instead, I write this because my reflection about my use of Twitter is revealing to me the potential polymorphic, inconstant forms of agency that technology acts and performs. It’s a kind of unexpected technological determinism, one which is misaligned with the ‘goals’ of the platform. Twitter might be designed to ameliorate communication, but the massive and complex sociotechnical network within which it exists actually worked to silence me.

IFTTT presents a different sort of challenge. It was part of the assessment criteria to use it – to bring in diverse and differently moded content from wherever we are, whatever we’re looking at, and however we’re doing so. We were instructed to be instrumental about it, to use IFTTT in this very ‘black boxed’ sort of way. But of course we didn’t. IFTTT failed to meet the aesthetic standards of many of us, including me. So we’ve let IFTTT do its thing, and then gone into the blog to make it better. It’s instrumentalism, still, but again, kind of misdirected. Maybe we could call it transtechnologism.

What these two (flawed, I’m sure) observations do is to underline something fundamental about the themes of this course that I think, until now, I’d missed. Consider the two approach to technology often implicit in online education, according to Hamilton and Friesen (2013):

the first, which we call “essentialist”, takes technologies to be embodiments of abstract pedagogical principles. Here technologies are depicted as independent forces for the realisation of pedagogical aims, that are intrinsic to them prior to any actual use.

the second, which we call “instrumentalist”, depicts technologies as tools to be interpreted in light of this or that pedagogical framework or principle, and measured against how well they correspond in practice to that framework or principle. Here, technologies are seen as neutral mean employed for ends determined independently by their users.

These ideas have permeated this whole course. Don’t fall into these traps, into this lazy binary.  And yet there’s nothing here that rules out determinism, essentialism, instrumentalism. Calling out the binary tells us to think critically about the use of technology in education: it doesn’t make the two edges of that binary fundamentally false or impossible. We ought not to make the assumption, but once we haven’t, what we might have assumed could still turn out to be true.


Hamilton, E. C., & Friesen, N. (2013). Online Education: A Science and Technology Studies Perspective. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 39(2),


I’ve spent some time this weekend reading a couple of articles to help me to formulate the specific questions I’d like to focus on in the assignment. I was mostly enjoying myself, when I started on an article that elicited the reaction you can see in the tweet above. The phrase in the tweet – “a certain performative, post-human, ethico-epistem-ontology” is pretty much inaccessible, and this is a real bugbear of mine. Thankfully I’ve encountered it only a few times in this course. It took me a while to figure out what the author was getting at with his ethico-epistem-ontology, and when I did I found that it wasn’t half as fancy or clever as the language used might suggest.

Ideas should challenge, and language should challenge too, but one of the things about good academic writing (obviously something on my mind with the assignment coming up) is the ability to represent and communicate complex, nuanced, difficult ideas in a way that doesn’t throw up a huge great wall. There are times when that huge barrier is instrumental to the argument, I suppose: I remember reading Derrida…*

Yet largely if the aforementioned ‘challenge’ is located as much in the discrete individual words used as in the premises of the argument (assuming, of course, that the two can be separated), then what does that mean for the locus of academic literacy? And what does it mean for openness? The trend toward open access and open data, despite being fraught with issues around policy, the way technology is implicated, and other things, is generally a positive. But is representation of ideas like this even vaguely ‘open’ in anything but a literal sense?

Anyway, this is a total aside, and I’ll bring an end of the rant.  Authentic content for the lifestream, I think 🙂

*OK, I mainly looked at the words and panicked internally