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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Microblog exchange: A philosophical analysis

On October 28, I posted the following to Google+, which was a direct quote originating from Harrison's post, An ELT publisher's survival plan.
It’s crunch time for ELT publishers. There are a few more years left for the traditional ELT publishing business to stagger on, possibly even quite profitably for some. But we all know it’s on the way out, as evidenced by the attempts – with varying degrees of conviction – of the existing players to turn their businesses into ones capable of surviving and thriving in a world populated by rapidly changing student expectations and super-ambitious and rapacious EdTech start-ups who will very happily destroy the cosy world of ELT.
 The following thread resulted...

Stevenson:  Benjamin, could you please not assume that ALL Google+ folks know what your acronyms mean? Like ELT? Education Light Tech? You make me have to Google it, when that's really not my job at this point reading your posts for the first time. Thanks.

Benjamin:  Sharon, I assume that people who follow me already know something about me: my profession, interests, etc.  Those who follow me (and know something about me) already know what ELT means.  And if you want to get technical, the author of this article "forced you" to Google the term "ELT" since these aren't my words, they are a direct quote.  Finally, why on earth would anyone follow someone online who is "forcing" them to do something they do not want to do.  Message to all of my followers: If I am forcing you to do something that you do not want to do, please don't follow me!  Simple.

Stevenson:  +Benjamin L. Stewart So sorry to have offended you, but I am a journalist and our training has always been that you spell out an acronym the first time you use it. I found a reference to you and simply was interested. Obviously some people will see your posts without already being a follower, no? But you're right in that I should never have even bothered to try to help you get more followers. I'm NOT a follower, I only happened on you by happenstance. I can see that you are very resistant to criticism of any type, and of course, now I won't follow you.

Philosophical Analysis

The passage above - It’s crunch time for ELT publishers... - was taken directly from the eltjam.com blog website (as a direct quote) which I shared with my PLN via Google+.  The eltjam.com blog can best be described as follows (emphasis added):
Quite simply, eltjam is the ongoing promotion of innovation and experimentation in and across ELT publishing.

We created the eltjam.com blog to champion the free exchange of expertise, skills and innovative ideas between ELT teachers, ELT publishers, EdTech startups and developers. Alongside this objective we have endeavoured to seek out and promote instances of aspirational practices across the ELT industry. The blog is where we share ELT-relevant news, reviews and opinions on EdTech, gaming, mobile and online learning, publishing and learning. We invite blog contributions from publishers, teachers, game developers, EdTech entrepreneurs and anyone else who is driven to identify how things can be done better.
Let's dig a bit deeper in the analysis of this exchange in terms of having two turns: the initial post (direct quote) and Stevenson's first reply as being turn #1, and my reply and Stevenson's second reply as turn #2.

Turn #1

Sentence 1: Benjamin, could you please not assume that ALL Google+ folks know what your acronyms mean?

The writer is making an appeal to the use of abbreviations.  The argument goes that when using abbreviations, first state the term, then use the abbreviation.  This is to avoid the use of jardon that the audience may or may not be familiar with.

Sentences 2 & 3: Like ELT? Education Light Tech? 

Asking Like ELT? insinuates there are further examples of acronym misuse but that this one example is what the writer would like to focus on.  The writer then provides an example of how ELT might be interpreted: Education Light Tech.

Checking the Corpus of Contemporary American English provides the following count when searching different phrases (the count appears in parentheses): Education Light Tech (0); English Language Teaching (34); English Language Training (10).

When doing a Google searching, we get the following: Education Light Tech (7); English Language Teaching (9,390,000); English Language Training (864,000); ELT (31,500,000).

Given how eltjam.com describes itself (see above), Stevenson's Google search could have also included the following key words:

ELT teachers (74,000); ELT publishers (9,750) or education light tech teachers (0) / education light tech publishers (0)

Wikipedia helps in distinguishing between alternatives to the acronym ELT: extremely large telescope, emergency locator transmitter, among others.  But still, no mention of education light tech.  This leads me to believe that the example Stevenson is providing, Education Light Tech, is in fact not based on a logical alternative but is instead an attempt at being facetious

Sentence 4 & 5: You make me have to Google it, when that's really not my job at this point reading your posts for the first time. Thanks.

My interpretation here is that the reader has really been inconvenienced.  "Making" her do a Google search and saying that it is not really her job to even do a search is a hyperbole used to show frustration.  No one actually forced the reader against her will to do something that she did not want to do.  This phrase is being used to show how she has been inconvenienced.

Turn #2

My response (Sentences 1&2): Sharon, I assume that people who follow me already know something about me: my profession, interests, etc.  Those who follow me (and know something about me) already know what ELT means. 

In others words, those who take to time to respond to something I post will probably already know that teach in an ELT program or have seen enough posts to understand acronyms like ELT, EFL, ESL, etc.  I am also saying that even though I am posting publically, that my intended audience are those who are familiar with jargon related to the topic of modern languages, learning English as an additional language, etc.

My response (Sentences 3-6):  And if you want to get technical, the author of this article "forced you" to Google the term "ELT" since these aren't my words, they are a direct quote.  Finally, why on earth would anyone follow someone online who is "forcing" them to do something they do not want to do.  Message to all of my followers: If I am forcing you to do something that you do not want to do, please don't follow me!  Simple.

Here I am being facetious.  I'm trying to see the clear disconnect between me providing a direct quote and having that direct quote actually force someone to do something against their will.  Also, I'm attempting to compare the mere seconds it took me to share this quote with however many minutes it took to read my post, feel forced to do something against one's will, actually conduct a Google search, then put together a reply.  Perhaps Stevenson is not following me, but certainly spent enough time to warrant having followed a (my) post.

Stevenson's final response (Sentence 1):+Benjamin L. Stewart So sorry to have offended you, but I am a journalist and our training has always been that you spell out an acronym the first time you use it.

Hypertexting my name assures that I get the message right away. It also allows readers to find out more about me (whether they are for or against my argument, I would suspect the latter if Stevenson has anything to do with it).  Perhaps my reply was seen as being sarcastic, which then could be inferred as being offensive.  Although not true, this certainly is a possible interpretation.  The rest of her sentence is to provide her "resume", or level of expertise, in explaining how one should properly introduce acronyms (regardless of writing genre or rhetoric).  With regard to formal writing, no argument here.

Sentences 2-3:  I found a reference to you and simply was interested. Obviously some people will see your posts without already being a follower, no? 

Confirming that she is not a follower of mine and that she came across my post and was interested in something (still not clear).  Since her response was what she probably views as a form of constructive criticism, it still in not clear what exactly did she find interesting.  It certainly was not interesting enough for her to comment on.  The next sentence has something to do with confirming that those who follow me will see the initial post and subsequent replies, but honestly, her train of thought is not clear to me here...not sure exactly what she is saying in the third sentence.  Perhaps reminding me that public posts are just that ... public.  Got it.

Sentences (4-5): But you're right in that I should never have even bothered to try to help you get more followers. I'm NOT a follower, I only happened on you by happenstance.

Sentence four seems a bit ironic.  The tone that she has chosen to take in her responses would seem to suggest that she is in fact not really concerned with me getting more followers at all.  She is using repetition and the negative in all uppercase (to show that she means to shout) to remind me that although she is concerned about me getting more followers (which I didn't get from her initial reply), that she is not one of them.

She is also assuming that by introducing acronyms correctly will equate to additional followers and that this is the reason why sharing posts to begin with.  The reality is, I share posts in order to potentially interact with others who have opinions related to topics that I find interesting.  I am less interested in how many people follow me or have me in their circles. Quality over quantity.

 Sentence 6: I can see that you are very resistant to criticism of any type, and of course, now I won't follow you.

Taking a person shot at my character seems like a good way to close this reply, followed by declaring that she now will not follow me in the future (when she already said that she wasn't following me to begin with).

Summary

When this exchange transpired, I immediately saw a teaching/learning moment for me and my students (not just now but for future classes as well).  Language carries ideas, perspectives, interpretations, and even emotion.  The initial tone taken in the initial response influenced how I subsequently responded.  Had the tone been a bit more constructive, I certainly would have responded differently.  The fact is, Stevenson is correct when saying that acronyms should be articulated first and that jargon can confuse if one does not consider the audience.  I'll admit that I use acronyms and jargon at times but usually related to my profession.  I figure that blogging and microblogging are a bit different than formal writing (e.g., an article for a journal) in that the formal is a bit more relational; that is, people tend to follow blogs and microblogging posts a bit more than they would a particular journal article, for instance.  Also, if I use poor judgment and not consider my audience, I figure they can just stop following me...a chance I'm willing to take. (Note: At the time of this writing I have 1,477 people have me in their circles (a number I hardly ever refer to).  I'll let others determine what effect this exchange and blog post will have on those who follow me.

Based on our only prior exchange, I accept (and appreciate) that Stevenson enjoys a level of clarity and structure when it comes to microblogging, and will admit that I take a less formal approach that given her formal background, she will likely ever accept.

Activity

For those studying discourse analysis and/or sociolinguistics (speech acts), identity any illocutionary and perlocutionary forces at play in this short exchange as well as forces presented in my philosophical analysis.  Explain any other possible forces that could have resulted as well.  For example, assume the initial reply as assuming a slightly different tone:

Benjamin, I realize that you are direct quoting here, but when using so many acronyms, some of your readers may not know what they mean (e.g., ELT).  You might consider stating what the term is before providing the acronym.  Regarding the blog post, I find it interesting that...