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Blue Star


By Scott Sullivan



Italian researchers say Twitter — used by 126 million people and one U.S. President daily — makes people dumber. Duh.

I knew I liked Italy for a reason. Art, pasta, family fealty, crime better organized that its politics (if you can tell the difference) …

Tweaking Twitter is better than even pizza. Gian Paolo Barbetta, an economics professor at Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and lead author of the study, says using the online service is “quite detrimental” to learning ability and achievement.

The group’s study, The Washington Post reports, sampled 1,500 students attending 70 Italian high schools during the 2016-17 academic year. Half used Twitter to analyze “The Late Mattia Pascal” by Italian Nobel laureate Luigi Pirandello. The 1904 novel satirizes issues of self knowledge and self destruction.

These youths posted quotes and their own reflections, commenting on tweets written by their classmates. Teachers weighed in to stimulate the online discussion. The other half relied on traditional classroom teaching methods. Interacting with live humans, sometimes using more than 280 characters.

Performance was assessed based on a test measuring understanding, comprehension and memorization of the book. The study found using Twitter reduced performance on the test by 25 to 40 percent. The decline was sharpest among higher- achieving students.

This finding, says the study report, bolsters the conclusion that blogs and social networking sites actively impair performance, rather than simply failing to augment learning.

Results do not necessarily mean that the crush of hashtags, likes and retweets destroys brain cells; that’s a question for neuroscientists, says Barbetta. Rather, they suggest Twitter not only fails to enhance intellectual attainment but substantially undermines it, due to changing behaviors and performances.

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment about the study. In fairness, the company doesn’t purport to make users smarter. But its mission statement, The Post says, sets forth goals not so different from those of a literature course — “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.”

And in describing the platform as a “digital public square,” Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey appeared to embrace civic and social aspirations, saying last year that the standard to which the company should be held is “building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations and critical thinking.” What we’re seeing instead is more talk, less content.

It’s not like I don’t like Twitter. I hate it the same way I hate Facebook, with love mixed into it. They are quick, handy and ubiquitous means to share great information amid the OMG’s, LOL’s and so on.

The trouble is they are too easy. Users flit around topics without taking time to probe deeper. Nothing solves problems like an emoji.

This was my beef when the “deadly” sculpture debate surfaced here four weeks ago. The Commercial Record was taken to task for printing a photo of a girl playing on a Coghlin Park public sculpture on our Visitors Guide cover.

“Shame … shame … shame,” scolded one poster, urging us to “Redact … redact … redact” all 20,000 copies. “I would bet $1,000 that (the piece’s creator) Cynthia McKean is not very pleased either. SHAME …”

Another poster took what must have been 30 seconds to find on Cynthia’s website the artist meant her work to be interactive. Others noted kids had climbed on it since it was placed in the public park 13 years ago. Cynthia herself responded saying she meant her “Family of Man” to be interactive and it brings joy to her heart when she sees children playing on it.

I value constructive criticism. Instead I got this. You bet I was disappointed. I asked Mr. Shame-Us to make out his check to Child Protective Services; then all will be forgiven. But to my knowledge that’s still not happened.

In 1961 Federal Communications Commission chair Newton Minnow called television “a vast wasteland.” His more-than-280-word context also praised the then-fledgling medium.

“When television is good,” said Minnow, “nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit-and -loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off.

“I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

It is all good except when it’s not, I say.