The Greys

Hyperbole is a wonderful tool.

When I write this what I mean is that it is an effective, sartorial means of conveying self-deprecating thoughts and personal triumphs.  Here are some hashtags you’ve no doubt seen floating around on Twitter, in other status messages and blog posts, on buttons and badges and, no doubt, on t-shirts worn by the geek/nerd set.

  • #FTW (“for the win!” – a statement that came from World of Warcraft)
  • #fail (self-explanatory)
  • BEST… ________(fill-in-the-blank)… EVAH!!!!!! (self-explanatory)
  • #FML (“fµ© my life” )

In 140 characters, hyperbole works great because it’s pretty clean. Something is either wonderful, or it is horrible. You either had a great first day of work (“Totally loving my job! Employment #FTW!!!”) or you slept in late and it through off your whole day (“Stupid iPhone alarm clock bug. #apple #fail”). You either have a tasty burrito (“Nacho Mama’s Al Pastor is the BEST… BURRITO… EVAH!!!!!!!”) or you arrive too late to have your burrito and are stuck in the rain without an umbrella (“Heavy Rain. No Burrito. Soaking wet and I have to work late now with no lunch. #FML”).

It makes for good copy in short order.

The thing about hyperbole is that while I think it works as a means of snarky self-reflection in Twitter, I’m seeing hyperbole in a whole lots of places where hyperbole probably doesn’t serve as nifty a purpose.  Watch any pundits on US television these days? I don’t mean to get into the politics but on every side of a political issue, the “memes” that seem to be carried and replayed as soundbites (the original retweet) are the hyperbolic statements — not the nuanced. Why? For the same reason as hyperbole works on Twitter — it makes for good copy. It grabs your attention. It’s generally short (because nuance is generally lengthy). It’s easy to repeat (just like it’s easy to retweet).

I could look past media, in all its forms and in all its overuse of hyperbole if we as human beings didn’t follow suit. A problem, I suspect it’s a core problem, is that we all follow suit and grow more hyperbolic in our language, which if you’re into neurosemantics, metacognition or even computational linguistics –you know that our language and the language we’re exposed to shapes our cognition. Anthropologists may argue that the tools (and the media) reflects us. Our ability to think is, again arguably, shaped by what we hear and what we, in turn, say.

So as we think and speak and write more in terms of extremes and “black and white” clarity, we are forgetting about what Simon Fowler (@sifowler) described on Twitter as “the greys.” Grey as a hue is not nearly as stark and extreme as Black or White, just as nuance is not as easily described or encapsulated as hyperbole.

So we’re clear on hyperbole, right? Just checking because the amount of times I’ve typed it so far seems like a lot. Let me get to my nuanced point.

At the end of DevLearn 2010, Jane Bozarth (@JaneBozarth) gave a fantastic talk breaking down how you introduce your boss to Twitter. Why? Because first impressions are important. The first impression of anything from the experience of a learner or listener or user is so very vital because of the primacy that learner/user unconsciously lends to that experience — if it was good, it grows to be magnificent; if it was buggy or slow-paced or unprofessional, it grows to be horrible.

If you’re showcasing a product to a customer, even if the demo is all “smoke and mirrors,” if customer’s first experience goes well, it will be hard (nigh impossible) to talk them out of acquiring that product. The amount of conversation and “nuance” that needs to be talked through is tremendous.  For me, this historically has worked both ways: given the opposite of what Cammy Bean (@cammybean) might call “Clicky Clicky Bling Bling” solid content and solid products without a lot of (ahem) “flash” to them have been generally dismissed in favor of the content and products that simply looked better.

A first impression is an extremely slanted perspective. It takes time to gain perspective. Perspective itself is an interesting word when you think about its uses in photography and art because it’s about distance. In order to have perspective on a given subject, it requires you to put some time, distance and experience in a given direction. And, like in photography, those starkly colored subjects tend to get a little grey with some perspective.

When I think about the rhetoric that surrounds education and learning, when I hear people talk about how they’ll NEVER use Twitter (or NEVER use Facebook) — whatever it is that one will NEVER do, or whatever it is that ABSOLUTELY MUST BE THIS WAY… I remember that I use those words, too. I remember that despite my pleas for some nuance and perspective, that I’m absolutely as guilty as anyone (or moreso because I should know better).  One can look at one #lrnchat transcript that talks about social learning and believe they’ve learned everything there is to know about social learning.

The thing about social learning activities like #lrnchat is that it’s not any one capture that will demonstrate what you’ve learned, as if it is some hurdle you must jump over to “win” that knowledge. It’s something that is re-experienced, building relationships and rapport, strengthening connections with others and gradually building the kind of trust in the network you build that accelerates knowledge coming to you, because rather than reconstituting all sorts of details about knowledge, you get it coupled with the context that you and others create together.

Learning isn’t a black-and-white content object/tracking/reporting linear process. Learning, as are all things that can serve as foundations for something new, is in the greys.

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