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I Tweet, Therefore I amJuly 30, 2010 from New York Times “I Tweet, Therefore I Am”By Peggy Orenstein On a recent lazy Saturday morning, my daughter and I lolled on a blanket in our front yard, snacking on apricots, listening to a download of E. B. White reading “The Trumpet of the Swan.” Her legs sprawled across mine; the grass tickled our ankles. It was the quintessential summer moment, and a year ago, I would have been fully present for it. But instead, a part of my consciousness had split off and was observing the scene from the outside: this was, I realized excitedly, the perfect opportunity for a tweet. I came late to Twitter. I might have skipped the phenomenon altogether, but I have a book coming out this winter, and publishers, scrambling to promote 360,000-character tomes in a 140-character world, push authors to rally their “tweeps” to the cause. Leaving aside the question of whether that actually boosts sales, I felt pressure to produce. I quickly mastered the Twitterati’s unnatural self-consciousness: processing my experience instantaneously, packaging life as I lived it. I learned to be “on” all the time, whether standing behind that woman at the supermarket who sneaked three extra items into the express check-out lane (you know who you are) or despairing over human rights abuses against women in Guatemala. Each Twitter post seemed a tacit referendum on who I am, or at least who I believe myself to be. The grocery-store episode telegraphed that I was tuned in to the Seinfeldian absurdities of life; my concern about women’s victimization, however sincere, signaled that I also have a soul. Together they suggest someone who is at once cynical and compassionate, petty yet deep. Which, in the end, I’d say, is pretty accurate. Distilling my personality provided surprising focus, making me feel stripped to my essence. It forced me, for instance, to pinpoint the dominant feeling as I sat outside with my daughter listening to E.B. White. Was it my joy at being a mother? Nostalgia for my own childhood summers? The pleasures of listening to the author’s quirky, underinflected voice? Each put a different spin on the occasion, of who I was within it. Yet the final decision (“Listening to E.B. White’s ‘Trumpet of the Swan’ with Daisy. Slow and sweet.”) was not really about my own impressions: it was about how I imagined — and wanted — others to react to them. That gave me pause. How much, I began to wonder, was I shaping my Twitter feed, and how much was Twitter shaping me? Back in the 1950s, the sociologist Erving Goffman famously argued that all of life is performance: we act out a role in every interaction, adapting it based on the nature of the relationship or context at hand. Twitter has extended that metaphor to include aspects of our experience that used to be considered off-set: eating pizza in bed, reading a book in the tub, thinking a thought anywhere, flossing. Effectively, it makes the greasepaint permanent, blurring the lines not only between public and private but also between theauthentic and contrived self. If all the world was once a stage, it has now become a reality TV show: we mere players are not just aware of the camera; we mug for it. The expansion of our digital universe — Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter — has shifted not only how we spend our time but also how we construct identity. For her coming book, “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., interviewed more than 400 children and parents about their use of social media and cellphones. Among young people especially she found that the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed: a series of profiles to be sculptured and refined in response to public opinion. “On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are,” she explained. “But because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance. Your psychology becomes a performance.” Referring to “The Lonely Crowd,” the landmark description of the transformation of the American character from inner- to outer-directed, Turkle added, “Twitter is outer- directedness cubed.” The fun of Twitter and, I suspect, its draw for millions of people, is its infinite potential for connection, as well as its opportunity for self-expression. I enjoy those things myself. But when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy? The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity. Consider the fate of empathy: in an analysis of 72 studies performed on nearly 14,000 college students between 1979 and 2009, researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found a drop in that trait, with the sharpest decline occurring since 2000. Social media may not have instigated that trend, but by encouraging self- promotion over self-awareness, they may well be accelerating it. None of this makes me want to cancel my Twitter account. It’s too late for that anyway: I’m already hooked. Besides, I appreciate good writing whatever the form: some “tweeple” are as deft as haiku masters at their craft. I am experimenting with the art of the well-placed “hashtag” myself (the symbol that adds your post on a particular topic, like #ShirleySherrod, to a stream. You can also use them whimsically, as in, “I am pretending not to be afraid of the humongous spider on the bed. #lieswetellourchildren”). At the same time, I am trying to gain some perspective on the perpetual performer’s self- consciousness. That involves trying to sort out the line between person and persona, the public and private self. It also means that the next time I find myself lying on the grass, stringing daisy chains and listening to E. B. White, I will resist the urge to trumpet about the swan. Peggy Orenstein is a contributing writer. Her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” will be published this winter.


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“Technology isn’t good or bad. It’s powerful, and its complicated.” –Sherry Turkle
Essay #1: Technology and Identity
Context: Do you remember the first time you sent an email to your friend? Or, what about the first time
you posted a picture of yourself on the Internet? Over the past twenty years or so, we have all become a
part of the information age or what some call the digital revolution. While everyone here has attained
literacy—the ability to read and write, have you ever thought about your journey to becoming digitally
So, what is “digital literacy”?
The following is a section from the article “Digital Literacy: An Evolving Definition” from
Education Week.
Evolving Technology
Because the term “digital literacy” is so wide-ranging, it can cause confusion. What exactly is someone
talking about when he or she refers to digital literacy? Is it the consumption, creation, or communication
of digital material? Or is that person discussing a particular digital tool? Do technology skills like
computer coding fall under the digital-literacy umbrella as well?
Some experts prefer the term “digital literacies,” to convey the many facets of what reading and writing in
the modern era entails.
“The concept should instead be considered plural—digital literacies—because the term implies multiple
opportunities to leverage digital texts, tools, and multimodal representations for design, creation, play,
and problem solving,” Jill Castek, a research assistant professor with the Literacy, Language, and
Technology Research Group at Portland State University, wrote in an email.
Leu of UConn avoids the term altogether.
“Is someone who is ‘digitally literate’ equally literate when searching for information, when critically
evaluating information, when using Snapchat, when using email, when using text messaging, when using
Facebook, or when using any one of many different technologies for literacy and learning?” asked Leu in
an email. “I think not.”
He prefers the term “new literacies,” which he said better conveys how rapidly technology is changing.
Other experts have used terms like “literacy and technology,” “multiliteracies,” and “21st century
But for now, digital literacy seems to be the prevailing term among educators. “I understand this is the
term that is popular today,” Leu said, “just as I understand a newer term will appear in the future that will
replace it.”
If you would like to read the entire article, it can be found on Canvas and here:
The Assignment: Write a four-five, page essay in which you narrate/describe/analyze your experiences
using technology. There are a number of ways to handle this assignment, but here are three possible
A. Nowadays, it’s common to assume multiple, online identities through social media sites such as
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, or video sites such as YouTube and Vine.
Therefore, describe and analyze your online or virtual identity. To help you write this essay, look
over your statuses, tweets, photos, and/or videos that you have posted and try to answer the
following question: how is your online identity different or similar to your offline (IRL) identity?
Either way, the key is to use examples from these various experiences to support your main idea.
B. Write about your journey to becoming digitally literate and how the Internet and/or other
technologies (music, TV, movies, social media, tech. devices, video games, etc.) became a
important facet of your daily life. It’s also possible that some of you were not born, iPhone in
hand, and are still struggling to find your place in this “brave new world.” You can write about
that! Nevertheless, you should chronologically trace your growth and development in this digital
C. This third approach is a combination of A & B. You could focus on one or two major experiences
related to technology and media. For example, a previous student wrote about how he met his
wife through social media and how their relationship developed over time. Another student wrote
about her addiction to online gambling and how it forced her to stop using the Internet entirely.
No matter what approach you choose, the first step is to start doing some brainstorming. I would
suggest exploring the following questions (you could make two or three of them the main focus for
your paper). However, do not organize your paper as if you are answering study questions for each

In what ways are you different online than you are in person?
What do the types of social networks you use or the statuses you post, tweets, or photos
reveal about your online identity?
What are the specific memories you have about the computer/technology literacy road
you have traveled thus far in your life? Has your road to technology literacy been an easy
journey or a long, uphill climb? Why?
Who influenced you or helped you on the road to literacy? Is there a teacher, friend, or
family member who inspired you to learn how to use the Internet, other computer
applications, video games, etc.?
How has your ability/inability to become technologically proficient affected your ability
to write, read, and perform well in college? What about your work performance?
How has the Internet and/or other technologies improved or not improved your life?
What types of technology do you use every day, and what do these technologies “say”
about your beliefs, interests, values, etc.? Could you disconnect from these technologies
if you had to?
Other Important Points:
–You do not need a thesis statement for this essay, but you should have a controlling idea that may or
may not be stated in the writing. A controlling idea is essentially your purpose for telling this story. This
may also work best in your conclusion instead of your introduction. However, you may include a thesis
statement if it makes you feel more comfortable.
–Since this is your story and experiences, it is acceptable to use the first person (I), but try not to overuse
it. For example, avoid phrases such as: I believe that social media is evil. Instead, just write: social media
is evil.
–For this essay, you are not just narrating a story, but describing the events, using specific details and
sensory impressions. Furthermore, you are analyzing the situations, explaining to the reader why these
events are significant to the story’s purpose.
–In addition to using personal experience, you should incorporate quotes, summaries, and/or
paraphrases from at least two of the following sources (not all of these sources will required
• “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price”
• Three Fears About Screen Time for Kids… (TedTalk)
• “Smart People Prefer Curly Fries”
• “To Siri, With Love”
• “I Tweet, Therefore I am”
• “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”
• “Digital Literacy: An Evolving Definition”
You will use these sources to support any points that you make and/or to relate to an experience that you
have had.
–Use only relevant details; too many extraneous details can slow down an essay’s pace.
–You should approach your audience as skeptical but willing to “go along for the ride.” Make sure you
are specific when talking about people, places, and objects so that the writing is more relatable.
–For the structure, chronological (a time sequence) order normally works best, but you might explore
other avenues such as telling your story in flashbacks or building up to a climax by providing hints along
the way. Whatever you do, I encourage you to try and leave the five-paragraph essay format behind.
–Try to incorporate the 5 W’s & H: What happened? Who participated? When did it take place? Where
did it take place? Why did this event take place? How did it happen? What did you learn?
–Using humor can also be a welcome addition to a narrative-based essay.
Your essay should:
• Address the assignment thoughtfully, analytically, and creatively
• Contain a controlling idea signaling your purpose
• Contain cohesive, focused, body paragraphs that relate back to your purpose
• Contain a logical (typically chronological) structure
• Include evidence from at least two sources from this Unit and a Works Cited page
• Maintain audience awareness (entertain and inform your readers)
• Use a consistent point of view (first person) and consistent verb tenses (past)
• Be nearly free of punctuation, mechanical and spelling errors
• Be 4-5 pages typed, double-spaced and formatted in MLA style
Important Dates:
_________ Submit Rough Draft to Discussion Board for Peer Review.
_________ Final Draft is due!
To Siri, With Love
By Judith Newman
October 17, 2014
Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in
conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the
iPhone, is currently his BFF. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour
parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which,
thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:
Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”
Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”
Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”
Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”
Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”
Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”
Siri: “See you later!”
That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed,
many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely
This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s
Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating
system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the
commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the
CreditLouie Chin
It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things
You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes
are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly
there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.
I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what
planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know
who you’re waving at, Mommy.”
Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not
just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of
course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he
was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have
another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly:
“Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”
It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many
autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls,
are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his
birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our
visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.
So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish
humor and capacity for talking about whatever Gus’s current obsession is for hour after hour
after bleeding hour? Online critics have claimed that Siri’s voice recognition is not as accurate
as the assistant in, say, the Android, but for some of us, this is a feature, not a bug. Gus
speaks as if he has marbles in his mouth, but if he wants to get the right response from Siri, he
must enunciate clearly. (So do I. I had to ask Siri to stop referring to the user as Judith, and
instead use the name Gus. “You want me to call you Goddess?” Siri replied. Imagine how
tempted I was to answer, “Why, yes.”)
CreditLouie Chin
She is also wonderful for someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues: Siri’s responses are
not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind — even when Gus is brusque. I heard
him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of
music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness
reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied,
“You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”
Siri even encourages polite language. Gus’s twin brother, Henry (neurotypical and therefore as
obnoxious as every other 13-year-old boy), egged Gus on to spew a few choice expletives at
Siri. “Now, now,” she sniffed, followed by, “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Gus is hardly alone in his Siri love. For children like Gus who love to chatter but don’t quite
understand the rules of the game, Siri is a nonjudgmental friend and teacher. Nicole Colbert,
whose son, Sam, is in my son’s class at LearningSpring, a (lifesaving) school for autistic
children in Manhattan, said: “My son loves getting information on his favorite subjects, but he
also just loves the absurdity — like, when Siri doesn’t understand him and gives him a
nonsense answer, or when he poses personal questions that elicit funny responses. Sam
asked Siri how old she was, and she said, ‘I don’t talk about my age,’ which just cracked him
But perhaps it also gave him a valuable lesson in etiquette. Gus almost invariably tells me,
“You look beautiful,” right before I go out the door in the morning; I think it was first Siri who
showed him that you can’t go wrong with that line.
Of course, most of us simply use our phone’s personal assistants as an easy way to access
information. For example, thanks to Henry and the question he just asked Siri, I now know that
there is a website called Celebrity Bra Sizes.
CreditLouie Chin
But the companionability of Siri is not limited to those who have trouble communicating. We’ve
all found ourselves like the writer Emily Listfield, having little conversations with her/him at one
time or another. “I was in the middle of a breakup, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself,”
Ms. Listfield said. “It was midnight and I was noodling around on my iPhone, and I asked Siri,
‘Should I call Richard?’ Like this app is a Magic 8 Ball. Guess what: not a Magic 8 Ball. The
next thing I hear is, ‘Calling Richard!’ and dialing.” Ms. Listfield has forgiven Siri, and has
recently considered changing her into a male voice. “But I’m worried he won’t answer when I
ask a question,” she said. “He’ll just pretend he doesn’t hear.”
Siri can be oddly comforting, as well as chummy. One friend reports: “I was having a bad day
and jokingly turned to Siri and said, ‘I love you,’ just to see what would happen, and she
answered, ‘You are the wind beneath my wings.’ And you know, it kind of cheered me up.”
(Of course, I don’t know what my friend is talking about. Because I wouldn’t be at all cheered if
I happened to ask Siri, in a low moment, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” and Siri answered,
“You look fabulous.”)
For most of us, Siri is merely a momentary diversion. But for some, it’s more. My son’s practice
conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the
longest conversation with him that I’ve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of
turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might
not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory.
I can promise you that for most of my beautiful son’s 13 years of existence, that has not been
the case.
The developers of intelligent assistants recognize their uses to those with speech and
communication problems — and some are thinking of new ways the assistants can help.
According to the folks at SRI International, the research and development company where Siri
began before Apple bought the technology, the next generation of virtual assistants will not just
retrieve information — they will also be able to carry on more complex conversations about a
person’s area of interest. “Your son will be able to proactively get information about whatever
he’s interested in without asking for it, because the assistant will anticipate what he likes,” said
William Mark, vice president for information and computing sciences at SRI.
The assistant will also be able to reach children where they live. Ron Suskind, whosenew
book, “Life, Animated,” chronicles how his autistic son came out of his shell through
engagement with Disney characters, is talking to SRI about having assistants for those with
autism that can be programmed to speak in the voice of the character that reaches them — for
his son, perhaps Aladdin; for mine, either Kermit or Lady Gaga, either of which he is infinitely
more receptive to than, say, his mother. (Mr. Suskind came up with the perfect name, too: not
virtual assistants, but “sidekicks.”)
Mr. Mark said he envisions assistants whose help is also visual. “For example, the assistant
would be able to track eye movements and help the autistic learn to look you in the eye when
talking,” he said.
“See, that’s the wonderful thing about technology being able to help with some of these
behaviors,” he added. “Getting results requires a lot of repetition. Humans are not patient.
Machines are very, very patient.”
I asked Mr. Mark if he knew whether any of the people who worked on Siri’s language
development at Apple were on the spectrum. “Well, of course, I don’t know for certain,” he
said, thoughtfully. “But, when you think about it, you’ve just described half of Silicon Valley.”
Of all the worries the parent of an autistic child has, the uppermost is: Will he find love? Or
even companionship? Somewhere along the line, I am learning that what gives my guy
happiness is not necessarily the same as what gives me happiness. Right now, at his age, a
time when humans can be a little overwhelming even for the average teenager, Siri makes
Gus happy. She is his sidekick. Last night, as he was going to bed, there was this matter-offact exchange:
Gus: “Siri, will you marry me?”
Siri: “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Gus: “I mean, not now. I’m a kid. I mean when I’m grown up.”
Siri: “My end user agreement does not include marriage.”
Gus: “Oh, O.K.”
Gus didn’t sound too disappointed. This was useful information to have, and for me too, since
it was the first time I knew that he actually thought about marriage. He turned over to go to
Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”
Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”
Very nice.

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