February From the Editor

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SAM-thoughtfulThe real word twitterpated (meaning infatuated or obsessed, in a state of nervous excitement) apparently was coined in Disney’s Bambi movie. Use of the word has increased over the past five or six years, achieving a new relevance. Now it can mean Twitter-headed, and I am finally beginning to catch on to the role that tweeting plays, for good and ill. As expected from a Hollywood word, it focuses our attention on the ephemeral, the superficial glitz of a person or event. And that element bothered me at first: Where is the substance, the interpretation — not to mention the grammar?!

Whether a person takes to social media as a duck to water or has to learn new ways to swim (or just stays out of the water entirely) is a matter of personal learning styles more than generational differences. These programs are tools just like MS Word and Adobe Acrobat, and receptiveness to learning them is a choice. Besides, we do need the occasional reminder to “look here!” and see those “really cool, wow!” things. I see it especially as placing a human aspect at the forefront of key issues. The variety of content in feeds also reveals the interconnectedness of many things technical and scientific — at the root of which is the intellectual curiosity that led us into the roles we fill now.

But I do not naturally think in sound bites or even topic sentences. In my half-forgotten academic days, I could seldom outline a paper ahead of time and have always rather taken circuitous routes into forests of content, looking for those seeming stray bits and pieces to pull in from the side trails. Give me a word chart and let me draw circles and arrows, and I am one happy hiker.

Gradually, I have found myself enjoying these detours from strictly biotherapeutic content (e.g., astronomy, veterinary science, and just plain really cool science in general). They stimulate thought and take us beyond the narrow focus that comes with our modern culture of being overworked and understaffed. You cannot be creative, you cannot innovate beyond the task in front of you if you cannot think outside of your box.

Sometimes an item triggers memories worth an entire blog — especially for circular thinkers. A post the other day on the anniversary of the first polio vaccine triggered memories: TV images from my early childhood showing children in iron lungs; memories of my mother’s struggles with postpolio syndrome; a sober reflection on the world-changing effects of vaccines and how the success of nearly eradicating a disease should give those who fear vaccinations something to reconsider. I struggled with what to say, tried all sorts of breezy short comments. Time passed, and Jeopardy was about to start. I defaulted in frustration to sharing the anniversary with a “Wow” — which turned out to be my only commented-on/liked tweet of the day. Hmmm.

A cautionary note: Twitter requires its practitioners to draw their own circles and arrows in that word cloud. It is truly showing without telling, topic sentences without exposition. And the sound-bite approach should be approached with caution. It is not interpretation and should not be confused with true content and communication, which is more than a string of topic sentences. The closest I will come to getting political here is that we must guard against confusing headlines for content. Thinking takes time. Our words determine (and reveal) how we think and how we learn to form reasoned arguments. Critical thinking itself is a skill that must be developed and honed. If approached properly, it should take us out of our comfort zones, away from the familiar, and toward new understanding and surprising connections.SAMfix-sig

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